Why should you use a class blog? Or have your students blog?
These are good questions, considering the constraints all of us have on our time and energy. Using a new (to you) piece of technology always has a learning curve, even if you’re smart (you are) and the technology is pretty simple (it is). The time investment in learning the technology is real. More importantly, there’s an investment in learning how the practice of blogging or other digital pedagogical tools best fits into your course. Figuring out the technology is one thing. Figuring out how to effectively use the tools to promote learning is another, more difficult thing. But I think it’s worth it.
Before I get into my argument about why it’s worth it, I want to put something to rest first. You SHOULD NOT incorporate blogs or other digital tools into your teaching because they are “cool” or “to meet the students in their own medium” because they are “digital natives.” I think those are poor reasons because they are not really pedagogical reasons. I will try to put a post together to address this further, but in general I think that, while considering the perspective of our students is vital, assuming students are savvy producers or consumers of digital tools is likely to create problems.
I think incorporating digital tools, like blogging, into your teaching is worth it for a number of reasons. Students need guidance and practice in navigating digital spaces with critical sensibilities and creative savvy. The most important reason, however, is that these sorts of tools are good for increasing student voice and connecting them to larger communities.
Digital tools, particularly the social ones, enable to students to express themselves publicly. It’s very easy for students to be passive “consumers” of course content given forth by the teacher. Even students who want to take a more active role may feel intimidated, believing that what they’d like to contribute, or the questions they would like to ask, will be seen as dumb or silly by the instructor or their peers. This gets in the way of learning and inhibits the growth of an active, curious mindset which is key to learning in college and beyond.
Digital tools such as blogging are a way to give the students a voice, to let them speak their minds, ask questions, and display what they are learning (or trying to learn). Many tools are highly customizable, allowing students to express themselves in a variety of ways and the instructor to tailor the tool to better suit the class. Blogging encourages reflection, done in the students’ own voice, which encourages deeper learning. It’s also a handy way for the instructor to see how students are (or are not) processing the material.
While this sort of work can be done in a variety of ways — from public web domains to private journals in an LMS — I also think there’s value in having students do at least some of it publicly. While there are legitimate concerns about student privacy that need to be thought through at the course-level (don’t grade publicly!), encouraging students to make some of their writing public serves a variety of educational purposes. It helps students develop a positive digital footprint, helping to craft their digital identity in a positive, learner-centered way. Social, digital material is “out there” for an audience bigger than the teacher. This can be intimidating, but it also gives a degree of authenticity to the work. It can take what is traditionally “school” and make it into something bigger, with a broader potential impact. Thus, it can provide help to and create connections with others. It’s an easy way to share one’s learning, one’s story, in a way that others can appreciate. You never know who might read your post and be provoked, changed, challenged, or helped by what you have written. The group blog at I’m First is a good example, as first-generation college students share their stories of navigating higher education in order to be helpful to others.
There’s much more to be said and shared here, especially on the specific ways one could go about incorporating digital tools for creating and sharing within a course. But I’ll end by saying the best uses of these tools are ones that serve particular pedagogical needs and bolster the idea that students are an integral part of the learning process.