Monday, July 13, 2015

Student Blogging - who are they writing for?

I am so lucky to get the opportunity to teach for the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Oklahoma.  I have started requiring my course participants to blog as part of the class.  I give them some specific assignments - transitioning the "Journal" activities that used to exist solely in the LMS into blogging activities, that are open and I encourage them to read their colleagues blogs and comment (to varying levels of success).  I have even had them conduct their week discussions in their blogs - and again, mostly successful experiences.

One of the things I have learned from teaching is that you can ask for a lot from participants, but you do owe them an explanation - why is this activity important, what are you hoping they will achieve from doing it - otherwise they are quick to call it "busy work."  So I have been working on how to discuss the reasoning behind the blogging.  I am pulling the rest of this post from something I wrote for my summer course when some in the class asked if I would be commenting on all of their blog posts...

A large part of my reason for the blogs is to encourage you to think reflectively about what you are doing (in the class, in your jobs, in your life…) and share that with others.  It is hard to truly turn information in to knowledge without creating relationships between new information and existing ideas, or relating that information to a current need.  The journals are a good tool to support these kind of connections.

In a way the blogs are really for you, a place for you to find/stretch your voice, start to create your professional persona, to realize you have something to say (and you do!).  Yes, I know I am making you do them, so it may not feel like it is for you – but it is a great way to experiment. So my dilemma about leaving comments, is that it implies that my response is needed for your blogs – that the are about grading, or fulfilling a requirement that I stand in judgement over.  This is another reason why the points for the blogs are in your hands, I am not going to grade discussions or reflections – because they are about you and about interaction…the activity is more important in some ways than the content.

There is actually a term for what I am encouraging you to do – “learning out loud” and hopefully subsequently “working out loud.”  There is a great blog post on LOL from Nigel Young  – and one on WOL. You can also read this from Shana Chattopadhyay on WOL. As you think about working out loud, remember it can be just as important to share your "failures" as it is to share your victories - this is impart about helping others to avoid some of the same issue.  Here are some great blog posts on "failures" – it can be so much easier to learn from something that didn’t go right than from something that did…

I DO get that you may not love the idea of doing anything out loud, but in all honesty, you MUST.  We all need to move quickly in our jobs and learning, and we can do that when we build on the work of others.  As a project manager, I can tell you that most projects are not properly documented, and this always comes back to haunt us.  
Blogging is still not something that even I do instinctively – but I am making it part of what I do with my work – you can check out the blog for my current library position at ouopentextbooks.org – my colleague Cody and I blog here, and he is much better at it than I am.   This is not our formal presence, we use our Library website for that "official" presence.  In the blog, we are just sharing what we do, the things that work, the approaches that don’t.  We learn every day from other blogs like this, and so we think it is important for us to share.  It is not refined and beautiful prose with citations, not a 5 point essay – just our thoughts, just sharing what we do everyday as part of our work.  That is why the reflections and discussions in this course are happening in your blogs, they are informal, and inherently personal.  They are not formal research papers.  They may not even be formal thoughts - but forming thoughts, experiences, questions, opinions.  I want you to write – reflect, learn from each other…
Which brings us back to and answer for the original question – In general I will not respond to every blog post you make.  I don’t want you to think that my opinion/response is any more valid than what you wrote, or that my comment brings validation to what you created –  you have a voice and that voice is valid.  I do know it can be lonely to just be blogging and not know if anyone is listening – but again, this blog is about you, so maybe that is OK.  I would really like for you to read each others blogs, comment and share your thoughts – this seems much more rich and interesting than my comments alone.  As I have stated in other parts of the course - you are hearing a LOT from me already (the weekly lectures, the selected readings, the activities) - and there is so much you can learn from each other. A course with only 1 voice is boring, share your voices in your blogs and discussions. 
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Ok - so that was the post for my students - what do you think?  
  • Have you had your students blog or "learn out loud" in other ways?  Do you grade these activities?  Do you try to comment on every blog post?
  • What are some alternative ways to grade or "evaluate" reflective student assignments, or student engagement?
  • If you would like to have you students blog but have not started - what is holding you back?  


8 comments:

  1. I've only had one experience with using blogs in a classroom. Our teacher set up a class blog and we were to write weekly posts and comment on each other's posts. For half the class (myself included) it was the first time we had written on a blog. Looking back on it the most helpful thing about this class was that we were "forced" to become comfortable with blog writing.

    I am rather curious about the practical aspects of using blogs in a classroom, with grading being perhaps the most confusing. Grading seems to suggest some sort of standard. But, if the purpose of blogging in a classroom is the exploration and development of a voice, how does one construct a standard for assessing this? Should it be defined to specific guidelines - word count, commenting, etc. - or can content itself also be assessed?

