Blogging is a great way to report and chronicle anything that is important to you. It seems only right then that blogging would have meaningful applications in higher education. After all, university is an adventure and adventures make for great stories.
During the summer term I introduced blogging to the my classroom in two different ways. For the introductory classes I was teaching, I suggested blogs as one of the potential tools that could be used for a learning journal assignment. In the advanced OB class, a 3rd year course, blogging replaced a journal article review assignment.
I liked the results, particularly in the 3rd year course, and will be using blogging again this term so I wanted to share the process, the outcomes, etc. It is a bit of a long story though, so consider this part one of the tale.
I found that preparing a blogging assignment isn’t that much different than a traditional one. I still needed to identify the learning objectives I wanted the assignment to achieve, the expectations I had for the students, and the criteria I would use for evaluation. I prepared instructions and developed a rubric and posted these for the students to refer to.
The difference came in the packaging. Instead of specifying submission and formatting details I needed to figure out the logistics of how I would get the blogs set up, how I would ensure that the learning community I intended actually developed, without me having to be a communications hub, and how I would organize myself to assess and give feedback throughout the term.
I chose to specify that students needed to use WordPress for their blogs. I did this for a couple of reasons. First, I thought by having all students in the same platform they could use the subscription feature to easily keep track of each other’s work. Secondly, I chose it because it is a platform with which I am familiar and so I could provide some technical support if needed. As it turned out, WordPress has such great tutorials and help services that my “expertise” was rarely called upon.
I also specified that Twitter would serve as our class bulletin board. Each student was to establish a Twitter account that would be appropriate for professional use. Each then tweeted with @AmandaBickell included in the tweet asking to be added to the class list. Using Twitter’s list feature I created a complete class list that students could then follow. By having them able to follow the list, they didn’t need to follow me, or their classmates unless they wanted to. This was particularly useful for those using Hootsuite to manage their social networks as they could simply add another column to their Twitter dashboard.
With each blog post, student’s were expected to “tweet” the class so that all could find, read, and comment on the blogs. This created regular comments in the class twitter feed, encouraging students to check the feed regularly, and therefore, post regularly. Activity on the Twitter feed, and their comments on class blogs, contributed to their grade for the assignment.
I’ll admit that for grading purposes, the Twitter feed was a hassle. Although the announcements were readily available, I had to search through to ensure I found them all, and was forced to toggle between my Hootsuite dashboard and the blogs.
So I got a little bit smarter, and subscribed to all of the student blogs. They then appeared in my WordPress reading list and I could easily see when new posts had been published. Unfortunately, since I needed to monitor comments, I had to refer to the blogs several times to ensure that I hadn’t missed any student activity and still found that the jumping between my reading list and each blog was time consuming.
After the initial round of posts I got even more efficient. I used Google reader to set up RSS feeds for each student blog and their respective comment feeds. This stroke of brilliance (many thanks Andrea for rescuing me from myself) meant that all of my reading, blog posts and comments, could be found in one place. Read and unread items were clear and easily managed so that I didn’t miss anything. One screen, one history, all of it in one place, and all I had to do was scroll through the collection rather than visit each blog.
Next time, I’ll continue to specify that students use WordPress. I like that I can “ping back” great posts to give recognition to excellent work. Even though I was IT support for only a few, things were simpler for the blogging newcomers because everyone was in the same “place”.
I liked the class Twitter feed for the initial collection of blogs and also the class conversation that developed. I think it served more use to the class than to me once I had the Google Reader system underway.
I will definitely use Google Reader to keep track of student blogs. It was a bit of work to get it set up, but once in place, it saved me about 2 hours per week in grading time!
That was the set up. In my next posts I’ll tell you some more about why I liked the assignment better than the traditional, my strategies for grading & feedback, and the nature of the learning community that developed so stay tuned. Is there anything else you’d like to know?