Yesterday’s Campus Technology article, “Avoiding the 5 Most Common Mistakes in Using Blogs with Students,” is a terrific reminder that we cannot just throw technology at students and expect them to accept it blindly or use it intelligently or learn from its use.
Here are Ruth Reynard’s list of mistakes in brief:
- ineffective contextualization
- unclear learning outcomes
- misuse of the environment
- illusive grading practices
- inadequate time allocation
I have used both group and individual blog assignments with undergraduate and graduate students. For my purposes, I found the group blogs more effective, but in either case, I made certain to tie the assignment to my course learning outcomes, and I explained in writing how to develop a blog, what I would be looking for, and how the blog would be graded, for example:
Course outcomes that could be achieved through a blog assignment: In a graduate course on information technology for leaders, a few things I wanted students to be able to do by the end of the course were (1) Develop a personal perspective on innovation and the future of information technology, (2) Work collaboratively on a topic related to information technology, and (3) Think critically about and report on issues in scholarly articles related to information technology. As you might see in these desired outcomes, students need to develop a voice on the course general topic, and a published blog is a great place to develop your voice.
Stating clearly what you want from the students and from the assignment: I informed students that the blogs should “peak readers’ interest in a way that would make them want to comment.” I told them that I wanted “interesting and serious posts on their topic.” Finally, I told them that the “blogs should show that they are becoming well read in the area of their topic.”
Teaching how to blog: Don’t assume that students who have read or created blogs have thought much about the blog as a genre of writing or that their experience has been productive. Teach students how to blog and their learning will be better accomplished.
- I offered examples of group blogs so that students could see how team members might complement each other or how they might write opposing views on a topic without becoming a public fight.
- I suggested that “contributors on group blogs develop their own identity or personality, and that readers might look forward to hearing from one particular member of a group blog if they exhibit diverse opinions.”
- I suggested places where they might look for resources to write about, particularly news items or professional articles related to their topics, and how they could integrate their own voice and opinion into posts that cite resources.
Be clear about how the project will be graded: In addition to a required number of posts, usually 3 per week from the group, however they divided that among members, I would grade the blogs on the following elements:
- Quality and interest of posts.
- Interest to educated general readers.
- Interest of linked articles.
Reynard makes a point in her articles that I second strongly–blogs are not discussion boards. In a workshop once, a faculty member wondered why I didn’t comment on every post and expect students to do the same with each other’s blogs, because he saw them as a public discussion board. As Reynard notes, one’s blog post is a published statement, and whether or not readers write comments is not really a concern of the blogger. Readers may carry on their own conversations, as desired, but I wouldn’t suggest that the blogger get involved, unless desired. Comments can certainly tell you if your ideas are conveyed as you meant, and you may get good ideas from readers, but the purpose of the blog, as I see it, is to polish your voice and learn to articulate your subject.