Diving into the blogging pool – helping your students stay afloat

Guest post by Claire Beale.

Claire Beale teaches in the BA Textile Design program at RMIT, Melbourne. Claire’s not shy in using technology with her design students, so we asked her to write a post for the tomtom about what teachers should consider when trialling technology such as blogs in their teaching.
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Thinking about using blogging or e-portfolios with your students? Feeling a bit unsure about taking the technological plunge? Wondering if it’s worth unleashing yet another outpouring of effusiveness onto an unsuspecting online world?

From my relatively recent experience with introducing e-portfolios and blogs into the BA Textile Design curriculum, I have come up with the following ‘words to the wise’ regarding the use of blogging, online learning and engagement with all the lovely things we aspire to in higher education – scaffolding, self directed, lifelong and creative thinking.

Online learning can be both exhilarating and exhausting, this is the stuff they don’t tell you:

It CAN be:
• a secure online environment for students to experiment – a sandpit
• dynamic, exciting, interactive and…. exhausting if you don’t set some guidelines and boundaries

but it ISN’T:
• a replacement for the learning management system or other static web 1.0 style info repositories
• time-saving – working with online environments such as blogging requires regular maintenance and attention

Before you leap in, it’s always good to test the waters. So, ask yourself the following questions:

• is this meaningful? – students must be able to engage with the process and see it as a meaningful activity linked to their professional development
• is it relevant to the practice of the discipline? – what do those in your discipline use blogs etc for? Are they used? Figure out how they may be used to enhance / advance your practice, and model that within your learning environment
• should they be embedded within, rather than bolted on? – like the preceding questions, this is really about ensuring you have thought about the use of online environments in a holistic manner. It’s not about adding a shiny new toy for its own sake (or because someone is ‘making you do it’), it’s about thinking of how and where these things fit within your overall curriculum structure.

OK, once you’ve covered that area, what next? Time to put on your floaties and take to the shallow end of the pool… like every new skill, it takes time to get it right.

It goes something like this:

1. introduce the tool and the thinking behind it to students in a supported, scaffolded manner – this may mean operating in a closed environment to allow for mistakes and other ‘exciting’ developments along the way, or by looking at case studies (e.g. blogs by others) to get a feel for how it is used and for what purpose.

2. encourage creative play – remember to allow space for students to drive discussion, experiment and explore the potential directions of the activity (you may be surprised where it leads to).

3. support the learning both within the traditional classroom and the online environment through a combination of learning activities – self directed and guided.

And if all else fails it’s amazing what you can find on the internet! But seriously, I can’t say that these notes are a failsafe, but they just may help you navigate your way into the bigger pond, and even enjoy the journey. And after all, isn’t that the whole reason why we do it?

Textile Design blogs of note (of course we have to plug our friends!):

Find our blog here.

Copyright © RMIT University. Photographer: Margund Sallowksy, 2006

Clog – Craft Victoria’s blog

Beci Orpin

The Design Files

Cloth Fabric

8 responses to “Diving into the blogging pool – helping your students stay afloat

  1. Felicity 3 August, 2011 at 05:14

    Great post Claire-so good to get a realistic and practical approach to what can sometimes turn into a “oh dear, I must have one too” use of technology. Here’s a question though…..

    Students are often very keen to create collaborative environments of their own, and tend to prefer platforms such as Facebook to the (often less flexible) University LMS based tools. Apart from some of the Intellectual Copyright issues associated with outside platforms, how do we feel about students taking this initiative? Should staff get involved with student developed sites? It’s not great to stop students from showing enthusiasm and initiative, but to what extent should they be restricted to University based blogs, wikis etc?

