Use of Blogging in Undergraduate Courses: My Experience

Well another semester is about to end, and so I would like to reflect on how blogging was integrated in the courses I have taught so far this year. So, without further ado …

I taught two undergraduate courses focusing on the integration of technology in education. They include:

ECMP 355 (Computers in Education)
ECMP 455 (Computers in Education: Advanced)
Note: Yes, these courses have been around for a while and certainly need a name change, as we deal with much more than just ‘computers’ in the classroom.

A while back, I began renting some space from ANS hosting and for ahout $6.95 USD/month, I am able to experiment with, install and host open source packages such as WordPress or MediaWiki, without having to wait for approval or support from my institution. The service has been excellent, immediate, and there has been little down-time. I certainly recommend experimenting with a service such as this (there are many good ones) if you are in any way hindered (even for legitimate reasons) at your local institution.

For each course, I created a blog using WordPress. For the ECMP 455 blog, I had it integrated right into the main ECMP 455 course page. You will notice at the 455 course page that there is a link that goes directly to the blog. I think this was an important step which really solidified the blog as an important course component. As ECMP 455 was an online course (ECMP 355 was f2f), it certainly made a lot of sense to place the blog (one of the primary communication tools for the course) front-and-centre. I will do the same for both courses next semester.

The course blogs were setup as group blogs, however, I really saw little action from the students in the group environment (I would certainly love to know how I could improve participation there). Additionally, each student was required to created their own blog as a course assignment. For the most part, students used Blogger, but some used MSN Spaces, and one (more technically advanced) student used WordPress. I would have loved to have had all students set up their blogs using a multi-user system such as WordPress MU, but it was a bit too much preparation for this semester. However, I am hoping to have such a blogging system fully implemented for all faculty, staff and students for the Fall semester.

All students were introduced to Bloglines, and I asked them to keep track of each other’s blogs through this online aggregator. It seemed to move smoothly, although several students complained that reading everyone’s blog AND having to ALSO participate in WebCT discussions (another part of the course) was a bit too much. I thought that having both systems (private and public) was a good idea, but I am not sure anymore. I guess it will depend on what types of communication I want for the course … both ‘spaces’ certainly offered different types and depths of discussions.

I also setup a Bloglines account just for these courses. Once I had that setup with each student’s blog, each individual just had to go to the public list, export the OPML file and import it into their own Bloglines account. This made it easy for students, but then of course, I had to enter each student blog into this public account. I think an easier way may be setting up a Blogdigger Groups account, and having students add their own blog feed. This is something to think about next time for sure.

Now as the semester ends, I am wondering how many students will continue to blog on their personal accounts. I suspect that many of these blogs will slow down, and cease to exist. Some students really enjoyed the blogging experience, but I think for some, it just wasn’t the right fit.

For those students who will want to communicate in the future, we developed yet another blog. The ICT4Teachers Blog has been setup to link students who have taken one of the ECMP courses this year, or from any semester in the past. I sent out an email message to over 1000 former ECMP students to participate in the new blog. Many of the messages bounced back, but I am optimistic about the future of the blog. I have always wanted a mechanism to bridge my preservice teachers with my former students, many who are now practicing teachers. Perhaps the ICT4Teachers Blog will finally be the successful mechanism. Time will tell.

If there is anyone out there with tips or comments on how I could have made this experience better for myself and/or my students, feel free to drop a comment.