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  2. Hi Brent!!! It is nice to connect up again! I'll let Stacy chime in on how she handles grading in her classes but, as I see it, grading is a learning-killer, turning the motivation to learn (for itself, for yourself) into the motivation to get the grade (based on someone else's standard, which might or might not be the right challenge level for you). So, I don't put grades on blogging, and I don't put grades on anything; I just ask students to commit to a certain level of participation each week (with lots of options for how they participate), and then to record that effort by means of simple checklists they fill out in D2L (I call them "Declarations"... a hack of true-false quizzes). Here's how that works in my classes:
    Grading without Fear

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  3. Hey Brent, like Laura said, I'll let Stacy chime in on her specific approach to blogs and grades. Like Laura, I design blogs to focus on the level of participation. The "qualitative" portion is controlled mostly by the framing of the assignments/projects. Laura does a really nice job of this with her storybook assignments (http://anatomy.lauragibbs.net/2014/09/storybooks-big-picture.html).

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  4. Your question about grading is a great one, and as an instructor I have really struggled with this - if you are trying to get students to be reflective - how do you GRADE that? How do you evaluate connections and personal thoughts? I actually borrowed from Laura on this one and have my students "assign" their own points for blogs. They take "Confirmation Quizzed" to build their points for journals. Students either confirm that they fully completed the assignment (100%) or that they did most of it (85%) - they can even select that they didn't do the assignment at all for 0 points. For the most part students select the 100%, but I get a quite a few students who opt for the B every now and then.
    Brent, would love to hear from you on this - what do you think of this approach? What would you suggest?

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  5. Last semester I started voluntarily blogging about my class assignments. For my own purposes I think of what I write in my blog as documentation -not blogging, but it is what it is. For my Electronics Lab class I blogged about every lab that I completed. Each lab needed to be documented in the form of lab notes. Lab notes were not graded by completion, but if you included your design process, a diagram of your design, and measurements proving its function you got full credit, but the true value of writing lab notes was not in receiving a grade for the notes themselves but was in how useful they were to you in an exam. The quality of the lab notes that we took was incentivized by allowing us to reference them on exams. That is, on exams we needed to perform calculations, design circuits, and build circuits similar to that which we had already built in lab. Depending on how detailed we made our notes we could essentially write ourselves a guide to use on the exam (the content of our notes were not limited by content or by volume). For me, detailed notes proved invaluable on exams (much more valuable than the grade received for completing the notes themselves) and have already proved themselves useful to me outside of the classroom as I continue to use them for personal reference. Of course, my professor doubtfully intended for his students to publish their lab notes online, but rather write them in Word and only use them personally. I, however, found it just as easy to write my notes in my blog. This way they are accessible from any computer I might have access to. Likewise they are accessible by anyone who might come across them. -another value adding component.

    At any rate, I propose that the value of student blog posts lie in their own intrinsic utility. In this case, it is the instructor's job to prove the utility of documentation to their students rather than artificially assigning points. In my case, the grade I received on my notes themselves rarely crossed my mind, rather I was thinking about how useful my notes would be to me on an exam and in the future outside the class. Those notes now have much more meaning to me than the grade I received in the class.

    Examples can be found here.

    Also, Stacy I love that your students are honest about their own performance! Sometimes, for whatever reason, things just don't get done. In several of my posts I remember prefacing with "this is not my best work" but I went on to document as much as I could at the time. Important to be honest with yourself in your reflections.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the insights! I love the idea of documenting instead of "blogging" - I often have students who feel that they don't have anything to "say" but they always have a need to document a project.
      I do think it is important to have the leeway to say "not my best work" - we can learn just as much from the less successful experiences, maybe more. So weeks we just run out of time - some topics just don't really resonate.

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  6. I really appreciate you sharing this perspective about "documentation" as opposed to "blogging," Cody. I'm definitely going to incorporate that into my instruction moving forward. Also love your examples. Thanks a bunch for sharing.

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  7. What a great conversation, everybody! I want to second the idea of USE and also RE-USE. There are really an infinite number of things I could ask students to do and explore, so one of the ways I choose which assignments to keep is based on the use and re-use potential: can the student re-use this later on? (as in Cody's example) ... can OTHER students use what the student did? (that's why I love blogging: students get lots of ideas for their own stories by looking at the techniques other students use in their stories) ... can I use and re-use the students' work? (that's why both blogs and websites are great: I can link to specific examples from the announcements, assignment instructions, build an archive of past work so future students can see examples, etc.).
    I would say that is one of the biggest problems with LMS as I see it: there is nothing about the LMS that supports extended re-use. Linking is hard (or even impossible), and the content usually disappears at the end of the semester. But with blogs and websites, there's student work from years and years ago that is still an important part of my class.
    Re-use: it's powerful! :-)

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