The Pedagogy of Blogging.
A presentation by Christopher P. Long Associate Professor of Philosophy and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies
at The College of the Liberal Arts at the Pennsylvania State University.
I want to talk a little bit about the pedagogy of blogging and why I find it, why I find blogging such a powerful pedagogical tool. I want to begin by just giving a brief overview of what a blog is so that people have a sense of what we’re talking, but also so that I can emphasize one of the
most important aspects of a blog. A blog is a website that is chronologically ordered. Frequently updated.
With the most recent posts at the top, usually.
It is a website that allows for both posts and comments.
So there’s a dialogical dimension endemic to blogging.
And this is the most important element, from my perspective,
it is a publishing platform. So when we think about blogging,
and we think about blogs, we need to think not only about the
fact that posts and comments are made and that there’s a kind
of time dimension, chronological dimension to it. Almost like journaling.
But also that there is a publishing dimension to it and it’s capacities to publish that make it so powerful.
So let me say a word or two about what I mean by a publishing platform. When somebody makes a post on a blog, it appears there on the blog, but then through what’s called real simple syndication it can appear in multiple places. So for example, when we speak of real simple syndication you need to think of something like what happens in syndication for the newspaper. So somebody writes an article and publishes it
and other newspapers around the country, for example, or around the world, pick up that article and it is syndicated. Well with blogging it’s a similar principle.
When somebody posts a blog, makes a post to their blog, like I’ve done here for my daughter Chloe on her first
day of kindergarten, it is immediately sent out to anyone who’s subscribed to the blog. So for example, if somebody’s using Google Reader, that post will appear here and it’ll look like this. The same content appearing here in Google Reader. You’ll notice that here there’s a little symbol for a subscribing to the entries or the comments that are made on the blog. Similarly somebody who could use their email client to subscribe to the blog and they would receive a message in their inbox, something like this, that would indicate that a new post has been made to the blog and this is what it would like.
And they could read the things that they had missed up to that point.
So it’s a very powerful publication tool. And that’s really what we need to think of blogs as as we think about their pedagogical power. So I’ve experimented with two models really of blogging in my classroom. The first is the one in which students are each blogging on their own blog. So there’s multiple blogs and
we try to use a common site to feed all of the information that is posted to those individual blogs to a common site.
And I’ve had some success with this format, but the problem with it is that it really doesn’t generate a kind of community of discussion. It seems that things are still too disbursed. The positive side of it is that each student feels a kind of ownership of her or his own blog. But increasingly I’ve come to recognize that really the power of blogging and the power of some of these social media technologies, lies in the communities that they can cultivate.
So the idea here with this second model is to use one blog. A common course blog and
have multiple authors, co-authors. The students and the faculty write the blog together. It is as if you are all co-writing a single document and what’s powerful about this is that it cultivates a community of learning in which the students and the faculty participate together. Now I’ve, in my class, have used blogging in such a way where I require the only writing for the course,
except for the final research paper, is blogging. And in order to do that of course
you need to lay out very clearly the expectations that one has in that context. And so I’ve developed a blogging scoring rubric, which is a rather in depth and detailed document that I include in my syllabi. And this lays out exactly what I expect students to do. So they are empowered to blog as they feel so moved to blog, but you notice here that participation once or twice a week will only get you a good grade. Not an excellent grade. If you participate frequently and consistently, if your posts are conceptually sophisticated, engaged in a substantive way with the material, if follow up postings like comments and things analyze the post of others, extends the discussion in new directions, relate comments to previous online discussion. In terms of content contribution of each post or comment. Do the post draw directly upon the material to make creative and substantive points that extend beyond the material. So we really want kind of encourage students to use all the excellent writing skills that they would use in any other academic writing. So we have here in the rubric the insistence that things are organized around a central point or argument that they are concise. That they’re even maybe
some striking formulations. That their posts are clear and easy to read. So I make a distinction between posts, which should be really
much more well crafted and well organized. And comments where students can be a little bit more dynamic in their give and take with one another. Of course we expect on the blog also the use of references. The use of links and so I have a dimension of connection and support here. So it’s really the way that I’m using the blog in the classroom is driven by this scoring rubric and it is a situation in which we have certain kinds of expectations of students,
but students are empowered to blog as they see fit.
And I think that this really adds a kind of engagement on the level of the students that is quite empowering and
I’ve had some good success with that with my students. One of the powerful things
about blogging that I’m interested in exploring is the way in which it blurs the boundaries of traditional education. So it certainly blurs
the boundary between student and teacher when the students are empowered to write as they are so moved and the teacher is not no longer prescribing a specific assignment. What ends up happening is that the students begin to highlight specific kinds of themes in the reading and in the work that actually direct the class in a kind of direction that the
teacher might not always expect. One of the wonderful things about this model is that
the teacher becomes a student in the sense that she or he learns often as much or more than the students are learning.
