March 11

“why do i have to blog???”

I teach a fully online master’s level course “intro to online teaching” and have used blogging as a metacognitive journaling activity in the course for 5 years now. (Here is a prezi about my course fyi http://prezi.com/yyzcr9_btox6/teaching-learning-in-the-cloud/)

So far, none of my students have ever really blogged before. Most of them really don’t want to. Many hate this part of my course.

I LOVE their blogs.

Blogging is a required component of this course. Students are required to reflect on their learning and to provide me with descriptive feedback on their learning experiences in the course. they are given specific guiding questions for each blogging assignment (1 per week/2 per module) and they must self assess their own posts based on a rubric http://etap687.edublogs.org/2008/06/02/reflections-blog-post-grading-rubric/

I have  specific questions that I ask them to address in their blog posts that revolve around the content covered in each module of the course and where they “are” in their development as online instructors, and in addition, I ask them to provide feedback on the course design and learning activities because I am trying to evaluate the tools we are using, how they are being used and the activities they are being asked to do in the course. They have to do one blog post per week. I have used the feedback from these student reflections to improve the design of the course and it has improved my understanding of the student experience, which makes me better at it. I get a better sense of how the students perceive the activities in the course, so that I can understand student perspectives and use that insight to improve the activities. I want to improve my own practice, and to do that I need the student feedback of how they are actually experiencing the activities, interaction and learning in the course. To get that, I need to get students to talk about their learning.

Students have freedom to blog about whatever they like, but they do have to address (in some way the guiding questions and the course materials) in at least one of their posts. They read and respond to each others posts and i comment and give them feedback in blog comments and using diigo highlights, stickies, and traditional blog comments. I also grade them based on the rubric. The activity is 20% of their grade.

Metacognitive reflection helps them better digest and apply what they are learning in the course. They must articulate what they learned and how they perceive that they learned it. They must reflect on what was difficult in this particular activity and why? It is a bit like therapy really. So I can hear you say “wait a minute, I am a teacher… not a psychotherapist!!” I teach XX (insert what you teach here) I am not here to analyze them…I am teaching them XX.

I respectfully disagree. I equally respectfully ask you to consider this- how do you know your students are learning? Your feelings about your teaching have little to do with your students’ learning and everything to do with you. There is an insidious teacher-centered narcissism here that I want to expose, explore, and eradicate. It is fine to LOVE teaching, to feel good, satisfied, and productive about it… but teaching and your feelings about yourself and what you teach are not the point – learning is. So how do you know that your students are learning and why don’t you give a shit about their learning? You may say that their learning is reflected in the assessments … I don’t know that that is true, or not. It might mean that they are good test takers, or good cheaters… the assessments tell me nothing about what they learned. I want them to show me that they learned. I orchestrate learning activities. They engage in the activities and then must demonstrate to me that they learned. Their level of engagement, their learning, their experiences are their choice. I didn’t teach them anything. They chose to learn or not. This is fundamental and revolutionary about what it means to be learner-centered. If you really understand what it means to be learner-centered, it blows your mind because you have to come to grips with the reality that there is no such thing as “teaching.” There is only learning. You design activities, you plop a student into the activities, and then you see what happens… it is kind of magic…maybe it happens, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you have to redesign the activity to get a different effect. But you don’t know unless the student can make their thinking and learning visible to you – and in order to that, they have to talk about it, so that you can observe that.

I feel very strongly about public blogging. If it is in the course and student access to it is removed at the end of the term, then it is NOT a BLOG. The very nature of a blog is that it is yours and public. You own it. You can customize it/personalize it. it is YOURS. “Blog” features in course management systems ARE NOT BLOGS. You can call it a journal, but NOT a BLOG! If we ask students to generate content and then we take away their access to it, how is that student-centered? I also want my students to have the experience of developing their public digital voice and to contribute to the living discourse on the social web.

The explicit purpose of the student blogs in my course is to have students articulate and verbalize what they are learning, how they are learning, how they are applying what they are learning, and how they feel about what they are learning- and to do it publicly. Student blogged reflections are a completely different type of discourse than what happens within the course discussion. They have a completely different type of  voice when they are asked to reflect on their learning.

I have 3 main objectives for using metacognitive reflection as a component of the course:

  1. The process of self-reflection enhances student learning.
  2. I use it to get descriptive feedback from the students on the design of the course that I can use to improve my practice and the course itself.
  3. The process of writing publicly gives the student the opportunity to explore their online voice and digital identity and gives them exposure to and experience contributing their voice to the social web.

The value for them is:

  1. They get a blog that they can keep and continue to maintain beyond the end of the term.
  2. They get real-life experience blogging in a guided feedback-rich environment within a safe, yet public (class) community.
  3. They experience reflective (public) writing.
  4. They establish or add to their digital identity by exploring the social web for academic and professional purposes.

The value for me is that I learn from them. I can watch their progression from the first to the last day. I get a deeper understanding about how they learn, what they are learning, how they prefer to learn, and how they can improve what they are learning in the course. I have to filter, interpret, and diagnose where they are coming from and engage them in the process of productively reflecting on and demonstrating their learning so that they can move forward in their learning and the course. As the instructor, I read their reflections and sift through them for opportunities to diagnose misperceptions and provide corrective feedback, or to probe something to get the student to go further in their thinking, or to question something, or to prompt the student to question their own assumptions, assertions, opinions, or biases. You have to really listen to what they are saying. If a student says an activity sucks, I probe that and make them articulate exactly what, how, where, why they feel it sucks – perhaps they have other expectations, perhaps they fear something, perhaps they disagree ideologically with the approach – I try to get them to expose the roots of their feelings, so we can look at them and decide what to do with them… and we both have the opportunity to learn from that interaction. So, whether I learn something about myself, or about the student, it gives me the opportunity to make changes in my own understanding, or in the course, or I can confirm/affirm my perspective… and so can the student.

You can browse through my students blogs here http://etap640.edublogs.org/   Current live student blogs are links on my blog and a selection of blogs from 2011-2008 past semesters are also links.

The quality of their posts and their insights are astounding.

for example:
http://joanerickson.edublogs.org/
http://joyquah.edublogs.org/
http://francapponi.edublogs.org/