Saturday, 2 January 2010

Blogging in education

The use of blogging for education has had substantial take-up - Edublogs alone hosts more than 400,000 educational blogs, and there are many more with other hosts. What began as a tool for users to post their commentary within a chronologically displayed template has now been developed and extended to support a range of educational uses, including:

  • Teacher communication (to students, parents or other teachers)
  • Dialogue Generation (where the teacher posts questions about current learning, and the students may respond through the comment facility or their own blogs)
  • Student Blogs (may be public or of restricted visibility, allowing students to communicate their ideas and receive feedback through comments)
  • Teacher Blogs (to share resources, philosophies or methodology, to reflect on practice)
[from Educational Blogging - EDUCAUSE Reveiew]

  • As replacements for standard class web pages
  • To link to Internet items that relate to the course
  • To organize in-class discussions
  • To organize class seminars and to provide summaries of readings
  • Students may be asked to write their own blogs as part of their course grade

Duffy & Bruns (2006) divide the uses of educational blogs into academic, organisational and pedagogical:

"Within a personal academic perspective a blog can support:
• reflection on teaching experiences
• categorised descriptions of resources and methodologies for teaching
• ramblings regarding professional challenges and teaching tips for other academics
• illustration of specific technology-related tips for other colleagues.

Within an organisational perspective a blog can support:
• a common online presence for unit-related information such as calendars, events, assignments and resources
• an online area for students to post contact details and queries relating to assessment.

Within a pedagogical perspective a blog can support:
• comments based on literature readings and student responses
• a collaborative space for students to act as reviewers for course-related materials
• images and reflections related to industry placement
• an online gallery space for review of works, writings, etc. in progress, making use especially of the commenting feature
• teachers encouraging reactions, reflections and ideas by commenting on their students’ blogs
• development of a student portfolio of work."

[Duffy & Bruns (2006) The Use of Blogs, Wikis and RSS in Education: A Conversation of Possibilities]

To consider the variety of uses of blogs in education, Scott Leslie of devised a matrix of some of the possible uses, including considering blogs written or read, by students or instructors, written for themselves, for their instructor/students, for their peers, or for the rest of the net. You can find Scott's matrix here, although note that he doesn't consider it a complete list as it doesn't include blogs by institutions or educational support staff such as librarians.

The benefits cited are many, including:

• promote critical and analytical thinking.
• promote creative, intuitive and associational thinking (creative and associational thinking in relation to blogs being used as brainstorming tool and also as a resource for interlinking, commenting on interlinked ideas).
• promote analogical thinking.
• potential for increased access and exposure to quality information.
• combination of solitary and social interaction.
[Fernette and Brock Eide, cited by Will Richardson (2006) in "Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful webtools for classrooms", in Duffy & Bruns (2006) The Use of Blogs, Wikis and RSS in Education: A Conversation of Possibilities]

* foster the development of a learning community
* give students ownership over their own learning and an authentic voice
* gives students a genuine and potentially worldwide audience for their work
* helps students see their work in different subjects as interconnected and helps them organize their own learning
* teaches a variety of skills

[Stephen Downes in "Why Use Blogs In Education"]

* helps students find a voice
* Creates enthusiasm for writing and communications
* Engages students in conversation and learning
* Provides an opportunity to teach about responsible journalism
* Empowers students


* to support critical reflection
* to develop community of pracitce

[Yang, S.-H. (2009). Using Blogs to Enhance Critical Reflection and Community of Practice. Educational Technology & Society, 12 (2), 11–21]

Core activity 9.1 calls for me to define a maximum of 6 categories which address the range of blog use in education. The lists and links above show that blogging has been embraced and absorbed into educating in such a way as to make a small set of categories quite a challenge. I have attempted to include the range with the following set.

Pedagogical uses
This covers blogs provided by instructors of tutors in order to support their students, to provide activities or resources for coursework, or to develop collaborative work environments for their students. An example of this is Street Math 101, which provides support for a particular group of maths students.

Sharing and commentary
This may be by and between educational professionals (and any other interested readers). For example, many like to share useful resources they have discovered, or ask questions and advice about tools or methodologies they are trying, such as EdTech Tools which "celebrates all the latest gadgets, gizmos and good old-fashioned new technologies that are helping to move education forward".

Others comment on news or issues around education, such as Kapp Notes which discusses issues concerning learning, e-learning and the transferring knowledge from retiring baby boomers to incoming gamers.

Student owned
Student owned blogs in themselves have a variety of uses, including learning logs, reflections on learning, development of an ePortfolio, or as a place to complete or store course activities. Examples include Jan's blog of her OU MA (and more) learning Nick Delzotto's Eportfolio Blog, or Emma's PGCE Reflections.

Some blogs offer a public face of an institution, or may be maintained by other educational support services such as libraries. Some organisations may use their blog to promote news, events, recent publications, or to stimulate debates, for example Flux by Futurelab.

Issues with blogging for education
Alongside the range of uses of blogs, there are a range of issues, both pedagogical and technical.

Pedagogical issues:

Commenting function - This allows students to obtain feedback on their work, or commentators to engage in debate. However, allowing completely free public access to comment on blogs may be inappropriate for some users (particularly minors), and a careful line needs to be drawn between getting value from the wealth of knowledge of potential commenters, and protecting the privacy or tentative early steps of a noivce blogger.

Caveat emptor - Blogs are not generally submitted to rigorous review or editorial control. Therefore, while content may be good, readers need to consider the validity of any comments contained in them. While on some blogs with many followers dubious or incorrect statements may be highlighted by comments, for many blogs there will be no critque or correction or content which may be lacking in some respect. From a pedagogical perspective, learning to select and appraise sources is an important skill for students to develop when they read public blogs.

Plagiarism - If you post model answers online, even after an assignment, they are open to be copied and used by others. While many institutions make use of plagiarism detection software, with the extent of the current blogosphere it's infeasible to consider that all deliberate or inadvertent plagiarism will be detected.

Technical Issues:
Tools - There are lots of tools out there which make writing a blog easy - at least the technical part of it! You still have to come up with the content :-)

Maintenance - Blogs typically grow and grow, with old material archived but available. As new ideas, syllabi or emphases for learning develop, old stuff needs to be actively removed if it is not to confuse or conflict with the current material. This contrasts with the situation with teachers' paper based materials, which are generally not available to students after use.

Access - Assumes all can access the educational resource that a blog contains. Universal internet access is not yet a reality.

Privacy and security - Internet security and safety concerns are well publicised. Bloggers need to consider their posts to ensure they do not compromise their identity or physical security. Particular safeguards should be in place when blogs are set up as part of a curriculum for children.

Further reading

As ever with the web there is a massive amount of potential out there...
If you're searching for educational blogs, the choice is overwhelming, but hopefully you'll find something in whatever flavour your prefer in's Education directory, or's Academic, Learning and Educational blogs list.