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

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