Professor of Digital Culture Jill Walker Rettberg defines a blog—itself a term derived from “web log”—as “a frequently updated website consisting of dated entries arranged in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first.” As such, they allow writers to share ideas, links, multimedia, and other types of information, and often allow readers the opportunity to respond with comments. A blog where students write about their course readings, discussions, lectures, and other assignments is a powerful way to not only engage students in the subject matter but create an authentic community of learners.
How Do Blogs Support Learning?
- Blogs help grow learning communities by allowing students to share their own perspectives and experiences while learning about those of their classmates.
- Blogs let students take ownership of their learning, offering them a space to tease out tough problems, explore possible solutions, and basically do the hard work that critical thinking requires.
- Blogs encourage creativity of expression by giving students a platform to experiment with a variety of genres, allowing for the unique personalities of both students and faculty to emerge.
- Blogs create multimodal spaces capable of hosting a wide variety of multimedia: oftentimes images, audio, video, and other media can communicate ideas more effectively than written text.
- Blogs give students opportunities to address audiences other than their professors: their posts could be read by other students, their parents, and visitors from across the globe.
- Blogs foster opportunities for reflection and provide them with tangible evidence of their learning over time: students can look at their previous posts to identify recurrent patterns in their thinking, times of change or growth, and other markers of learning and development.
- Blogs familiarize students with widely-used web content platforms: The knowledge and skills gained by writing and maintaining a blog are transferrable to a wide variety of work contexts, as blogging platforms (particularly Wordpress) power an increasing number of websites around the world.
- You’ll need to decide what you’d like your students to accomplish by blogging:
- How does blogging support one or more of your courses’ learning outcomes?
- What type of writing will they do here?
- Will students respond to your own prompts, or will they have freer reign?
- Do they need their own blogs or will they collaborate using just one?
- How often will you require students to post, and will you expect them to comment on one another’s work?
- Consider whether you want your students to create individual blogs or work on a shared course blog.
- Students who create their own blogs can customize them as they wish; however, if you go this route consider sharing a list of all students’ blogs and encourage them to visit one another’s sites and post comments. Example: Avogrado Salad - A Chemistry Blog by Sarah Almeda
- With a course blog, all students post entries to the same blog, and in that way sharing one another’s writing and comments is easier.
- After you consider the above, you’ll need to choose a blogging platform. Two of the best free options are WordPress and Blogger. In both tools, students can create their own blogs, customize templates and layouts, and embed multimedia.
- Blogger is developed by Google and many find it easier to use than WordPress. Users will need their own Google accounts to use this service.
- WordPress is an open-source blogging application that can either be hosted independently or on WordPress.com’s servers. Its features are more advanced than Blogger but some find it complicated to use; learn more about WordPress.com vs WordPress.org.
- Other options you may want to consider are Tumblr, a free microblogging app, and Edublogs, a fee-based service powered by WordPress.
Assessing Learning in Blogs
As with any reflective learning tool, there is no hard and fast way to assess work. However, there are two main approaches to blog assessment: you can assess individual entries or blog assignments or blogging activity as a whole using a rubric. You can also incorporate your assignment prompt and grading rationale into your blog.
Kevin Smith, an expert on privacy and scholarly communication at Duke, outlines four steps you should undertake if you require students to blog in an open forum (i.e. without any access/privacy restrictions). As he points out, “When we want students to post directly to publicly accessible blogs, it is not certain that those student works ever actually become ‘educational records’ under the law because they are never ‘in our keeping.’”
However, Smith argues that the following four steps should be taken to mitigate any potential privacy concerns:
- Tell students at the beginning of the course that they will be required to post public blog entries and allow them a chance to speak with you privately if they have any concerns about their privacy.
- Allow students to participate in the blog by using an alias or pseudonym.
- Remind students to not post private information like phone numbers, addresses, social security numbers and the like on the site.
- Consider providing alternative, private assignments for students who are concerned about their privacy to fulfill the course requirements.
Additionally, avoid giving specific feedback to students in a public manner: that would likely be considered a FERPA violation because you’d be disclosing information that could be classified as educational records.
Example Course Blogs
Associate Professor Matt Ragas (Communication) has his students enrolled in his Corporate Communication Course blog about different aspects of corporate communication that appear in the news.
DePaulInterns.org. Students enrolled in Marketing 393 for their Junior Year Experiential Learning requirement reflect on their daily experiences working as interns.
A couple examples of specific blog assignments can be found from the University of Texas’ Digital Writing and Research Lab:
Further Resources on Blogs
Deng, L., & Yuen, A. (2009). “Blogs in Higher Education: Implementation and Issues.” TechTrends, 53(3), 95-98
Deng, L., & Yuen, A.. (2011). “Towards a Framework for Educational Affordances of Blogs,” Computers & Education 56(2), 441-451.http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.09.005
Rotolo, Anthony. (2012). “How to Write an Effective Blog Post.” Information Space. Syracuse University.
"Tag Archives: Student Blogging." The Chronicle of Higher Education.