Link to: bgblogging

Barbara Ganley posted an interesting reflection on her experience with her personal blog, her writing workshop blog, and a cooperative blog by upper class students from Middlebury, Haverford and Dickinson called Blogging the World. In her posts she suggests that those of us who are using blogs in our coursework are actively preparing students for “second-wave” blogging that goes well beyond the walls of the classroom.

[these experiences have me] convinced that sustained blogging over the years, not just in the classroom, but after and outside the classroom experience, as a way to reflect on and discuss the connections between the lessons learned inside the class and the world outside our walls, is perhaps the most promising way to use blogging and other social software in a liberal arts institution.

At the heart of her post is that idea that students who are left to their own devices won’t necessarily learn the art of using these tools to “dig deep into ideas and grow communities of discourse, of knowledge and of action.” They’ll learn to keep a Live Journal diary without any help from us, but they need a more supportive learning community to practice and learn to ask more thoughtful questions, explore ideas more critically and work collaboratively at a deeper level. That support and mentoring comes from faculty members who understand the importance of those activities and who have incorporated them into our own lives and work.

The lessons from within the our classes provide the basis for “second-wave blogging” where students take their skills outside the classroom to better understand and participate in the changes in communications, technology and community that are reshaping big chunks of our world.

In helping our students to participate in second-wave blogging, we also help our institutions to become more dynamic, richer and more evolutionary learning environments, as conceptualized by George Seimans in his conception of learning ecologies. But BG’s experiences have shown that building those skills is a difficult educational task. (See her Blogtalk paper for details on the complexity of the task). Producing and sharing public documents is scary:

The students are shy, self-conscious, some of them still figuring out how to write in English. They have been conditioned to succeed, to achieve, to excel, and they feel that showing their work like this exposes a weakness, a flaw, a secret. They don’t altogether buy it that they are here in college to learn…

BG has thought through the types of dangers of blogging identified by Ivan Tribble and this summer’s Associated Press story ““Blog it now; regret it later?”,but she’s not at all convinced by the dangers or by criticisms of her colleagues.

Well, I’m not bothered by any of that. In fact, I can think of only one good reason for not publishing student writing to the Web at all stages of its development: the student is writing about something too delicate, too painful, too private or too hurtful to put out there. My students always have the option to keep their work off the blog for those reasons.

Her list of the benefits of blogging that offset the risks is similar is familiar to many of us who believe strongly in the possibilities of this technology to extend the reach of student learning.

  • “Writing for an audience beyond the walls of the school gives students valuable experience with real world writing situations.”
  • “Writing for a real audience versus a forced one leads to efficacious, authentic learning. Student writers see the effect they can have on their readers, and that in turn spurs a deeper engagement with their own writing and learning.”
  • “Collaborative blogs build communities, and if there’s anything I’ve learned over the course of many years of teaching, it is that the most effective, enduring classroom learning takes place within a committed learning community.”

She also provides some benefits that have emerged comments on her blogs that aren’t quite as obvious.

  • The public nature of the blog allows continued communications with students and encourages the extension of learning relationships that were begun and nurtured in class. Students have learned to be comfortable in using the blog to continue conversations, ask for more information, probe and question with their faculty members.
  • The archival nature of blogs allows students to return and see what they thought and felt about learning experiences earlier in their academic careers.
  • Blog archives offer valuable resources and teaching tools for faculty and students just starting with this method of learning and communication.

The evidence of the educational value of establishing an effective “grammar of the blog” and developing a group of students who have learned to use that grammar to enable deeper communication and community can be seen the Blogging at the World site (the Motherblog).

And they are generating some interest, already–their parents and friends are leaving probing comments, connecting the fullness of the experience to the people at home, and helping the bloggers to blog even more fully. Others have discovered them: Zoey has German bloggers discussing her posts in her comment section (in German); Amaury has attracted an entire classroom from Brasilia onto his Motherblog posting. Some of the Brazilians are moving over onto the other blogs, and on it goes. The students feel the rewards of getting a response–they’re not just blogging into the wind, in other words, they’re blogging with an emerging community; and they in turn, are fired up to keep digging through the experience, and using writing (not private in-the-journal writing, but communications to the world about this experience) to reflect, to connect, to explore. Their previous in-the-class blogging experience prepared them to post these kinds of entries, to see social software as truly social, and to dare put their observations and musings out there into the world and see what comes back.

This is a strong argument for us to keep experimenting with exploring the potential of blogs and to learn as much as possible from the results of our experiments.