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Blogging in the Classroom

This coming fall semester I will be teaching two sections of the first-level theology course here at Notre Dame and I will be integrating blogging into the course – assignments include blogging on various topics and responding to posts from fellow students. I hope to post during the semester as to how this is going but right now there is an interesting piece over at the Chronical of Higher Ed on Teaching with Blogging by Lanny Arvin. The author notes that blogging facilitates active engagement with the course material and fits nicely with principles for good undergraduate education. Nevertheless, he raises two concerns that I had as I designed my course: difficulty of students adapting to the medium and student privacy.

The medium: ideally blogging provides an atmostphere for creative thinking and thoughfully articulated dialogue within a course (ideally, I know!).  As I have designed my course I see the danger that blog assignments will become no more than the standard reflection papers given in many classes. The fact that students put these papers up on blogs may be entirely superficial. Dr. Arvin found that this was a real danger as his students had trouble opening up and personally engaging the material. However, I have honestly been more worried that blogging would lead to posts that are not serious enough; too open-ended, too much stream-of-consciousness. Finding that balance between substantial engagement and free thought will be a task throughout the semester. Right now (and this seems supported by his experience) I am hoping that my commenting on student blogs and requiring students to comment upon other student blogs will help generate substantial and creative reflection and take advantage of blogging as a medium.

Privacy: legally, no student can be required to post in public forum using his/her real name. I am hoping that students will feel comfortable using only their first names to ensure anonymity but pseudonyms are also an option. At the end of the article the issue of aliases is raised. It is unclear whether or not giving aliases would be intended to protect anonymity with the wider public or within the classroom as well. If the former, I agree that anonymity within the wider blogosphere will aid students (particularly first year-students) in opening up and putting their thoughts out there. If it is the latter, I think it might be detrimental, since part of the benefit of blogging is to build a sense of community in learning. Anonymity from others in the class would signficantly hurt this. 

My reflections at this point, of course, are only what I hope to accomplish with blogging. I am excited about the possibilities blogging brings to the classroom and am thankful for those who have tried it already. We’ll see how it goes in the Fall.

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  1. Len
    July 27, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    One option which may help with the 2nd concern is to use a discussion forum rather than actual blogs (the Moodle application is used for this at my university). Privacy concerns would be lessened because access to the forum would be restricted to only members of the class. It wouldn’t be a true blog experience, but students would still post, comment, and interact online.

    • Todd Walatka
      July 27, 2010 at 5:30 pm

      Each medium has its advantages and disadvantages. I thought about a message board and that would indeed remove all the privacy concerns (Notre Dame provides this for any class). The major problem with using a message board for my purposes is the number of students (75-80). A message board (at least as I have seen it) would either mean that I start a topic with each student responding it and to each other (creating an unwieldy discussion) or each student creating his or her own topic as a response (creating an unwieldy message board). Having individual blogs which are then linked to a hub blog creates an writing space for each student, a central blog for the class, and an easy means for interaction through comments on the student blogs or the central class blog. The downside, of course, is the privacy issue.

    • July 28, 2010 at 8:35 am

      The other central advantage of blogs over discussions boards is that blogs make students take more ownership of their material. Forums are far more chaotic; they foreground a buzz of disconnected conversations rather than any particular voice. It would be like letting a classroom talk among themselves, with students finding their way to conversations that are interesting to them. Blogs say to each student: I want to know what you think about this text, I want to take your reflections as the starting point for our own conversation. If done right, that’s seriously empowering.

  1. August 9, 2010 at 8:58 am
  2. December 19, 2010 at 3:07 pm

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