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?
Identifying myself as one of those graduate instructors that fails to effectively use technology within the classroom (beyond my inconsistent, in-class computer-projection set-up), I’ve been trying to determine the appropriate tools and methods in which I can engage 170 students at 8am two days a week. This week’s readings mostly outlined how blogs can be used to increase student engagement both in and out of class, a skill that many of us (definitely including myself) will need to more fully develop if we hope to continue teaching.
In the Halavais article, he highlights how online spaces can effectively use students’ fear of embarrassment as motivators for “better work” via blogs. This is genius! By opening the blogging space to the public, students may also improve the quality of the work they post. I loved the idea behind this, but also wondered whether students might simply fail to post in fear of critique. Perhaps if students were allowed to use pseudonyms (as suggested in the article) they may feel more liberated to post their controversial opinions in a public space.
Mushon Zer-Aviv describes the blog as a central/core feature of the course. I wanted to ask the author, what this class structure would actually look like in a syllabus. I’m not sure whether the Psych Department at Hunter even be okay with an open-access blog, but this reading inspired me to explore this possibility. I also kept thinking, in regards to my mostly freshman students, how do I scaffold the blogging process? Blogging is by all means a skill, but how do you teach it and how much time does it take to teach?
While I generally enjoyed the accessibility of the readings this week, I still felt as though they didn’t thoroughly describe practical approaches to the assessment of blogs. Halavais discusses his technique for assessing blog posts via Google Reader as a way to quickly skim the posts. This sounds doable for a smaller course, but for those of us teaching 100+ students, it seems that this process of skimming could take days. This is especially true if our students have never blogged, since they’ll tend to write more. For those of you that have used blogs, how do you efficiently assess students’ posts? Have any of you used a peer grading system, and if so, was it effective in saving you time?