Blogs in Higher Ed: NCII, the Presentation

Here are the Powerpoint slides of Beauty and the Beast:Bringing Blogs into Higher Education:
Download Héctor’s PPT Presentation

BG’S Section–
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Introduction: One Teacher’s Journey with Blogs

A Brief History of Why I Turned to Blogs:

(For the Full Presentation, Read On)


Introduction: One Teacher’s Journey with Blogs

A Brief History of Why I Turned to Blogs:

Because I have written about my move into classroom blogging many times on bgblogging, I will refer new readers herefor the detailed narrative. In short, I was looking for ways to get students to take control of their own learning, put voice and life into their writing by making it meaningful in the learning process and efficacious in its outcome, and to make collaborative work, well, work.

So, why blogs?

*The flexible, fluid design of the blog appealed to me as a way to construct an evolving course with the students while maintaining a measure of clearly identified structure.
*The blog as narrative with its voracious appetite for postings offered a natural incentive to students to post their writing and to comment on their peers’ work and it provided a chroncile of the course as it unfolded. Learning as social activity and as story.
*The public nature of the blog would raise the standards: knowing that their work is out there in the world, being read, Googled, and even responded to gives enhanced meaning to expectations.
*That every posting is discussable provides opportunities for community-building througha range of asynchronous discussions; it also invites outside experts into the discussion and thus into our community.
*All the work of the course could be gathering and sorted into categories, linked to through the course, weaving a complex and rich tapestry of learning while establishing a living archive of this course for the students to take with them to their other courses and for future students enrolling in my classes to consult.

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SLIDE ONE One Teacher’s Journey with Blogs

The slide illustrates four kinds of blogging I practice in my work, depending on the course and/or situation, and the evolution of blogging in my world:
(You might also be interested in the presentation on blogs I did at CET earlier this month with many links (the images) to the blogs themselves)

A. The Home Page of the Creative Writing Blog from the Spring of 2004 –Behind this page and linked to it are hundreds of entries: student work, assignments and my commentary, etc. This arrangement is reassuring to students because it is user-friendly and clean in design. The sidebars lead to individual pages with information or student writing. The center is the BLOG, the ongoing commentary by the students and teacher about creative writing in general and the class in particular.

B. The Home page of awZ, the Course Blog for Writing Across the Arts , Fall 2004
With this blog I have turned the entire internal design over to the students. Each column represents a separate blog with a suggested content. Every column shifts and evolves as the posts pour in.

C. bgblogging
What I do right here. After using blogs in my classes for three years and presenting on blogging here and in Europe, I knew I had to move to blogging in my own space to reflect on the developments in my own thinking, my courses as they evolved in their use of social software, and to engage in the conversations going on in the blogosphere. If I merely add comments to other people’s blogs, I lose the content of those postings. I tend to do a lot of trackbacking and linking to other blogs, but keeping my comments on my blog as a growing archive and an ongoing narrative of my evolution as a humanities and writing teacher integrating technology into the classroom.

D. Piya’s India Blog
An example of how a student from the creative writing class last spring (Entry A above) has moved on to her own blog as part of her independent January term in India. She is blogging her journey, has uploaded her papers from another course and has linked to her work in two creative writing courses, including a link to the course creative writing blog. For people who suspect that giving blogs to students privileges the sloppy, the soundbyte, the superficial, take a look at the level of discourse in this blog.

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SLIDE TWO: Diving through the Layers and Into the Learning
A Look at the Arts Writing Blog Home page:

Every blue line of text represents the title of a new posting.
Anything I post (posting not to be confused with commenting) is relegated to the lefthand column. At first glance, the blog looks and acts like a ‘zine, but very little like a course managment tool, and yet it, too, was the locus of all course activity.

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SLIDE THREE: Diving In

Where’s the teacher/ Who’s the teacher? My postings are mixed right in with theirs. They know to check in every day with that lefthand column for BG-initiated updates, but even those who might be searching for my posts exclusively, can’t help but glance at the excerpts (some students wrote teasers, some headlines, and some abstracts) surrounding mine.

