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Using Blogs on On-Line Courses


David Richardson
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A course I'm working with this spring has just started using a blog to link up a group of students at Central Missouri State University (CMSU) in Warrensburg, Missouri, with my group of students in southern Sweden, studying at the University of Kalmar.

I know that blogs aren't exactly new, but I thought that forum readers would be interested in hearing about what we're doing - and how.

This blog is the latest in a series of collaborative ideas that I've been implementing together with Dr Bryan Carter from CMSU. Bryan's been over to Sweden a few times and we've chatted and Marratech-ed quite a few times over the last year or so. Bryan's students are studying a course called 'Class, Race and Gender in the USA' and mine have a module called 'US Culture and Society', so we thought this would be a good opportunity for both groups to get in touch with primary sources of information directly.

Setting the blog up was easy. We started by setting up a planning blog for everyone even vaguely involved in the exchange, so that we could thrash out the details (we've been using http://www.blogger.com as our host). Then we set up a team blog, called TransAtlantic Conversations, to which we invited each of the students involved. Each group of students have separate instructions and requirements for participation, depending on the specific course they're studying. This is what my lot got:

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Blogging on Course A4

A joint weblog ('blog') has been set up, which is being read and contributed to by your group and a class at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Missouri, USA. The US students have assignments of their own connected with this blog, but your assignment is to include a direct reference to an input on the joint blog in each of your US Culture and Society essays, and in the essay or book review on Beloved. Bear in mind that these references will be to an individual's opinions or experiences, so you will need to balance each reference with information gleaned from other sources. The US students' assignments are such that you should be able to find relevant inputs for each of the optional essay topics.

You can obtain your references either actively or passively. An actively obtained reference is one where you have an idea about what you want a comment on, and post an input specifically asking for it. Alternatively, you can pose a question and look for responses which will give you information about at least what the narrow sample of CMSU students think. Here are two examples of attempts to obtain your references actively:

A. Did you vote in the Presidential election in Autumn 2004? Why? (if you did) Why not? (if you didn't)

B. Turkey has been forced to abolish the death penalty to prove her democratic credentials in order to be able to apply to join the European Union. Why does the USA keep such a barbaric and anti-democratic penalty?

A passively-obtained reference is simply one which you have read on the blog and copied from it directly, without engaging any other students in a dialogue about it.

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I've deliberately avoided making active participation compulsory for my students - on much the same reasoning as that which stops English teachers who want their pupils to write from using written tasks as punishments! In other words, it's a lot to ask non-native speakers to participate actively with native speakers in exchanges of views … and anyway, the whole point is to promote easy and seamless communication between different groups of people, who're both contributing because they want to, rather than because they have to.

Why use a blog, rather than a discussion forum?

Ease of use is one answer. The threshold to participation is high enough already, without the participants having to log in and write in passwords, etc. We've also got the problem of IT departments (if you happen to have a good one, then all I can say is "congratulations - and enjoy!"). They're usually the most conservative part of an organisation which uses ICT, and usually try to limit what's done on 'their' system. So you can imagine what a hassle it would have been to have tried to get Swedish and US IT technicians to allow aliens into their networks! One final slight advantage is that you can see everything at once, just by scrolling down the screen, rather than having to click on topics one by one (I know you can do this on some fora too). The interface is much nicer too - at least I think it is.

My own view is that all these technological toys we've got at our disposal are totally without value as tools for learning - until a teacher or a learner puts some there. This is how we've tried to put some learning value into the use of a blog - we'll know how we got on in May.

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A course I'm working with this spring has just started using a blog to link up a group of students at Central Missouri State University (CMSU) in Warrensburg, Missouri, with my group of students in southern Sweden, studying at the University of Kalmar.

I know that blogs aren't exactly new, but I thought that forum readers would be interested in hearing about what we're doing - and how.

This blog is the latest in a series of collaborative ideas that I've been implementing together with Dr Bryan Carter from CMSU. Bryan's been over to Sweden a few times and we've chatted and Marratech-ed quite a few times over the last year or so. Bryan's students are studying a course called 'Class, Race and Gender in the USA' and mine have a module called 'US Culture and Society', so we thought this would be a good opportunity for both groups to get in touch with primary sources of information directly.

