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How are Blogs Used in Online Education?

Last week I had the privilege of meeting with middle and high school students to discuss blogging. Their teacher and I collaborated via Skype and email before the visit to prepare a game plan, and How are blogs used in education? was one of the questions we decided to address. He asked me to tell his students more about blogging and how this writing format is used in education. While I was able to cover the basics in person, I thought it might be worth expanding on the topic here, with a focus on online learning.

Blogging in Class

First, what is a blog? A blog is a type website that allows for interaction with readers through comments and replies. It consists of a series of posts, presented in reverse chronological order, usually written about a central topic or for a specific purpose. Thanks to advances in technology and website development, blogging platforms (e.g., WordPress, Blogger) allow someone without a lot of technology experience to quickly set up a professional looking site and begin writing.

The blogging format is a natural match with online learning – it's web-based writing, simple to use, and can be easily shared via URL. In addition to the interactivity and ease of use, blogs allow for both text and multimedia. Bloggers can include images, video and audio recordings, and links to surveys and polls in their posts.

Some learning management systems even feature blog-like functions with which students can create individual writing spaces in their courses and gather feedback from their classmates through comments. Some online students use stand-alone blogs, creating their own blog accounts and providing a link to their classmates. Classroom blogs are also a possibility, managed by an instructor with students contributing posts to a central site.

Assignments and Assessments

So, how exactly could blogs be used in an online course? There are many ways in which the format could be implemented as a strategy available for student assignment submission and learning assessment. Here are just a few examples:

  • Journals: The benefits of reflective learning, have been recognized for many years and students in a variety of disciplines regularly engage in journal writing as a course assignment. Blogs are, in their original form, "web logs" or online journals lending themselves to this kind of activity in an academic course. Take a look at the Online Journal Rubric from Northern Arizona University and the Reflections Blog Post Grading Rubric from educator Alexandra Pickett to explore how an individual post might be assessed by an instructor, a student him or herself, and/or a student's peers. Teacher Adrian Brice provides a list of reflective question stems for younger students, which could be adapted for higher levels, to prompt learning reflection in blog assignments.
  • Study portfolios: Different from career portfolios, this approach involves collecting artifacts, such as student assignments, that demonstrate student learning in terms of knowledge and skills. This kind of portfolio is sometimes required at the program level, especially in curricula involving certification preparation such as nursing and teaching. Educators at Seattle Pacific University's School of Education were recently recognized by the Sloan Consortium for their work with student "bPortfolios" in their teacher education degree and certificate programs. The students involved in this project used blogs as an "holistic alternative" to typical portfolio systems and reported not only greater overall satisfaction in their programs, but also increased awareness of their learning and improved quality of work.
  • Writing for a wider audience: Blog writing can be personal and private, intended for class access only, or opened to anyone with Internet access. Educator Cathy N. Davidson writes about her use of blogs with students, "I don't want my students to see me as their audience. I want them to leave my classes seeing the world as their potential audience."  Writing with this larger audience in mind can be useful to students, along with responding to comments and inquiries from a more diverse group of readers.

I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't tell you about in this post. This system currently hosts over 1.2 million blogs featuring the work of students, educators, and administrators at all levels of education from K-12 to University. In addition to establishing blog accounts, this group also provides guidance in ways to use blogs in education settings and sponsors annual EduBlog Awards to "promote and demonstrate the educational values of social media." Browse the 2011 winners list for more examples in categories such as Best Class Blog, Best Student Blog, and Best Ed Tech/Resource Blog.

Benefits and Beyond

The potential benefits of blogging move beyond the classroom. In addition to writing experience, student bloggers also get experience with the technology involved (ranging from basic uploading to advanced customization of a blog site), as well as the development of a professional online presence, especially when writing about education and career topics. Education researchers are also increasingly using blogs to share their academic work and encourage conversations about their scholarly projects.

As a blogger with an academic background, it should be no surprise that I am interested in finding out more about how blogs can be used in these ways. I recently began curating a collection of examples of Academic Blogging with, and in the process discovered another collection related to Blogging Students, curated by teacher and blogger Sinikka Laakio-Whybrow. Both include articles and presentations that may be helpful as you continue to explore the potential uses of blogging in education. 

Tell us about blogging in your courses. What are the benefits and challenges faced in adapting this format for use in online education?

Image credit: the Italian voice, Flickr, CC-BY

March 27th, 2012 written by Staff Writers

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