I have now been a student in three separate classes where I ran my own blog to do the class assignments (CCK08, EC&I831 and ds106). My classes for students are all designed with an LMS-based forum, within which outcomes have been achieved well thus far (I implemented the basic format in 2009).
So now, as I consider departing from an LMS for at least one of my classes for spring, the question is: should I have each student create his/her own blog, then aggregate them, and have them comment on each others’ blogs for discussion? That’s been the model in all three classes I’ve taken, and is the model for Pedagogy First!, where we’ve been using 90 individual blogs for the POT Certificate Class, aggregated to one central website.
But is this the best way for my own classes?
In a more typical online class, discussion takes place in a forum. This keeps things focused and in one place. People are used to forums. All the classes I’ve seen with distributed activities instead of forums have students begging for a forum, whether it’s a threaded forum in an LMS, a Google group, or a Ning. People want a central place to talk, and an aggregated blog made of up all their disparate posts can become just an information center, not a coffee house.
My brilliant colleague Jim Sullivan teaches English composition using a class blog. Students are all authors on it, and they blog there, not on their own blogs. We’ve discussed this many times, and I’ve rejected it because students don’t control their own space. I think they should, but I’m aware that the idea of helping hundreds of students with their technical problems has been a major hurdle to moving ahead. Now it occurs to me that Jim’s approach may be the pedagogically middle ground rather than just easier and more convenient for me (I like pedagogical middle grounds).
A traditional forum in an LMS is set in its pattern and closed in its format (once the class is over, you usually can’t access it). Having everyone create their own blog lets students have their own permanent space, but really doesn’t encourage discussion (as I’ve discovered running Pedagogy First!). Is the One Blog approach the middle ground?
Is it open and available?
It can be open and as loose as I want, and since I run my own WordPress I can promise it will stay open (Jim runs his own Typepad).
Is there a sense of student ownership?
While students don’t run their own space, students may feel that the One Blog is their space collectively, rather than individually (a classroom they can help create). This could subconsciously create a feeling of community.
Does it provide a good place for discussion?
Yes — not as much as a traditional forum, but more than individual blogs, because it is in one place and everyone is signed in just once, rather than being a guest on other people’s blogs. Plus, WordPress comments are nested. I have searched long and hard and have been unable to find forum software that is free, nests the comments so you can see which comments reply to which, and will tolerate multimedia.
Isn’t Ning a middle ground?
Ning is a social networking platform, a damned good one (nested! multimedia!), but to use it for free you have to advertise for Pearson. That isn’t middle ground — if there’s any advertising in my class at all (and I think there shouldn’t be) it should be incidental, not deliberate and appearing as if I am a spokesperson sponsoring a product (in many ways, this includes Blackboard and Moodle). And I don’t have time right now to figure out how to use an open source social networking platform (such as Oxwall) on my own service.
Although until now I’ve only used blogging for class as a student, I do use the blog platforms for my History 103 and History 104 at San Elijo. They’re not actually blogging on these (in terms of reflection or graded items), but rather posting theses for papers they turn in, and working together to create collections for class presentations. I could start by expanding this set-up into the One Blog format.
what am I not thinking of here as I make this decision?