Class design: is One Blog the middle ground?

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?


6 comments to Class design: is One Blog the middle ground?

  • Very well thought Lisa. I have these thoughts very often. I have two experiences to bring you:
    -a project in a secondary school where every student has a blog and the teacher too
    -one in which each teacher has a class blog and -it depends on waht the teacher wants- some students are commentators, in other they are authors.
    In the first format (1blog/student) it happens just what you mention: they build their your own space, their house of learning. Or at least, that is an aim.

    In the other one, which is what interests you, there is more more exchange but there is no such autonomy. To address this lack may be you can try this that we have being doing with primary students for long: every student is a category and the author list is very accessible on the blog. Each student will tick their own category when he writes something. Thus, each has its own space in the blog.

    thanks for thinking out loud.

    • Luz, thanks for the examples. Having each student be a category had not occurred to me, and it’s a very good idea. I think I should do this anyway, just for easier grading!

  • I’ve actually had poor experience with using a blog as a kinds of replacement discussion board (I’ve found that the category for each student or each group doesn’t really take away from this). The thing is, I can’t exactly put my finger on the problem.

    One of the reasons I’ve been concentrating so much on distributed communities at POT is that I moved from a Bb discussion board to a WordPress blog for a preparation (with minimal changes). Although both worked, the antiquated, non-threading Bb forum actually worked better in terms of bringing out in depth discussion. I’m now planning my move to a distributed form to see if this fixes those problems.

    But it may be just the particular theme. I wonder how much impact particular comment forms (threaded, not; how wide is the blog; etc) have on the way students interact. This is something I’m actually curious about because my experience was not bad, just not as good as a forum. Of course this depends on the assignments too.

    • Tell me, Brandon, were the full semester (or whatever) of discussion all in the same Bb forum so that students could come back to things? This is one of my big concerns about blogs — they move on with each post. Going back to something seems awkward, whereas going back to a forum isn’t.

      • I think you might be on to something there. On the blog I set up categories by type of activity as well as unit, so students could always find what had already been done (and used excerpts to make sure that individual posts didn’t fill up the screen). In Blackboard, I broke the forums up by week so that students could go to the area they were looking for and see all the discussions at once. But the forum view does give that quick overview–you can identify at a glance where you need to go–the blog doesn’t do that. Hm. I hadn’t considered that.

        That isn’t impossible on a blog, it just requires a different geography–having a theme that groups posts by category on the home page instead of the default stream of posts common to so many themes.