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SLIDE FOUR: Into the ‘Zine
How It Teaches Form and Voice

The notion of blog as ‘zine shows students in very concrete ways (due to the visual qulaities of the medium) to different writing voices and forms. They experiment with writing the excerpt and evaluating within the context of the multitude of excerpts being posted over the course of the semester. They gain experience differentiating between the abstract and the full text, the lead into the piece, and the need to understand what it is they are trying to say with the text.

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SLIDE FIVE: When Students Use the Medium

…They consider structure and complex relationships between media and subject.
**Students develop multimedia writing skills as they learn to evaluate media as they grapple with the core content of the course. Content is never sacrificed for design.

The blog, because it accepts image, sound and video files, opens up a whole new canvas to students. Not only do they have to think about how their ideas grow and communicate through written text, they must think about whether images and sound would add anything to their meaning. As a result, we develop their critical skills as consumers of media through having them explore the relationships between genres, forms and media. When they return to writing and to discussion, they have an enhanced understanding of what language alone accomplishes. Some students venture into the realm of meta-criticism, critiquing the artform through their use of it.

On the left is a page from a final project on narrative within an advertising sequence. On the right is the opening shot of a digital story (in this case still images, a voiceover narration and music).

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SLIDE SIX And they produce keen critical thinking in inventive forms as they master the technology.

In writing her artist profile, this student relied primarily on text, but inserted soundfiles from an interview she conducted over the phone with the artist. The audio files do not reiterate the student’s written text; rather, they augment and interact with her interpretation, inviting the reader of this “paper” to hear the writer for herself and assess the student’s commentary.
When students break through on their own to new relationships with the material through exploring the forms of writing, they deepen the learning and gain confidence in their voice and ability to say something worthwhile to the world.

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SLIDE SEVEN Taking the Blog Outside: Multiple Layers of Meaning

Excerpts from the Bloggers’ Field Trip Postings

Blogging’s fluid connectivity promotes comples relationships between students and subject matter, students and the medium, students and forms and levels of discourse, students and layers of community, and students and themselves. All of these strands are evident in the “Bloggers’ Fieldtrip” exercise. Instead of piling onto a bus and heading to a museum as past classes have done, this group of arts writing students, tried out an entirely different kind of field trip: one by one we set out into the world searching for art, over the course of a month. Each blogger had a couple of tasks: to bring back a work of art to the group via the blog (responding to it in any way the blogger so chose) and to read the posting of the blogger ahead of them and go out and find one of the two works of art discussed, and engage with the work of art AND the blogger’s post about that work of art. All of this was accomplished on a single entry that was dated and added to in turn by each blogger posting. In addition, through the comments, the entire class could discuss what was going on in the field trip, either the art itself or our writing about it.

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SLIDE EIGHT Results

Students used a variety of voices and levels of diction within the same assignment. They learned about communicating their ideas clearly to a readership not standing there in fron of the artwork; they learned about responding to art and writer simultaneously; and they learned a good deal about a group discussion that become rather heated at one point. The irony, of course, as I have point out in many of my writings on the subject, is that this swiftest of mediums allows us to return to one of the most ancient and reflective forms of communication: the letter.
They “see” how bringing the blog outside the class extends their individual education while building our community of reciprocal apprentices (see Lévy and his knowledge trees)–we have become closer through this virtual community practice. The unexpected outcome of the fieldtrip exemplifies emergent behaviour (see Stephen Johnson on Emergence). Because the students see that they affect their environment through their writing in this messy, exhilirating exercise, they experience efficacy–their work counts for something.

