Tips for Teaching with Blogs
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Tips for Teaching with Blogs

Blogs have become common tools for communicating and collaborating online. While setting up a blog takes only a matter of minutes, effectively incorporating blogs into online teaching requires purposeful planning and structuring of activities to leverage the power that blogging brings to the learning environment. This session will share the experiences of incorporating instructor and student blogs into an online course as well as practical recommendations for those considering utilizing blogs in online learning. Sample instructor and student blogs as well as activities designed specifically for blogs will be reviewed.

These resources are supplementary to the workshop entitled, "Tips for Teaching with Blogs" offered by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center of NIU. Click here to view a listing of current programs.

"When it comes to learning, technology doesn't matter, but structure does." - Eric Wignall (via @slrichter)

explaining a blog

What are blogs?

blog is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order... Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs.

Key underlying component of every blog is an RSS feed, making it possible for readers to subscribe.

Blog content searchable more quickly than other "static" types of web content (Google Blog Search)

>380k blogs hosted by Edublogs alone

"Microblogs" (communication tools like Twitter) have many of the same attributes and benefits of blogs and contributions are restricted to 140 characters

Why blogs in education?

  • Connected, fostering the development of a learning community
  • Give students ownership over their own learning and an authentic voice
  • Genuine, and potentially worldwide, audience for student work
  • Contribute to identity formation in students (Bortree, 2005)
  • Display all student work in one central location; interconnected learning 
  • Students organizing their own learning
  • Develop writing, research, and digital literacy skills
  • Add to the collective knowledge available online

Blogs vs. Discussion Boards

  • Blogs accessible outside the learning management system and persist after the course ends
  • Blogs afford increasing options for customization and 
  • Blogs = student-driven, Discussion Boards = instructor-driven
  • Blogs = student-owned, Discussion Boards = instructor/institution-owned

How to use blogging in learning - via Downes

  • Begin simply. Most uses of blogs in the classroom began with the instructor using blogs to post class information such as lists of readings and assignment deadlines. This fosters in the teacher a familiarity with the technology and with students a habit of regularly checking the online resource.
  • Lead by example. Before requiring students to blog, instructors should lead by example, creating their own blogs and adding links to interesting resources and commentary on class topics. This not only produces a useful source of supplemental information for students, it creates a pattern and sets expectations for when students begin their own blogging.
  • Read. Students should begin their entry into blogging by reading other blogs. Teachers should use this practice not only to demonstrate how other people use blogs to support learning but also to foster critical thinking and reading skills. Teaching how to respond to blog posts is as important as creating blog posts.
  • Create a context. Like the author facing a blank sheet of paper, a blogger will be perplexed unless given something specific to write about. Have students blog about a current issued, about a specific piece of writing, or some question that comes up in the course.
  • Encourage interaction. Blogging should not be a solo activity. Encourage bloggers to read each other's works and to comment on them. Encouraging students to set up an RSS reader with each other's blogs will make reading and commenting a lot easier. Teachers, also, should subscribe to student blogs and offer comments, again setting an example of the expected practice.
  • Respect ownership. A student blog becomes important because it is a manifestation of his or her own work. However, to have this value, a student's ownership of a blog must be genuine. While reasonable limits or codes of practice need to be respected, student bloggers should have the widest latitude possible for personal expression and opinion.
  • Address issues immediately. The most significant danger to students online is posed by other students. In particular, bullying (or ragging) is a significant problem. It is important to spot instances of bullying as soon as they occur and to take steps to prevent further incidents. Teachers should educate themselves as online bullying can be invisible and hard to address.

Considerations

  • Open vs. closed learning environment
    • Can you require the students in your course to make course communications available publicly? What is your institution's policies regarding student communications or work? It is possible to make posts private and/or restrict access to only certain students, but this disables RSS syndication and aggregation.
  • Groups vs. networks (via Downes)
  • Does your institution already offer / support a blogging platform? 
  • What is your level of technical expertise? Your students?
  • Will you blog for a single course, or multiple courses/sections?

