While working through this week’s reading I found myself continually asking the same two questions: Is blogging an effective means of conducting academic discourse and spurring students’ curiosity in the subject? And, Is blogging “safe” in an academic environment?
The answer to the first question seems to be clearly argued as these authors explicate their own experiences using blogs and wikis to enhance the classroom environment. What I like about blogs is their ability to create a learning environment in line with Jacques Ranciere’s notion of the “ignorant school master,” in which the instructor creates the learning environment and empowers the student to actively participate in the construction of her own knowledge. While the readings argue for the effectiveness of these tools, they do not go far enough to provide the reader with a clear understanding of what is necessary to construct an effective educational blogging environment. For example, what kind of prompts are given? These concrete details would be helpful for an instructor who has never incorporated these types of digital technology in the classroom.
When I ask this second question, “Is blogging safe?” I am not so much concerned with social safety concerns such as students publishing their work on public blogs. This concern can easily be addressed, as Alex Halavais points out, through the use of pseudonyms. my concern for safety is a much more fundamental, psycho-physical concern.
In his book Program or Be Programed, Douglas Rushkoff provides a set of commandments for the digital age. HIs first command, “Do not always be on,” points out the dangerous impact constant connection can have on the human nervous system. This point makes me question Mushon Zer-Aviv’s assertion that the collaborative class blog was beneficial because it “extends the course beyond the time and space constraints of the classroom as students publish and comment every day, around the clock.” Is this constant connection to the course healthy or even desirable?
As someone particularly interested in bringing blogging into my teaching, I completely agree that having more examples and guidance on how to actually build a curriculum through blogging, instead of just reading about their general benefits, would be a much more helpful read. I feel like we a bit past pros and cons discussions and need more concrete how tos and how to nots.
The health argument is the one that i feel is too often overlooked in most of the published work on teaching through blogging that I have encountered. I personally believe that the danger of constantly being on is real. I guess the dilemma is how do we structure our online pedagogy in a way that is consistent and yet not overwhelming to students, considering that they constantly use other online interaction environments, to which we are just adding.
My other concern with safety though is the public nature of the blogs. While I am aware of the positive features of public blogging, such as students’ being more self-conscious and motivated to produce their best work, I also feel like public blogging might discourage experimentation and encourage more safe responses or approaches to assignments in fear of being criticized or penalized publicly. In my experience, the environment that is most encouraging for innovative, creative and outside the box thinking is the closed safe one, which public blogging contradicts.
I take your point, Jared, about the utility of seeing examples of blogging prompts before starting to use blogging in class. As we’ve seen, that’s one of the benefits of using an open platform over something closed — it’s easy for us to browse around through our colleagues’ courses to see what they’re doing and adapt their pedagogies for our own classes if we’d like.
This discussion of the psychological safety of course blogging is fascinating to me. It’s easy for me to think of extending the course time beyond the classroom (and campus) walls as a fundamentally good thing for our students, something that pulls them back into their student role, which I think is easy for them to slip out of as commuters (whereas I’d argue that residential students always inhabit their student role to some extent, even when they’re not explicitly engaged in their academic work). But that assumes that our students have the luxury of time to inhabit that role often which, as we know, is not always true. Is there a way to get the benefits of increased engagement with a course that blogging could provide without the pitfalls that come with an “always on” lifestyle?
My students also have jobs outside of school, and this is the first semester that I use blogs. It has become useful, I do not ask them to be on the blog 24/7, but the fact that they have to blog before class, post something and comment on two other posts, makes the class run much smoother. When I ask them what they think about the text they don’t draw an absolute blank because they have already thought a bit about it for the post.
Moreover, I have set them in pairs and they revise, grammatically, each others posts, I am getting a review from each one of them this week and will see if it is actually working.
As I mentioned in class before, being 24/7 on the blog or wiki or whatever is not healthy. I lived thru that during my masters and it is not fun, but to have something like we have now with the ITP course, why not? we are actually involved in the conversation before class, and come in with a few ideas, with a few discussion points already ironed out… imagine this course without these discussions, what would it be like?
The way you’ve framed “safety” here is really interesting to. My student population is largely made up of business students who have to maintain strict GPA standars to remain in their program and they are also being pushed to participate in extra-curricular activites for enrichment and in addtion to attending networking events. Most of them also work (a surprising number of these are already striking out as entrepreneurs). Given that they are so pressed for time and pulled in such a number of directions I don’t even give them group assignments without giving them time to work in class. It doesn’t seem fair to ask them to extend my class “every day, around the clock.” Maybe this is a difference between public and private education? What Zer-Aviv is describing seems much more ethical in a situation where students are really just focusing on being in school and getting a rounded education. Public school students often don’t have that luxury.