The National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education has an excellent introduction to the use of weblogs in Higher Education entitled "Weblogs in Education: Bringing the World to the Liberal Arts Classroom". The article starts with a customary introduction to the weblog but quickly establishes it's educational potential: "In the hands of creative teachers, weblogs can enable students to connect their classroom experience to the "real world." " At a prosaic level teachers use weblogs to provide an easy to access location for syllabi, assignments, course materials, course web links (URLs); the kind of functionality which can also be accomplished with static web pages (open) or proprietary Course Management Systems (closed). (For more discussion see a future article of mine "The Educational Case for Openness: are Course Management Systems harmful to pedagogic creativity"). Colleen Wheeler's list of how "weblogs can support many of the critical touch-points in the college experience" is worth repeating:
- a living, reflective journal informing a student's portfolio;
- a bridge to connect class content and writing assignments;
- a strategic tool to fuel ongoing research;
- collective memory for remote or co-located teams;
The Blog paradigm can transform into a powerful tool for collaboration. Eric Davis at Middlebury College used a weblog in his first year seminar course called "September 11: Causes and Consequences". He has this to say (from the NITLE document) :
"The Weblog facilitated much more collaborative learning by students than in earlier courses. Students commented on each other's paper drafts and worked in groups on their research projects. They did a lot of writing (by the end of the term, about 100 pages each) without realizing how much they had done. For many of them, the writing became a 'fun' activity rather than something that was seen as drudgery or a hurdle to be overcome."
An impressive testimony to the power of this tool in creative hands.
I was really impressed by the commitment that the school is making to weblogs. Ten teachers will be using weblogs next year including Eric Davis, who is the Secretary of the College and a real weblog proponent. His weblog/course on September 11 is definitely a "Best Practice". And Barbara seemed amazed by how the weblogs changed her Writing Across the Arts class. (BTW, I really liked the way she used the home page to reflect on her own experiences in the class.) And Hector shared a lot of his ideas about how to integrate and expand the role of weblogs. They and Sarah (who went above and beyond in arranging and organizing my time there) helped to really confirm what I've been thinking about all of this, and in a large way to validate the time and effort I'm spending. (I can't wait for the day when I have some weblogging colleagues to share my enthusiasm with down here!)
At any rate, it was a great experience, and I think it's time we start talking seriously about getting a "Blogvention" together somewhere. There is nothing like meeting and talking and sharing ideas (although weblogs come a close second!)
Still at Middlebury, Barbara Ganley has an exciting weblog called "Writing Across the Arts". Her blog has links that one might expect to syllabus, course overview, and general arts resources, but there are other exciting, innovative areas. The 'discussions' page includes the unsurprising student-led discussions but also discussions with visiting experts. The 'class weblogs' page has links to all the student blogs: in her blog Bella asks "Why do we write about art?" and she receives some responses (listed in the Navigation column - go see for yourself). The 'Collaborating Guests' section invites exploration with Introductions and the intruiging 'knowledge tree'. So here we have not only a rich melange of class interactions but guests (experts?) are invited to join which further enriches the conversation. Finally, in Middlebury's First Year Seminar Information Weblog, Hector Vila expounds on the notion of The Knowledge Tree; is this not a concept that would fit very well here at Earlham?
Did you notice something in common about the two weblogs from Middlebury cited above? They both have a 'clean' look, a pleasing colour scheme, they are easy to read and explore, the links are easy to discern and not intrusive - in short great web design. To achieve this from scratch demands knowledge of web design and expertise in html and style sheet composing. However, since this level of web design is provided by the blog software platform (Manilla) the blog author can focus on providing content and links.
Alongside the "straight" education oriented blogs such as Online Learning Update , Elearnspace (both somewhat boring) and the excellent Will R's weblogg-ed (vol.2) with an interesting page compiling creative weblog ideas, is Funjunkie (sic) whose author is apparently building a drugs education website. The authentic question from the quiz concerning a hypothetical pushy cannabis dealer engendered some humourous comments. The course blog for Media in the Information Age at University of Buffalo is also a good example of how a course can be structured around a weblog and a few static web pages. The instructor Kara Kerwin asserts that "Blogs have many advantages over traditional, static web sites. They're more current, collaborative, and let's face it: they're cool.", all of which add gloss to the basic course.
Paradoxically, the fact that blog publishing presents such a low barrier to professional looking publishing encourages the convergence phenomenon we met in the Techie Stuff section. That is, students want to expand the creative possibilities of their projects by incorporating graphics, video and audio. Again from the NITLE article cited above:
"A significant minority of students in first year seminars at Middlebury who worked with weblogs in their classes asked for instruction and support in the creation and manipulation of digital images, digital audio, and digital video."
In this respect, Teaching
Convergence is an interesting article about the stresses and issues
involved with teaching the "new journalism" (my coinage please!)
converged across different media.
Finally, we can sum up the strength of the weblog paradigm with this quote, again from the Weblogs in Education article:
"One thing is for certain at this point: weblogs are, by their open, inclusive nature, an excellent tool for fostering communities of learners — communities that include not only students and teachers in a class, but also people from the outside world:"