Setting the blog up was easy. We started by setting up a planning blog for everyone even vaguely involved in the exchange, so that we could thrash out the details (we've been using http://www.blogger.com as our host). Then we set up a team blog, called TransAtlantic Conversations, to which we invited each of the students involved. Each group of students have separate instructions and requirements for participation, depending on the specific course they're studying. This is what my lot got:

-------

Blogging on Course A4

A joint weblog ('blog') has been set up, which is being read and contributed to by your group and a class at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Missouri, USA. The US students have assignments of their own connected with this blog, but your assignment is to include a direct reference to an input on the joint blog in each of your US Culture and Society essays, and in the essay or book review on Beloved. Bear in mind that these references will be to an individual's opinions or experiences, so you will need to balance each reference with information gleaned from other sources. The US students' assignments are such that you should be able to find relevant inputs for each of the optional essay topics.

You can obtain your references either actively or passively. An actively obtained reference is one where you have an idea about what you want a comment on, and post an input specifically asking for it. Alternatively, you can pose a question and look for responses which will give you information about at least what the narrow sample of CMSU students think. Here are two examples of attempts to obtain your references actively:

A. Did you vote in the Presidential election in Autumn 2004? Why? (if you did) Why not? (if you didn't)

B. Turkey has been forced to abolish the death penalty to prove her democratic credentials in order to be able to apply to join the European Union. Why does the USA keep such a barbaric and anti-democratic penalty?

A passively-obtained reference is simply one which you have read on the blog and copied from it directly, without engaging any other students in a dialogue about it.

-----

I've deliberately avoided making active participation compulsory for my students - on much the same reasoning as that which stops English teachers who want their pupils to write from using written tasks as punishments! In other words, it's a lot to ask non-native speakers to participate actively with native speakers in exchanges of views … and anyway, the whole point is to promote easy and seamless communication between different groups of people, who're both contributing because they want to, rather than because they have to.

Why use a blog, rather than a discussion forum?

Ease of use is one answer. The threshold to participation is high enough already, without the participants having to log in and write in passwords, etc. We've also got the problem of IT departments (if you happen to have a good one, then all I can say is "congratulations - and enjoy!"). They're usually the most conservative part of an organisation which uses ICT, and usually try to limit what's done on 'their' system. So you can imagine what a hassle it would have been to have tried to get Swedish and US IT technicians to allow aliens into their networks! One final slight advantage is that you can see everything at once, just by scrolling down the screen, rather than having to click on topics one by one (I know you can do this on some fora too). The interface is much nicer too - at least I think it is.

My own view is that all these technological toys we've got at our disposal are totally without value as tools for learning - until a teacher or a learner puts some there. This is how we've tried to put some learning value into the use of a blog - we'll know how we got on in May.

I have also done similar thing. It was executed on Feburary 22, 2005. It has been reported as Blog on History in Ask Expert, History of India section.

My effort does not have the sophistication and background like yours. I thought about it when I read a post of member wherein he had talked about his blog. So I may say that I had started in the Forum.

I do not have participants and associates the way you have. I thought on my own. I just hope that I am able to do something effective and fruitful.

My own view is that all these technological toys we've got at our disposal are totally without value as tools for learning - until a teacher or a learner puts some there. This is how we've tried to put some learning value into the use of a blog - we'll know how we got on in May.

I fully agree with you on this account. I say it in different manner. I say that Technology in itself is nothing. It is how you put it to your use that is more important.

Internet in itself is not a big thing. But How you put it to your use, then it is really a wonderful thing.

I think the students should also understand it and this feeling should be conveyed to them.

In India, there are ICT projects but there is no awareness among the teachers and student. It can be learnt from the web site of UGC.

On the other hand, there is regular reporting that how students are addicted to internet merely for chatting and watching prono site. The new scandal of MMS and its selling through internet site has raised a negative voice in India.

I just wish that similar attitudes and bent of mind develops in India.

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