Sunday, September 7, 2008

Why Student Blogging Can't Work in the Classroom

For over a year now I have been using my class blog for a way to assess my students' learning. First I used my blog posts as a way to ask a short answer question and had my students give me an answer using comments. Finally last spring I created blogs for my home room and aggregated their posts into a single blog.

Typically when I have my students post I allow them 20-25 minutes to write their response. The students are never surprised by the question, they are always based specifically on something covered in class. If they know the answer to the question, the time is more than enough for them to answer. If they don't know the answer, they don't have enough time to do research to find it. Since I have a 1:2 student computer ratio this takes one class period to have every student respond.

I realized pretty quickly that my students were not getting the most out of the experience. The reason people blog is for the community, the give and take of posting and commenting on posts. My students didn't have that opportunity. I wanted them to have that opportunity.

In the spring I created individual blogs for my homeroom class. I wanted them to post and have other students comment on their posts. I made a mistake and did not give them time to spend commenting on each others blogs. The students that took time to make comments were very encouraging, but I realized my mistake and decided that I must create time for my students to comment on the posts.

Now I have come to the point where I realize that student blogging won't work. When my students write answers to my questions, they should already know the answers. The time they are given is simply the time it takes to respond. This would be similar to an in class assignment. How long should it take to comment on another students post? I want my students to think critically about the response they are commenting on. I want them to address their thoughts coherently. How much time will this take?

If I truly believe that posting online is a better option than answering on paper, then I better have a reason. The reason is because the size of the audience increases and the ability to provide feedback also increases. If I think students commenting on other students' posts is what makes blogging the best tool, then I must give them time to do it. I must also provide time for the students to read the responses and respond to them if necessary. Now a 25 minute assignment done once or twice a week has become a 75+ minute excercise. This amounts to one quarter of time my students spend in class each week. Worse still, because I have a 2:1 ratio I can only have half my class online at a time.

What do you think? Is it worth the extra time? Should I have my students post less often? Or, should I give them the time necessary to do it right?


Dave Chamberlain said...

It sounds as though the tool may not be aligned with the task. I've tried to keep with the idea that the tool shouldn't drive the process, it is the process that should drive the tool. Or in this case, the process should help select the tool.

Blogs are great for posting a reflection then receiving comments. In your first example, you were posting a question and the students were given time to compose their responses. But, if I read your post correctly, you were missing the some of the elements of discourse that happens with more spontaneous blogging. But it sounds like each student is responding to the same question, and almost at the same time, so there really isn't time to read each response and refer to one another.

After you modified the way you are doing it, it sounds like the problem changed because now there was too much to read.

I'm actually wondering if blogs are the wrong tool, it sounds like you are looking for something that would allow threading to make it easier for them to follow and have a conversation. Which might mean changing the tool to fit the process.

Alternately, I was using blogging in a contained environment earlier on and found similar things to you (which is why I reworded, because what I wrote was what I had found, so if I'm off on what I think you are saying, now you know why). I took a step waaay back to look and see if I was making my task try to fit into the tool I was using and I was. So I looked at my task to see if it really was what I wanted them doing.

I went to collaborative story writing. I created 4 or 5 blogs, and had the students break into groups, each working on a single blog. I then provided them with a story starter. As a group they created a storyboard. Each day I would then give them time to add on to their story blog. While one student was at the computer, others were working on other assignments (which helped with the computer:student ratio issue).

Roughly a week or so into it, we switched blogs and groups around, and the new groups continued with the writing process on their new blogs.

Not sure if this helps or not.

Wm Chamberlain said...

I understand what you are thinking. I really want to assess my students as well as have them assess each other. I think the thread idea is a good choice except blogger doesn't have it as an option. The way I have set up my students to post, it will work similar to threading anyway.

I think my real problem is I don't know if the extra time is worth what the students would learn. I guess when we think critically about anything we do in the classroom, this is the question we need to ask.

Thanks for your thoughts.