I am curious what others think of using a blog in the classroom. Specifically I mean treating the blog as an assignment, which asks students to reflect on what they’ve learned.
We’ve been talking about this in the teaching seminar I take at the School of Information & Library Science at UNC Chapel Hill. A fellow doctoral student is using a blog in her class. I have mixed feelings about this.
When I asked my class what they thought about blogs and diaries, most indicated that they felt it was busy work. In my own experience, I too have felt it was busy work. This does not mean that I do not reflect on what I’m learning. I do this continually; but usually I do written reflection by writing out bullet points of key things I need to remember and then organizing them by need. So for instance, I have a schedule that plans out the entire semester. After each class, I edit that day’s entry in the schedule by including notes on what I covered in class, what we didn’t get a chance to finish, what questions students might have asked that need more of my attention, etc. This is more professional note-keeping really; not quite the same kind of reflection.
For deeper, more personal reflection, I chat with various mentors and spend time meditating. As a result of a conversation, I might again jot down bullet points but I do not do this after meditating. The meditation is the most personal form of reflection I do. It is a commitment I make to sit still with myself for so much time each day. It in itself IS the reflection. So I don’t believe that all reflection must be done in ink.
Additionally, I consider much of my personal reflection private. Many insights I have really aren’t suited for public consumption; and so writing them out feels phony to me in some way. Taking something very genuine, very personal, very tender, often messy, and dressing it up in structured, well-formatted, standard English feels very contrived and artificial to me. It also seems to suck the heart-felt truth out of what I learned.. This is also another reason I prefer oral reflection with a mentor. For me, the immediacy and intimacy of face-to-face conversation is better suited to sharing personal reflections.
However, blogs in the classroom may not need to get this personal. Maybe they are more like writing a literature review, explaining what you learned from others and how it has shaped your current thinking.
I can see value in using a blog or some other type of journal in a class for those students who tend to need to organize their thoughts on paper before discussing them with others. So using the blog to ask students to reflect on the readings before coming to class and participating in discussion could be very beneficial. For more quiet students, it might be a better way to get to know them and the way they learn and think. However, I would still argue that these students need to work on being able to express themselves orally in public because being able to do so is frequently required to be successful in most jobs. So a blog/journal should not provide a safe escape from public expression for more quiet students, but should help them develop more self-confidence in expressing themselves and provide a means to translate that self-expression into face-to-face, group settings.
I also think that blogs/journals that are structured are probably more helpful than free form ones, especially for the student who tends to view this kind of exercise as busy work. Simply asking a student just to say what they think is vague and consequently difficult for many of them. “Think? … About what?” Pointed questions can jumpstart thinking. Another benefit is that a structured blog helps to direct the student’s thinking in ways that I, as the instructor, need to see in order to assess their critical thinking competency with the material. It also indirectly indicates to the student how to organize their thoughts and gives them clues as to what facets of the topic are the most critical. I think that without clear guidelines, students could waste their time and mine by inadvertently talking about something completely irrelevant to the course or topic. Yes, it’s good that they are thinking and writing something at least; but school should also be prepare them for real world. Being able to understand how to frame your contributions so that they are on-topic and in-scope is a valuable skill that employers and future colleagues will appreciate. There’s nothing like a project deadline getting pushed and pushed and the company losing money and wasting resources because time spent in meetings and via written communication was not effective, not on-topic, not in-scope.
There are a few nice things about a blog over a MS Word document. One is that it introduces a new/different technology; and such exposure is always helpful when sending students out into a technologically evolving world. More and more people are communicating online and blogs can be used to teach what self-presentation means in an online world and how to manage it. It also allows for chronicling multiple thoughts and pulling them together to show a stream of connected thinking about multiple topics rather than disparate musings on singular topics. If the blog is open to the student’s classmates, it helps students write for a larger audience than just the professor, possibly receive feedback, and gives the student a sense of still being in “class” (among peers) even though not in the classroom. A closed blog (professor eyes only) however is better suited to more private musings.
I’d be curious to hear others’ experience with using blogs/journals as well as examples of how you used them. Did you think they were effective? Were there any drawbacks and if so, how would you redesign the assignment to mitigate those drawbacks?