Designing blogging activities

  • Model the type of work you expect
  • Start slowly and walk students through the process
  • Suggest a blogging and aggregation tool for all students to use
  • Provide clear expectations for how contributions will be assessed
  • Require regular participation (weekly)
  • Encourage students to comment on each other's posts

What to avoid

  • Creating busywork for yourself or your students
  • Waiting until the last minute to become familiar with blogging and create your own blog
  • Assuming students have previous experience blogging
  • Letting students figure out blogging all by themselves (structure and guidance is necessary)
  • Jumping into blogging for your class without first experimenting with the technology in a sandbox environment
  • Choosing to not provide an organizational structure to your blog (e.g. categories, tags, blogroll)

Choosing a blogging tool

  • Does your institution already offer and/or support a blogging tool?
  • Does the tool provide an RSS feed? Blackboard 9 blog tool does not currently provide RSS feed. Learning Objects Campus Pack Blog Building Block does.
  • Do you want to run blog software from your own campus/department server or let someone else take care of all the technical details?
  • Do all posts need to be within a "walled garden"

Characteristics of Rhode's example shared

  • 8-week, accelerated graduate course in educational technology offered completely online
  • course organized into 8 modules
  • ~20 students in the course
  • weekly online synchronous online class sessions
  • institution licensed Edublogs Campus edition (WordPress) and provided blog for each student and instructor
  • students had not used blogs prior to the course
  • all students chose to make all their posts publicly available
  • detailed expectations for student blogging assignments provided

Before the course begins

  1. Become familiar with blogging yourself
  2. Consider what students will be required to do/post to their individual blogs as well as comments classmates blogs
  3. Consider what optional activities students can engage in using their blog (e.g. sharing links to resources, off-topic discussions, etc.
  4. Create a blog for yourself that will serve as the "class blog"
    • Pick a theme that you like and stick with it
    • Create categories for each "chunk" of your course, to match the "chunks" within the LMS (e.g. module1, module2, etc.)
    • Create an About page where you post your contact information
    • Customize the blog navigation to fit your needs. Consider adding blogroll, tag cloud, and categories. Use widgets to add this additional customization.
    • Explore available plugins and add where additional features needed
    • If you are going to use alternate communication means, such as Twitter, add links to those or perhaps embed latest tweets.
    • If possible, enable your RSS feed to include the full text of posts and encourage students to do the same. This ensures that all new posts can be viewed from within an aggregator. Otherwise, post content may be truncated in the feed.
  5. Make an initial post welcoming students to the course and congratulating them on finding your blog. Also consider including on your blog instructions for students on how to create their own blogs, subscribe, etc.

The first week

  1. Provide students with information on how to setup their own blog
  2. Create "Gateway to my Blog" or similar forum and require students to post the link to their blog, once created, there to share with the class. Post your blog link to the forum to model for the students what you are looking for.
  3. As students post links to their blogs, subscribe to the students blogs in your RSS aggregator. Create a folder for the class and add all the subscriptions for that class to the folder.
  4. Require students to create an RSS aggregator account and have them subscribe to the class blog and each of their classmates' blogs. Encourage them to also organize their RSS subscriptions in a folder.
  5. Create a blogroll for your class and add links to each of your student's blogs. Strongly encourage your students to do the same.
  6. Require students to add a comment to one of your blog posts
  7. Require students to make an initial post to their blog

Managing your blog

  1. Post introduction and summary to each learning module
  2. When linking to student work, include links to individual student posts and not just the student blog
  3. Include media and links where possible to support and enhance the text
  4. If using the same blog for multiple courses (be careful with this), use a specific course tag for all course-related posts (e.g. hre472)
  5. Use meaningful categories and tags consistently (e.g. category for class, tags for modules and topics)
  6. Include questions in your posts that elicit students to leave comments and encourage them to do the same in their posts.
  7. Create pages for any static information

Evaluating blog contributions

  1. Add comments to student posts where fitting
  2. Try audio or video comments! [Riffly]
  3. Do not post grades or critical feedback as public comments. Rather, share such feedback privately (ie: via the private grading comments of Blackboard)

After the course ends

  1. Decide whether you will continue using your blog, reuse for a new course, or discontinue use. Make students aware of your decision. If reusing, students may not want to continue to stay subscribed.
  2. If you want to start fresh when reusing a blog, instead of deleting previous posts, make them private so you still can access them personally but they won't be available publicly online. 

Last Updated: 7/21/2014