One of the courses that I’m looking into retooling right now is wanting to set up a course blog. And while I haven’t met the instructor yet, my initial trepidation about setting one up for him/her is shared by at least one of the other people on the project. Why?
Well, they want to use Blogger for the instructor and the students. Sure, this is fast and easy… but what happens when the blog next to you isn’t one that you want to be next to? It could be a splogger, a cat blog… or worse (Hello Kitty!). But then what about the student blogs, how are you going to set things up for them? Another mass of student blogs? All possible and all a headache to manage (much less thanks to RSS, but then you have to cross that bridge as well). But here is the twist, there may only be one student in the class at any given time. So what can you do?
Well, I’m thinking… first let’s see if we can’t set up WPMU and make this thing legit. Second, let’s understand that students are as likely to be blogging for the class as they are to be pulling their own teeth – they are going to do it because they need to. You might get the odd student who is really digging it and wants to keep reflecting on it once the class is over, but for most, like pulling teeth, they are only going to jump the hoop once. Thirdly, even though blogging has this aura of being able to put the student at the center of the learning experience, it is still very much the case where students are told what to write and how to write it. It still almost has to be this way in order to create a level field on which the student work can be assessed. Finally… if we know that the students are not going to become bloggers on topic X, and we know that they are unlikely to have a portfolio (yet) where the entries that they do make can become part of a greater whole, why not start them with the most baby step of blogging… commenting. Failing the ability to put these points into action, I’ll say that at the very least, you need to skin Blogger to dump the nav bar.
If the instructor wants students to blog, s/he should be a blogger as well. Without the passion for the topic and without the ability to show students what the process really is, things are going to get boring pretty fast for everyone and the great enthusiasm at the start is going to wither quickly, perhaps on the vine. So even if the instructor only has a handful of posts, that is a start. The students should then have to comment on the posts of the instructor, who can then post about those comments and bring in new information. Students can also link out to other blogs that are talking about similar material in comments. This way they can get the idea of what blogging can be about. But wait, you say that this is nothing but a glorified message board? You say that it is in-authentic to the ethos of blogging? To that I say… well yes it is. Having every student start their own blog and post on a predetermined topic is basically creating a non structured discussion board anyway. So what is the problem with at least making the thing manageable?
If a student feels that they want to initiate discussions, then they can get a blog setup and then start posting, linking and commenting out to the instructor’s blog and to others out there in the world. Students who do this are more likely then to continue the practice after the course is over (I think). Using this model then, if there is only one student in the class, there is never a problem with having to interact with other students as the key interaction is (perhaps regrettably, but it is bidirectional communication which is a step up from lecture) with the instructor. If there are more students, those who choose to break away add richness to the course and if they continue their reflections on the topic, become a great resource for new students. Instructors who are feeling bold may want to then suggest posts from those blogs to comment on as well so that the students don’t feel that things are canned. This also gets new ideas in for the instructor, who while not off the hook for adding content to his/her own blog, gets to see some other ideas and themselves reflect on some older ones.
I’ll see if this suggestion flies soon enough, if it does great, if not… well at least it’s like everyone who gets off the couch to move… at least “they” are doing it… and you can’t knock them too hard for that ’cause there are many who are not even trying to get up, much less off the couch.
BTW, this is post 2000 according to WP (Object 3543), so it seems that it is somewhat fitting that it be about blogging.