Reflecting on blogging.

I’ve recently read two posts – one from Su White and one from AJ Cann – both of which I agree with. Su was discussing the difficulties of getting students to reflect (at a course level) while AJ Cann was thinking about students blogging at unit level.

In many ways, I agree with them; so why have I just asked my students to keep a unit level blog? (when generally I think that a single blog per student is preferable) and why am I going to mark it? Well, firstly, I’m not going to mark it – I’ll mark a reflective (oops … bad word?) report based on the contents of the blogs.

Am I seeing a “blog” as what the students are recording, or just how they’re recording them? I think it’s important to stress that a blog is, quite simply, a tool. That’s all. It allows users to easily create a chronological record. Just like a diary. Unlike a diary, though, it’s much easier to search; to categorise (or tag); to allow visitors to access parts; to keep other parts private. There are, however, a few diary features that aren’t in a blog – e.g. the ability to update in a power cut/ away from a PC (for luddites like me that have mobiles that can just text & make phone calls!); to insert a drawing (well, have you ever tried to draw freehand with a mouse?!); to stick in tickets/mementos, etc.

So, I started to think about how diaries are used. Many people have more than one diary; the appointment type (perhaps one for home, one for work); a personal diary … though that might get as far as

Jan 3rd.
Got up. Hangover finally gone. Ate breakfast. Walked dog. Went to bed

We might also keep a log for particular projects at work.

Most diaries aren’t written for public consumption; yet we have some famous diarists.
Samuel Pepys has given us a fascinating insight to life in the 1660s – ranging from major news events to his personal sex life. It’s now being gradually republished as a blog. Genevieve Spencer is rather less known, though her depression era diary is now being republished as a twitter feed.

Other diarists have kept meticulous notes on their observations of the natural world – Darwin’s diaries are well known, while many of my age will remember the publication of Edith Holden’s Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady in the ’70s. Having spent several years living in Alton, Gilbert White’s diaries are also of personal interest.

Moving to younger diarists – we have, of course, Anne Frank’s gripping description of a life that many of us can only imagine (though perhaps all too real to some in Darfur, Burma, Gaza & Zimbabwe) [oh, and Happy 100th to Miep] Perhaps easier to identify with, despite being fictional, are the teenage worries of the 13¾ year old Adrian Mole.

What many of these diarists have in common (other, probably, than Anne and Adrian) is that they are not really known for having reflective entries in their diaries. Rather, as in the case of Darwin and White, the reflection came later in the books they subsequently wrote. For the rest, it is their descriptions of every day life that are fascinating, the records that can help us identify (if not find a cause for) climatic changes – or whatever.

Perhaps, then, I can justify asking my students to use a blog, as a tool, to keep a record of the development of their software, so that they can create a report at the end. This, then can reflect on the decisions made, changes of direction etc., (i.e. all those things that we expect Computing students to write as they’re developing software).

What do you think?

Using blogs to enhance learning.

Using Blogs to Enhance Learning – Some Helpful Tips – , puts forward some useful points.
In particular,

teachers need to be clear that a blog is an individualized tool for one learner. Yes, students can leave comments on a colleague’s blog that represent a reflection of the material presented. But if a teacher is seeking reactions from a collective group the tool to use would be a wiki or a discussion forum. In essence, teachers must select the proper tool for the task.

(“Open Education”, 2008)

This is something that I’ve had a number of conversations with others about – when they ask about creating a “class blog”. In part, we have to decide what the purpose of the blog is; is it for reflection, (in which case, I’m not sure that anyone would argue against individual blogs), or is it for news sharing, in which case, a group blog (as is the way that WebCT Vista blogs are set up) works.

Many of the ideas in the blog post are linked back to some work that Reynard, from the Career Education Corporation did. The blog links to her “Avoiding the 5 most Common Mistakes in Using Blogs with Students” , and I think it’s this that the ideas in “Open Education”‘s post are based on. I’m sometimes sceptical of agencies with words like “Career” in the title, as I’ve sometimes found that they tend to concentrate more on the “training” aspects of learning, rather than the more “educational” aspects – those things that it’s actually far harder to measure, yet are vital. However, her points seem to concur pretty closely with my ideas.

The idea of assessment is mentioned, and I think that she is looking at Blogging for grades, as well as blogging for learning. A blog does have the opportunity, I believe, to offer value for students without necessarily having to be graded. The student, however, has to come to that realisation, and, for many, an initial “graded” introduction may be of use, so she can decide whether or not it’s for her. Blogs aren’t for everyone, and that’s something we, as blogging enthusiasts, have to remember!

I’m still not quite sure about the diagram used in the article

, as I can’t quite work out who owns which blog. Ownership of blogs is something that “Open Education”, Reynard and I all feel is vital …