Are Blogs Relevant in Higher Education in 2013?

21 02 2013

Recently TLTR (both Sitka and regional) have discussed blogs. While the conversation centered specifically on the rationale for using a blog hosted external to the university’s course management system (like this WordPress blog) instead of a university supported tool (like the blog inside of Blackboard), we felt this might be a good time to talk about blogs in general. Why they might be used, how they differ from discussion boards, and just some pros and cons of using a blog inside of Blackboard or a blog external to your course.  At the conclusion of this post, we’d love you to comment, tell us your experience with blogs, positive or negative. Share with us what you like about blogs and how you are using them in your classes.

How Do They Differ from Discussion Boards?
First, let’s be clear, a blog can be used in many, many different ways. However, typically a blog is used by a person or group to publish ideas or information and solicit comments. In other words 1 post, many comments. Most blogs have 2 or 3 columns. The first often column contains content and comments; the second may have a list of recent posts and categories; finally, the last column may have a word cloud to help you find a topic quickly and a search bar. Of course this varies widely, as you choose the template and create the look and feel of your blog.

In contrast, the usual threaded discussion has posts that may have equal ranking from many people, and comments can generate their own small discussions. Unlike a blog which is quite chronological in nature, our Blackboard discussion boards, for example, can be organized by person, by topic, by date etc.

So if discussion boards are so flexible, why would we want to blog? Well, unlike a discussion board, most blogs are very user friendly. They allow for a variety of media (including images, voice, movies etc.) to be embedded easily. They allow for readers to “follow” them or “subscribe” to them easily. You can see the post at a glance without having to click to “select” and then click to “collect” and then “read” the various threads left by participants. [Check out our Tip Sheet ] Blogs seem to have a “fun” factor too. Is that important? Yes! We tend to read and participate in environments that are appealing and enjoyable to use.

What Features Do Blogs Have that Make Them Useful?
Blogs allow you to create something that is professional looking. At the same time, you have ownership over the look and the functionality of what you’ve created. Blogs that live external to Blackboard provide that authentic audience, an incentive to be creative while knowing that you have an critical audience that is potentially reading what you provide. Blogs let you produce content and build your reputation as ‘expert’ at the same time that you create a community of readers, of critics, of reviewers or users. The time-oriented nature of blogs means that anyone who appears at your site knows if the information is up-to-date or outdated. They can tell the last time revisions have been made. Blogs, by nature, are a very transparent way to communicate.

Classroom Blogs
Classroom blogs have the potential to build community while strengthening writing and reading skills. When students blog, they develop their voice. Whether using the Blackboard CampusPack blog tool internally, or something like this WordPress blog external to your class, using a blog can provide students with a means to create and own a presence on the web. It can help students better understand that a presence on the web may be forever, so they should be careful how they create their online persona, whether posting or commenting to another’s blog. Online courses have shifted roles for faculty and student. Students are now co-creators of knowledge and learning. An external blog is an ideal medium for this because of its public nature.

Your Turn
Are you using blogs in your classroom? Please take a minute and tell us how you use blogs (“Leave a Comment” below). Have they been successful? What are the features that you appreciate? Are you using a blog inside of Blackboard or external to Blackboard?

Kathi

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3 responses

21 02 2013
Mary Purvis

Thanks Kathi, for your interesting post. Another aspect of blogs is that they provide a legitimate avenue for students and instructors looking for a way for students to engage in real life activities. Information fluency is very important for students, along with cognitive mastery and critical thinking, and blogs provide a way for students to publish their knowledge in the real world and learn along the way how to take responsibility for what is out there. I look forward to hearing from our faculty who are actually using blogs in their courses.

22 02 2013
ContentRambler

Getting used to having an audience is definitely important. Gaining writing experience is also very valuable for students!

22 02 2013
Lori Cheezem

We (schools and universities) are no longer operating solely in face-to-face classrooms and blogs provide a smoother transition to communications for the students and the instructors – they help promote the community growth within a course or several courses. Some instructors who have multiple sections of one course use blogs to allow all the students in the course to communicate. This is very important to facilitate informal learning and mentoring between students.

Another aspect to blogs is that they are part of the social media world and employers are seeking employees that are comfortable using social media tools such as blogs. Ultimately the use of blogs helps us to prepare our students to function in the world, be it here in Alaska or outside.

Just on a personal note, many of us (educators and professors) went through a similar process when wikis and podcasts on Youtube were introduced. Maybe remembering the experiences you have had when implementing a new tool will help you approach blogs with a different viewpoint.

Lori

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