Thoughts on Education – 2/28/2012 – Blogging in the class
I’ve been meaning to do this post for a bit, but my grading has distracted me from other things.
I attended a webinar last Thursday on the subject of blogging in the classroom. It was led by two authors of blogs and attended by several others running blogs in the classroom. In this case, the focus was history, and I found the fantastic blog Teaching United States History through the chat. We bounced around ideas among the 15-20 people active in the webinar, and I found it productive and academically stimulating. The primary discussion centered around how blogs could be used and how they could be evaluated as part of an assignment. I can’t say we came to any profound conclusions, but I enjoyed the time there and hopefully have made some contacts in the broader blogging community out there. I wish I had more time to devote right now, but I’m just able to get out these short posts right now.
So, here are some of my thoughts on blogging.
- As I’ve been exploring the “flipped” classroom idea, the question keeps coming up of how to evaluate the students. Weekly quizzes are an obvious way to get the students to do the work, but I’ve never really felt that quizzes truly evaluate much more than basic recall. LearnSmart through McGraw-Hill is a bit better, but at its heart, it is still a quiz. I also don’t really want to get weekly papers from the students, as I’m the one who then gets to grade them. So, something ongoing like a blog could be ideal.
- There is a danger with a blog that is not well defined. I tried wikis that were worked on over the course of a semester, but 90% of students did them all at the end of the semester. If I did not have weekly requirements for the blogs, most students would not do them until the last minute. And, if I have weekly requirements, then I’m back to grading something from every student every week.
- I like the idea of an informal blog for the students. It would be required but be open ended in what they write. But then, would they post well? Would I get what I want out of them, or would they turn into a busywork exercise of the students?
Just a few things I’ve been thinking about. What do you think?
The one time I required a blog, I had rolling weekly assignments. In other words, a few students were required to post each week (I think each student was scheduled to post three different times during the semester), following a schedule that I distributed at the beginning of the semester. Students were also required to comment a set number of times throughout the semester, and most (well, some) of them tried to keep up with this responsibility, rather than waiting to make all five comments the last week. It worked passably well, though, as you’d probably guess, a fair number of students either didn’t participate at all (though the blog was worth something like 15% of the course grade) or didn’t participate very substantially. I think the key is giving a very clear idea of what’s expected in each post/comment. I left it pretty open for the students, with the result that some of the posts were fairly thin, and a lot of the comments were along the lines of “good post!”.
Yeah, it’s that last bit that I worry about. I’ve finally gotten my instructions down fairly well to keep out the “good post” ones from my discussion forums now. It’s so daunting to start over again. I’m seriously considering doing it, but it’s going to take quite a bit of preparation for sure.
What if students were required to rate each others’ blog entries as they relate to the course material? This would require a like/dislike button or some rating system. The highest-rated student blogs would be awarded extra credit, to drop a test grade of their choice, skip a test, or some other incentive… You get the benefit of class/performance incentive and reward and get to take advantage of peer pressure and allow students to be creative, show off, and/or perform for their peers. Only problem, the people who’ve made it that far who are still clueless, don’t care, or have no writing or computer skills will be hopelessly lost. But that’s probably going to be their fate in any college classes anyway….
That last part is certainly a problem. Any of these advancements I’ve been talking about here are going to likely leave some students behind. I try to have my classes listed as online or hybrid to discourage students from signing up who want a traditional class. However, many choose based on time more than professor/style, so I always get some who are not ready to do what is needed.