An issue that is increasingly important for students and of vital importance for any leader and evangelist of ICT in education is the capacity to take regular classroom activities out of that classroom both spatially and temporally. We are, like many, a college with insufficient face to face teaching time; so access to the learning minds of students outside school hours is vital. Tools that tap into screenagers enamourment of social networking and technology are an important solution to this problem. Crooked Timber’s Henry Farrell identifies five major uses for blogs in education.
First, teachers use blogs to replace the standard class Web page. Teachers post class times and rules, assignments, project, notifications, suggested readings, and exercises.
Second, and often accompanying the first, teachers post links to Internet items that relate to their course.
Third, blogs are used to organise in class discussions.
Fourth, teachers use blogs to organise class seminars and to provide summaries of readings. Used in this way, the blogs become “group blogs”—that is, individual blogs authored by a group of people.
Fifth, students may be asked to write their own blogs as part of their course grade.
Farrell’s fifth use of blogs could, with little change become, requiring students to construct their own lesson material or compile their findings of ongoing experiments or exchange possibilities with peers – within a stipulated project, either teacher or student generated.
For an example of this; a Year 9 Science class, via www.blogger.com (See pictures below) were required not to submit a final assignment paper but produce a blog of the experimental progress concerning water quality and associated flora and fauna in a waterway in Centennial Park. Review by peers counted for as much of the final mark as the teacher input. Blogs were specifically chosen so as to raise digital literacy, remove possibility of a last minute all nighter, allow considered reflection or contributions and access by the teacher in non-school settings. The science teacher was also able to improve the students learning by adopting uses 1, 2 and 3 (Farrell). The class teacher used the students’ own blog entries to link to sites of interest or further exploration (use 2). The ‘scaffold’ in the students own head served as the basis from which to explore and so expand. The teacher also had a blog entry to act as a reference page to review the topic as the study progressed, acting as an advanced organiser page and an index to the students’ own work (use 1). While not a use specific to the project, discussion was encouraged across the blogs as to the interest level and completeness of peer work.
Blogs can be in-house, but the resultant ‘in captivity’ nature then negates the value of being internet based. An important value of a blog is that students know they have a more public reach; that they are potentially in the face of an audience of global proportions; having outside review as a real possibility gives gravitas to their approach and writing.
Sample blog entries from yr 9 Science class.