Successful Blogging in Academia

Blogs are being increasingly used in education, and in all stages of education. Doing a quick Google search shows a whole heap of results for K12 educators in the US (is that up to A-Level age in the UK; 17-18 year old?) starting to use blogs. What of blogs in academia, at University level?

I help academics initiate blogs for (possibly) very different reasons, but the technology is the same (albeit  using a different blogging tool). Blackboard 9 will have it’s own Blogging tool built in, so for the moment we make do with the Learning Objects tool.

The increased use of blogs does raise some interesting points, however. The more students are using and become comfortable with blogs, the less effort they put into their posting, and the quality starts to suffer. Clarence Fisher writes:

“A slow slide into grammar and spelling errors and a lot of blog posts that might as well have been written on paper since they contain few multimedia elements or links.”

So, in an attempt to make some sense of what we (and the students) should be doing to maintain an interesting blog entry … in no particular order;

  • the entry should be well written, include links and images (if not a video element; where appropriate).
  • the entry should be spell-checked
  • the entry should somehow entice the reader in, either with an interesting title, or an interesting (and relevant) image.

So, how are our students using blogs?

  • For a Legal Skills unit, the students are using the blog for a PDP (Personal Development Portfolio). Their entries are private, no comments allowed.
  • For Organisation & Human Resources the blog is being utilised by the students to post reflective entries on what they have just done on specific topics. Again, the entries are private, but in this instance the tutor is commenting: this is then able to act in a way a discussion board can, but the students are working completely independently of each other.
  • Induction blogs are extremely useful for the sutdents to introduce themselves, perhaps include a photo or two, and their background and reasons for studying the programme/course. While this could be done with a discussion board, the use of a blog is a good example of ‘mixing it up’ to give the student a different type of activity and a different perspective on studying online, and each other.

In all these examples the blogs are restricted so that the students can not see each others entries. We do use blogs where students can see and comment on all entries (programme induction) which is good for fostering relationships online where the students don’t actually meet.

All this aside, without a clear and defined purpose to the blog, the students will not properly engage in the activity / blog. As highlighted in the blog entry ‘Helpful Tips for Setting up a Classroom Blog‘;

Decide on a purpose. Why are you creating the blog? What do you want your students to learn using the blog? How are you transforming the learning in the room with technology? A clear, concise purpose is very important to help get you started and keep you on track.”

The blog should not be the ‘reason’ for the activity, merely the tool used for the learners to achieve the required learning, or goal. If done properly they will not even realise they are using something new, they will be so focused on the ‘reason’ for the activity and not on the mechanics of it.