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SLIDE NINE Extending the Teaching Moment

For those teachers who are by now thinking, well, that’s all good and fine except …what about the more traditional aspects of the student-teacher relationship, and how do blogs work in terms of evaluating student work and providing detailed feedback to students… I use the blog to model and give powerful lessons on writing and understanding the subject matter efficiently and effectively.
The blog’s constant, restless motion, its visual connectivity and its unfolding, progressive archiving all allow me to do traditional teacherly work.
The slide (an excerpt) shows an example of how we can use the comments to work with the student writer and the class as a whole simultaneously:
Student A posts her hypertext piece “Three Jazzmen.”
Students B & C respond (the teacher waits, timing her comments for after several students have their say and to see if, as reciprocal apprentices, someone will give her and the rest of the class, a useful response.)
Teacher Responds with a comment aimed at letting the writer know what worked, how it relates to her other work, and how she might revise the piece; she also shows the other commenters how a comment can help the writer.
In class the next day, the teacher can project one of these examples up on the screen to examine with the entire class. A follow-up exercise can include pulling up a new student posting without any comments and having the entire class sit at the computer and coment right there; we can pull up the full range of responses and compare them as a group. For an example of in-class blog writing, see the Picasso exercise. Also, at NLII, that’s what the initial writing prompt accomplished–having everyone’s questions about blogging visible and archived allows us to continue to learn from them.)
(I do not feel compelled to respond to every piece of writing on the blog–I choose the particular postings that are especially useful for accomplishing several lessons at once. Students do not need the teacher’s hand on everything; in fact, we do them a disservice by privileging a dependency relationship–student writes, teacher evaluates. That model leaves the responsibility for the learning up to the teacher. I make sure that students take that responsibility on for themselves.)

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SLIDE TEN Real World-Classroom Connections
Although many classes invite guest speakers to engage with the students, few archive that experience within the course materials or extend that experience through further contact with the visitor.
The blog allows the experts to discuss issues raised during their visits long after the event occurred, or visitors can be invited onto the blog before they arrive on campus, or visit virtually without ever stepping onto campus. In previous iterations of this course (unfortunately that blog has been taken down temporarily), we have had extended, semester-long conversations with outside experts from as far away as Beirut and Paris and as close as the other side of campus. This semester we invited two campus-based experts to visit class and one of them to continue the discussion on the blog.
Students are excited by the contact with the outside world and how the experts are in turn often affected by the students, learning from them and encouraging them to submit their work for publication.

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SLIDE ELEVEN Students Affecting One Another

If classroom blogging is done well, students will post spontaneously outside the course assignments and teach onw another about the subject and about writing.

This slide shows an excerpt of Eugene’s posting following a performance by another student in the class, Charzetta (Charly). Not only is Charly affected by Eugene’s response (Third comment), students who did not see the performance are affected by Eugene’s writing (First and second comment) or are even inspired to add their own synthesizing response to both performance and discussion (Final comment).

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SLIDE TWELVE What Happens to a Student

This student posted a reflective narrative at the end of the semester, articulating what blogging and the structure of this class did for and to him. Here’s where we see the effects of this technology-rich pedagogy playing out for the students.

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SLIDE THIRTEEN Blogging Around the World
Another look at Piya’s India Blog (From Slide One) and how a student who has blogged in a classroom moves the epxerience out into the world in ways that have a profound effect on her learning and on her readers. That she is publishing her blog-essays raises her own expectations of her work to a new level. She also connects to work from other courses, seeing the continuum of learning stretching well beyond any single course or semester and could well lead to the building of a full learning portfolio. These are the seeds of a whole new way of going about a liberal arts education.

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SLIDE FOURTEEN So, Do Blogs Make Sense?

If you’re interested in a more extended discussion of many of the issues raised in this presentation, see the paper I wrote for BLOGTALK 2, and the discussion going on in previous entries on this blog and on my blogging colleagues’s blogs.

For larger classes, blogs have the potential to create small, dynamic communities where once there was nothing but a crowd of individual faceless and nameless learners. Uploading podcasted lectures onto a blog and dividing the class into discussion groups to examine some of the lecture points or to apply them to real-world contexts would be a start. Blogs set up for discussion sections would link the students to one another in all kinds of valuable ways. And then there are wikis for projects…but that’s a topic for another proesentation at another time.

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SLIDE FIFTEEN For More Information

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