Tuesday, January 30, 2007

From the Chronicle: An "expert in pedagogy" talks about blogs

From the CHE: an "expert in pedagogy"* talking about blogs:

I began to feel overloaded, too. Don't get me wrong. I love blogs. I have my RSS feeds set to a number of blogs that help me stay current on personal and professional interests. But the key difference is that I am not forced to read any of those blogs. None of them were created because of someone else's course requirement.

Frankly, the blog postings I required my students to write were just not very interesting. Those students are bright, insightful, frequently opinionated, and, as a whole, a pleasure to be around. Their blogs were not.

When I included a requirement that all students integrate at least three forms of multimedia in their blogs by the end of the semester, I envisioned creations like podcasts and Gliffy concept maps.

She goes on to add that (as everyone knows) blogs aren't inherently an interactive form for classes in the way that discussion boards might be and that the best blogs are written by people who are passionate about their subject matter.

This makes me wonder if the problem was that the focus was on the extras--the glitzy multimedia stuff--instead of on the subject matter. Of course, if this was an educational technology course, maybe writing about the media they were using was the point. Making Gliffy concept maps (whatever they are) is doubtless just as valid for education as writing essays would be in a humanities discipline.

Still, requiring that students use a technological tool when there's no compelling reason to do so except that the teacher wants you to (and we've all probably made this mistake at one point or another) could cause problems. The real trick is to make students so passionate about communicating something that can best be communicated through one of the technologies you've shown them to use (essay writing, blogs, multimedia, web pages, or whatever) that they're driven to learn it as a means rather than as an end.

*She really is; this is a quotation from the article. She has some good ideas.

FWIW, I do like to read my students' blogs. They have a definite subject matter, and the students often talk about it in interesting, smart, or funny ways. Yes, sometimes their inspiration flags--whose doesn't?--and they write a duty post or three, but not usually.

I also never expected class blogs to foster community in the same ways that discussion lists have done in my classes in the past. Although I've seen some self-important pronouncements posing as research about what is and is not a blog ("It must have a community/links/specific topics/other" or "That's not a blog; that's an online diary/journal/story forum"), the truth is that in my class, it's a blog if I say it's a blog, and it's a blog for me if it's serving the purposes of the class, regardless of what criteria it meets for others.

Part technology and part genre--is it a genre expressed through technology?--blogs resist such false dichotomies and attempts at containment. That's what makes them so messy and so interesting.

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