    • Claire 3 August, 2011 at 07:38

      Thanks Felicity, it is a common thing to find students using social media to network and organise themselves. And I would certainly encourage them to do so to build their expertise, as long as they are clear on a few things first:
      1. working within the university environment gives them certain protections that public sites don’t, so if they are wanting to experiment and develop ideas, perhaps this is a good start.
      2. practical management and negotiation of assessment and IP issues need to be worked out. Generally you’ll find university guidelines regarding protection of students working online require the university supported environment. As long as students aren’t developing work for assessment in a public site (unless this is actually a key requirement / learning outcome), using these sites shouldn’t be a problem. It’s really about being clear and setting some guidelines. Some of my students actually use the university blog to develop and trial work that is then transferred into their ‘real world’ blog or website afterwards.
      3. Staff getting involved in the public domain with students work can be a tricky issue, both morally and ethically. My advice is to take your own decision carefully, and read your HR guidelines regarding conflict of interest and relationships with students thoroughly to see how it stacks up for you in a professional sense. Not to mention the sticky question of whether you need your college’s ethics committee approval. Of course, once they are no longer a student, and the perceived power imbalance is removed, it’s up to you if you want to ‘friend’ them on Facebook or what have you.
      4. Really, it’s about making informed decisions and judgements – give your students plenty of information and opportunities to practice, and then see what they make of it….

      • Felicity 4 August, 2011 at 06:04

        This is a great-and comprehensive- response Claire. Great because it echoes all the things I have been saying to teachers who ask me about the Facebook/Blackboard issue (not that what I say is great, just great to know what I have been saying is on the mark). Great!

    • Mark Smithers 4 August, 2011 at 05:03

      They shouldn’t be restricted at all in any shape or form.

  2. Mark Smithers 4 August, 2011 at 05:07

    Nice post but I’d just pick up on your point:
    “it ISN’T a replacement for the learning management system”

    This interesting post has a different viewpoint.
    http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/wordpress-a-better-lms/23050

    • Claire 4 August, 2011 at 05:39

      Thanks for your comments Mark – great to get feedback from someone obviously deeply involved in online learning environments and student engagement.
      Your note regarding ‘it ISN’T a replacement for the LMS’ in my post – what I mean here is that often the LMS is treated as a static repository (or dumping ground) for lecturers to post information and notes to be accessed by students, rather than as a dynamic space in which students can interact with staff and begin to transform and redirect their own learning. When moving into the online environment, it is important for academics to make the shift, not merely replace the tool and continue in the same manner. The post you refer to seems to agree that the limitations of most LMS really gets in the way of student learning, hence the reason why many academics devise their own tools or utilise WordPress etc.
      So keeping that in mind, I suppose its really about finding the best fit for your student’s learning needs, AND satisfying the requirements of the institution. We all know that often being ahead of the curve requires a little flexibility.

  3. Arthur Shelley 8 August, 2011 at 06:41

    Claire,
    Thanks for your thoughts on this and the exchanges with Mark and Felicity demonstrate the power of a shared on-line space that products such as eportfolios (if shared), bogs, discussion forums and wikis can be with the right people and environment. I have found that the tools are very helpful of the participants are engaged with the right attitudes (a big part of how the facilitator interacts with them) and there is a sense of a common purpose around how the tool is being used. People make interactions and these interactions can be productively leveraged beyond the immediate boundaries by well selected and used tools to provide benefits to a wider community and across time and geographic boundaries.

    For me the key driver of productive web2 tools is an outcome of a vibrant group of people who care about what is being exchanged and feel there is value in the exchanges. This is identical to face to face interactions – it is the people that are the core of the exchange, not the content. As soon as people start to focus on “building content” for the sake of the content, the initiative slows and eventually dies. Wikipedia seems to be an interesting exception to this as most of the people do not (necessarily) know who else is contributing or interact with them. However, my argument is in such a case it is more about feeling involved in a wider (virtual contributor) community than the need to contribute some facts. When I did my first on-line course through Open Universities Australia, I was told “Don’t bother with the discussion databases and other tools”. I thought about what might create value for them and each week provided some content (audio, video and traditional) and then asked specific questions about it encouraging dialogue with the class (rather than myself). The response was terrific and highly interactive through both discussion board and the wiki.

    I am pleased to see others also forging ahead with similar ideas. Thanks for sharing.
    Arthur
    @Metaphorage

  4. Pingback: A post from the archive: Native or immigrant – Exploring foreign territory in online learning | theteachingtomtom

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