Blogs can blur the boundary between a semester and lifetime.
What’s wonderful about a blog is that it has a life after the semester. And one of the things that I’m a strong advocate of is
that these blogs should be open to the public. And they should maintained even after the semester goes. The normal structure is that you have a lot of activity during the semester and then the semester ends and no activity on the online community. This at least opens a possibility that students can continue to blog about the content of the course
and other things throughout their rest of their academic career and
even into their professional life. It blurs the boundaries between practice and theory. So there’s a way in which blogging forces one to put theories of good education into practice.
And to practice them in this online environment. Of course it also, blogging also blurs the boundary between the world and the classroom.
Where through links and other things students can reach out beyond the classroom and bring content from the world in.
But what’s also very powerful is when word gets out into the community about what’s going on, on the blog, often you can have members of the community participating in the classroom discussion.
And I’ve had a lot of exciting conversations that have emerged out of people from the community commenting on
the work that my students are doing. Students are quite excited when that happens. So blogs can blur the boundaries of traditional education. And they can do this by the fact they’re always accessible to everyone. That they are continuing. They’re always sort of on. And what they involve is continuing engaged
authoring by students and faculty. They have a dialogical dimension because there’s commenting. You can use the blog to host podcasts.
To host video. And I’ve had a lot of success with having group projects where my students did weekly round up podcasts for my class where they highlighted blog posts and aspects of the reading and in class discussion. In a podcast, a five to seven minute podcast, where we really have a summary of what
we’ve done that week. And it really sets us up for a successful week the next week.
And also we have then an ongoing kind of artifact of what we’ve been doing that semester. Blogs can foster connections through links and through embedding.
And of course it’s possible to publish to and from a blog as I emphasized before when I talked about the importance of the blog as a publishing platform. So I hope you’re beginning to see the power of the pedagogy of blogging. Students are encouraged to cultivate a diversity of modes of expression. Writing, in writing, they write posts.
They write comments. We can encourage speaking and all the kinds of skills associated with speaking by having them do podcasts
and hosting the podcast on the blog. Pictures can be easily posted to the blog. Video through embedding and having students create their own videos.
I think the key here is that students are generating the content
and participating in the community. And this really makes the blog a very
powerful medium for the cultivation of communities of learning. So reading and writing can then, in this context, move into analysis of pictures and it really can speak to students who have diverse kinds of ways of learning. Whether they’re visual learners or auditory learners. Blogs can accommodate these different kinds of learning approaches. Also blogs cultivate a diversity of fluencies. And I want to emphasize that I want fluency rather than mere literacy. Literacy is important, but are students able to live in an environment that is dynamic and changing? And are they able to participate in ways that hold the content that they’re encountering accountable to questions of ethics and other concerns that they might have? Reading expands into responding so it’s not just a passive activity, so to speak, but reading can becomes very active and very dynamic Writing also expands to creating.
Students are no longer just regurgitating what they’ve been told in class, but they’re actually
creating new content and ideas of their own. Because they are blogging when they’re moved to blog when an experience they’ve had causes them to think, well this is something I can reflect
critically and thoughtfully about. It empowers as I’m trying to emphasize student engagement. Each student is no longer just a writer, but she or he is also now a publisher. So students need to be thinking about how their words have an impact on reality and how they can when they are disbursed in a wide ranging way can really have an impact on how people think and act.
The audience of one. Namely the faculty. When in traditional teaching students submit a paper to a faculty.
The faculty reads it and returns it with comments.
Hopefully the comments get read. Here the audience of one becomes an infinite
audience across time and space. Students can respond to each other. People from the community can respond to each other.
I’ve had some luck with classes from other universities where
we’ve had students talking together on the blog through the commenting.
And so there’s a whole a lot more feedback that students have in this context. It also can foster a dynamic interaction among peers.
And can cultivate community this way.
And when it’s done correctly and well, I think the
community of voices can amplify. We really have a wonderful service at Penn State called Voices @ Penn State.
And this is a way for us, as you can see here, to blog or to search on all the tags that we might have going on. So for example, I know that the question of our energy future is important right now and is something that we’re talking a lot about here at Penn State. And so if you
search on energy you can see all the posts aggregated right here that have been made by anyone at Penn State
who is blogging on the issue of energy. And you can see they come together in this one spot. So in the end really these facets, this capacity to cultivate a dynamic community of learning marks the power of the pedagogy of blogging. Thank you!