Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Blogs in the Classroom

Finding information on blogs in the classroom is particularly difficult. I would imagine this mostly has to do with how recently they've been applied to instruction. A simple EBSCO search brings up very little on the topic, so I was left with what is normally considered a poor resource, the internet. I did, however, find a few articles through EBSCO that turned out to be very helpful, and I have a few articles from other places that I hope to delve into here for the benefit of learning more about the topic.

The first article (found first through EBSCO and later through this link) provides all sorts of great information on practical use of blogs in the classroom. He cites the major advantages as:
  • Interactivity between teachers and students (i.e. Teacher poses a question, students comment and respond on the blog)
  • Interactivity between students (students can read and post on other students' blogs)
  • Continued class discussion after school is over
  • Students can view homework assignments from the blog
  • Students can ask questions and receive feedback
  • Parents (given the possibilities for logging in) can see what's going on in the classroom and even contribute their ideas and knowledge
These are awesome advantages for both the students and the teacher, especially if they're familiar with blogging.

There are some worries that come along with this. "Safety provisions are essential," Risinger writes. Blogs, by nature, are meant to be read by more than just the writer. For safety reasons (as with anything on the internet these days), it's not a good idea for students to have that kind of a wide audience. Moving student blogs away from places like Blogger.com (no matter how much I like it here) and on to a school district's server can help eliminate this security problem. If your district doesn't have blogging software, one article I read suggested using the free, open-source program Movable Type as an option to get started. In one of the previous posts here, a commenter mentioned that having the blogs hosted this way helps "assure parents ... that the public was not permitted to read student posts."

There are quite a few websites dedicated to offering the same kinds of services to educators. The one that stands at the forefront is called Edublogs.
The introductory video found at their website.
This site was founded by the Australian former-educator, James Farmer. His purpose was to not only give teachers a place for their students to blog, but also to give them the resources to do so effectively. What I like most about this particular site is that everything is completely free unlike some websites (an important issue for many teachers). The only downside I can find is the fact that its hosted on the other side of the planet, so load times can be a little longer than what I'd prefer. Other than that, it looks promising.

There are quite a few reasons you should look into blogging for your classroom. I read a rather revealing article on student motivation published in the NCTE journal, Voices from the Middle. In it, Sylvia Read demonstrates how blogs fulfill certain needs that students have while accomplishing school work at the same time. She refers to certain relatedness needs that all humans have (see: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for details) that can be fulfilled through blogging. She states, "Bloggers can meet their relatedness needs because they can receive feedback on their posts through commenting. They can also connect with others by reading their blogs and learning how their lives are both similar to and different from their own." One of the bloggers, Katie, that she corresponded with during the writing of her article stated, "It's my own little energy release I guess ... I like writing even if nobody reads it." From my own experience with blogs when I was a teenager (and even later in life), I can agree with her. Sometimes, you just want to put your feelings out in a place where they can be read, even if they won't be.

Later in the article, Read brings up the examples from a study by Janet Emig showing that students "spent much more time planning, drafting, and revising their self-sponsored writing than they did with their school-assigned writing." She also brings up the power of peer responses on blogs over teacher grading. This brings up a huge point. There are many students (myself included) who hate "writing for the teacher." It drives me nuts! Having to sacrifice certain aspects of your own writing style so that a teacher doesn't get offended can be more than aggravating. Blogs give the opportunity to teachers to seem less like authority figures and more like educated peers, especially when combined with the comments of other students. Rather than feeling validation through grades, a student is able to find validation through peer acknowledgement of their published works, which is truly a longer lasting satisfaction.

Here are some additional advantages Read mentions to blogging (some of which can be incorporated into in-class writing):
  • Blog topics are [generally] self chosen.
  • Blog posts are short and of rough-draft quality.
  • Blog posts often involve frequent changes of fonts, backgrounds, and other design features, which adds an element of "fun."
  • Due to the lessened pressure for "correctness," blog posts help enhance writing fluency.
These are just some of the things I've found on the advantages (and precautions) of blogging in the classroom. There is more on the topic, I'm sure. As an example, there are a few articles and websites I looked at, but didn't mention in particular here. If you're interested, they are here below for your own perusal.

WRITING SOFTWARE AND WEBWARE IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL COMPUTING. By: Doe, Charles, MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 15464636, Jul/Aug2007, Vol. 14, Issue 4 (Click here if you have access to BYU's HBLL Resources)

From the English Journal:
Using Weblogs in the Classroom by Greg Weiler
Vol. 92, No. 5, May 2003
Students' New Links to Literacy: Student Writers Travel the Infinite Page by Maureen Sara
Vol. 90, No. 2, November 2000
A Semester of Action Research: Reinventing My English Teaching through Technology by Nancy Traubitz
Vol. 87, No. 1, January 1998

No comments: