I am thinking of using a blog in the master’s course on theories of gender that I’ll be teaching next semester. I haven’t done this before, so I am exploring the whys and hows of using blogs in education, and reading other people’s experiences on the web. I am full of questions (especially where the hows are concerned). These are my thoughts so far:
- The main reason I would like to use a blog is to get the students writing and thinking critically, also outside the classroom. A course on gender theory invites critical reflection, and active reading. It would be great if students could post their comments, ideas, or questions, to have other students react. Also, it would be a good forum to continue class discussions after hours. I have tried to do this before using the discussion function in Blackboard, but students are reluctant to use it. I think a blog might be more attractive, because it is easier to access, new content is signaled by RSS feeds, and it is just a lot less messy than the discussion board overview in Blackboard.
- I think the comment function could be very useful for stimulating debate among students, and might give students who are more confident writers than speakers a different way of partaking in the discussion.
- The blog could be a receptacle for all kinds of links to online journals on gender and feminist criticism, other weblogs and institutions. Students could contribute their own links, explaining in a post why this link should be added to the list.
- It could lead students to read more blogs on gender and feminist criticism, widening their learning context.
- I’m not sure which platform to use – I’m used to my WordPress blog, but I have no experience with other kinds of blog. Could I run the blog on the same domain as this one, but in a subfolder, or is that not a good idea? Are there (free) blogs that do not require you to buy server space? I found this useful list of multi-user blog options at Incorporated Subversion, but I’m still not sure.
- I would like to create one blog with multiple users, so that all students can post and comment. I have read some advice against this, though – group blogs only seem to work with experienced bloggers. Should I encourage students to create their own blogs for the course, perhaps? I still prefer the original idea of one blog for the course.
- Should I assess entries and comments as part of students’ grades for participation? My gut feeling says no, and an article by Jeremy Williams and Joanne Jacobs on blogs in higher education suggests that the contributions of students who blog only because they have to, “detracted from the overall quality of the experience for some students.” On the other hand, it might just encourage some students to contribute who otherwise would not. Perhaps the solution is to tell them they have to contribute one post, but it will not be graded?
- Problem: because a blog is public, and will be around in Google for years to come. Perhaps students should choose an alias? Those in the course would know who’s who, but the world need not know.
There’s a myriad of posts on the use of blogs in education out there. Here are some of the sites I read and found useful:
- A PhD research by Anne Bartlett-Bragg at Sydney University in 2005 suggests that blogging can help students to think and write critically.
- An exploration guide on using blogs in education by the TLTgroup – many, many useful links.
- Jonathan Hewett at Hackademic has posted his presentation on the use of a blog to help students reflect on their practical journalism, as a tool to help them learn, rather than to publish presentations.
- A huge post on blogs as a teaching tool with lots of useful links at Information Visualization. It takes some time to load, but it’s worth the wait.
- An article on using blogs to teach philosophy at the Academic Commons.
- Two posts on how not to use blogs in education at Blogsavvy (part 1, part 2). This is one of the sites that advises against using group blogs.