Responses to the weblog-only class

Although I’ve used weblogs extensively in previous classes, this is the first time I used them largely instead of physical class meetings. In my own opinion, this is not the best way to use weblogs. I wish that it were otherwise, but I think weblogs are best used as a way of enhancing the classroom experience. When I compare what we covered this semester to earlier semesters — and much of this is definitely my own fault — I don’t think we did as much. On the other hand, it may be largely my own bias here. It may be that I feel like I covered more in previous, lecture-based versions, but the students didn’t come away with as much. It’s difficult for me to say.

Here are some of the things the students have had to say about the experience. And note, there may be a boatload of response bias here, given that we are still working in the class.

Admin for Best Blog:

I have come to the realization, from searching the blogosphere and from knowledge gained via this class, that blogs stand the chance of replacing screen names. In the years to come, more and more people will be launching their own blog, hosting their own topics, inviting fellow bloggers to have free reign on their blog, and thus creating their own neighborhood in the ever expanding global village. It is a concept that is exciting. And prior to this class I had no clue to what a blog was or what blogging entailed.

Jenn:

I like doing all the work through a blog system, merely for the fact that I have a ridiculously busy schedule this year, and I don’t mind doing the assignments late at night (rather than on Wednesday afternoons). I think that using blogs for a classroom setting is a great idea. It’s fast, up to date, and interesting to read. There really isn’t anything difficult regarding blogging, it’s all too easy. After the semester ends, I will keep up with blogging. I will most likely check out the blogs that I have come to really enjoy, rather than start up my own… again, I’m just a really busy girl.

jf44:

It definitely appears that Blogs can be used the way that we have been using them as well as many other ways, and furthermore has the potential to be a very effective networking tool. Although I do wish that we were meeting in person at least a few times throughout the semester, it also does appear that it is working for many people in the class to hold the class, strictly online. I just believe that it would be a little easier and keep people like my group members in line with the work that they have to do on a more regular basis. Other than that, the class and the material that we learn is interesting most of the time and occasionally borders on being fun.

The concept of blogging definitely has the potential to be much more than it is in the classroom as well. I would also recommend it to any teacher who is looking for a sort of networking tool for their class that looks to get more in depth than that of the widely used, but lame discussion boards via UBlearns.

I had originally thought that group blogs would make it easier for folks to come together on topics, etc. This is the first time I used that approach. Worked really well for some of the groups, and really poorly for others, as with all group work. I’ll have to figure out how to handle that better in the future, though it may not be worth the trouble.

Don:

It is sad how slow the education system is at catching up with technology. The fact that our fine institution is only at the UB Learns stage is discouraging. I don’t believe having a class that meets only virtually should be a radical concept. I dare say that you don’t need to have any face-to-face meetings. That’s what AIM and chatrooms are for. I admit that at times during the semester I have put this class at the back of my mind. This is partially due to my own laziness and irresponsibility. I also blame the way I’ve been programmed as a student. If I am not regularly attending a class, I am likely to forget about it. This psychological obstacle is one that I believe can be overcome; especially if more instructors like Dr. Halavais attempt to break the monotony of our education system.

A lot of people mentioned AIM chats as a possible way getting together. I am really new to the idea of using instant messaging as part of my teaching, but I’ve been very happy with it so far. I’ll definitely plan on integrating this more directly in later classes. I had planned on doing so in this one, but that was predicated on using Orkut to get profiles of the students, and that kind of fell apart.

unfabulosa:

I really didn’t mind the experiment at all. Perhaps, meeting in person more frequently would have forced me to be more involved with the class in general. But at the same time I’m fine with the distance factor, who want’s to go to class anyway? I’m online at least once a day so it’s no big deal. I will admit that if the subject matter of the weblog is of interest to me, then I most likely will enjoy the process of blogging. As far as the readings go, I thought they were very interesting and helpful to this class’ use of technology. If I had to give a teacher some advice, I would say that weblogs are a great idea because they require a lot of writting, understanding and exposure to the ever expanding world wide web. I personally believe that the internet will become the future of some media industries. If anything, would encourage for the teacher to allow students to decide if they wish to work alone or in groups.

unfabulosa brings up the motivation issue, as did Don, reegs, and several others. I have graded several times through the semester, hoping that grades would be a good enough reminder. I don’t think it’s that students don’t want to, or can’t, post regularly. It’s just that the pattern of classes helps act as a reminder for what needs to be done and when. I need to figure out a way to encourage more frequent posting. It may be a simple metric: post three times a week and then you are good. As it turned out, only a handful of people posted on a regular basis, despite such a requirement in the syllabus.

Adrienne:

My feelings about the experiment have been so-so. I do not like the fact that we are meeting physically in a class setting, after not having done so for a few months now. If there was a teacher wanting to use a blog in their classroom, I would not recommend it. The hardest part about blogging, is writing about things that are of interest to me, and making sure no one else has covered it already. My content has been okay. Not like other students, but I am not totally dissatisfied with my blogs either. If I could change the structure of the class, it would not have been working with groups, but at least having the option to do the blogs on your own in the beginning. Also, looking at more blogs and structures to get a better understanding about them the first 2 weeks we met in the beginning of the semester

One of the issues — and this is something I need to work on in my teaching anyway, but is especially important when you are asking students to try something new — is being more organized and explicit in my expectations. Many students are used to fairly structured environments for classes, and since I always hated such structures, I make the mistake of assuming others do to. When I originally planned the class, I expected getting folks up and blogging would be a relatively painless process. As it turned out, it has become the main effort of the class, leaving out some important content. As I noted above, I don’t consider that a failure, but it is not what I had planned or expected.

And, to end on a high note, protesterbee:

I think that the idea of holding class via blogs is pretty cool. It’s different, to be sure, but I think that it works. It requires a very high level of trust on the part of the Professor, and it also requires the class to police themselves more.

I think that so long as there are basic ground rules set, and that there is enough interesting material and that a blog is an adequate forum by which to give this information, then I don’t think there’s anything wrong with holding class like this.

Personally I like this class because I can do the work when I have the time to do it (meaning weekends, late at night), and it doesn’t really matter. I can post whenever I want to, which is super sweet.

In conclusion, rock on!

Some of the experiments in blogging in classes have been glorious failures: I learned a lot out of the process, but I’m not sure how successful they were at encouraging student learning. Others have been unqualified successes. I won’t know about this class until I see what direction the student blogs take over the next month, but I would put it more toward success than failure, even though the success was not what I had initially intended.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted 12/6/2004 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    i dunno, it is probably several things. i used drupal for my class and made them use the blogs as they would use ‘blackboard’ but a bit more public. it worked out alright. i only had one student that really didn’t get it. since i make it clear that they have to get it or fail, they all came around, and i only had one person tell me how absolutely horrible it was, which was countered by 4 on the other side, so eh..

    I think the whole concept of ‘covering’ is antagonistic to the model of constructionist learning that blogs enable. it might just be the phrase though. I don’t even think in terms of lessons or lectures, i think of what do i want them to learn, and how can i get them to learn it. so i don’t really care if i cover anything, but i want to be able to tell what the students learn.

  2. Posted 1/9/2005 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you that blogs shouldn’t replace physical class meetings — at least not unless one were dealing with a situation in which physical meetings were impossible. I personally find that blogs work well to enhance classroom discussion, since they get people grappling with the material outside of class; without the central class discussion, I’m not sure that they would be sustained. of course, I also have multiple blogs for each class (except for my very small seminars), so maybe that alters the dynamics somewhat.

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