Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Full Paper - Blogs as Teaching Tools

I. Overview

This paper will discuss the characteristics of blogs that make it possible for teachers to use it in teaching and instruction. Techniques and strategies on how blogs can enhance the teaching and learning experience will also be identified, as well as, issues and limitations of its utility in the classroom setting. Examples of blogs used for educational and instructional purposes will be presented to give participants an idea on how it can be done.

II. Introduction

The exposure that children and adolescents get from computers and the Internet is prevalent. These gadgets are available to them, likewise, are easily accessible. Because of this, kids and teens have acquired skills that allow them to manipulate a variety of technology. Whether these skills were obtained at home, in school or among peers, they use technology and they use it frequently.

Email, e-groups and chat rooms, forums and discussion boards are popular online destinations. Network gaming is a favorite leisurely activity too. The facilitation of research, writing of reports and completion of assignments are done through the aid of MS Office programs, the Internet and other software applications. And then there are blogs, online diaries and journals that caught their attention and fancy.

US based Perseus Development Corporation found out that 51.5 % of all blogs are being developed and maintained by 13 – 19 year olds. Another study discovered that 40.4 % of blog authors fall below the age of 20 years old. Livejournal’s largest distribution of blog authors are ages 20 and under (Huffaker, 2004).

What do these percentages tell us – parents, teachers, professionals working with learners with in the given age bracket? As educators, does the widespread and ubiquitous use of blogs by kids and teens mean anything to the practice of teaching and instruction? What implications can be derived from this scenario?

Since kids and teens have access to the blogosphere, can teachers use blogs for instructional purposes? If your answer is in the affirmative, the next question is, how can blogs enhance the learning environment and the teaching – learning experience?

III. Content - Blogs as Teaching Tools

Before going any further to the discussion of blogs as viable teaching tools, it is important that teaching and the tools involved in the act of teaching be defined.

Teaching is both an art and a science.

Teaching is an art because it involves the creation of environments for learning and activities that invoke learning. Embedded in the design of the learning environment are set of skills, a particular learning approach, a methodology and a plethora of strategies and techniques all endeavoring to engage learners thereby, meeting learning goals and objectives. The craft of putting these all together is anchored on philosophies, theories of learning – both cognitive and behavioral, concepts and studies derived from human and developmental psychology. This makes teaching, a science.

There are a lot of areas and dimensions of teaching - curriculum and subject matter, classroom management, methods and techniques, learning styles and different levels of learners. In the midst of al these necessary elements that comprise teaching, teachers should also be cognizant of the available tools to deliver the planned and the designed instruction effectively. Through the use of such tools, teachers are aided to achieve learning goals and the desired learning experience. Such tools make for an engaging, if not, interesting encounter.

Enter technology.

As far as teaching tools are concerned, recent advances in technology provide teachers the opportunity to choose from a wide array of gadgets and watcha-ma-callits. There are a variety of types and formats that are called in different names and are classified in various categories.

Multimedia Learning Aids. Instructional Media. Instructional Technology. These are some of the few labels that media specialists and educational technologist have conjured. Interactive software. Audio-Visual materials. Online resources. Printed format. These are but a few classifications based on physical presentation. But, the key in deciding which teaching tool to use for a specific learning experience or environment is on the knowledge that a certain tool or technology facilitates a certain skill (Draude & Barce, 1998); a particular teaching tool or technology achieves a particular learning objective.

For example, email technology promotes better communication skills; presentation software help learners visualize and organize ideas; videos provide clear representations of actual events that are difficult to imagine (Draude & Barce, 1998). An LCD projector is a better equipment to use in big group presentations rather than a 29- inch TV-PC set; a PC is still the better tool to use when learning concepts and skills from multimedia software and when read information from online resources. Each tool is unique and each has a purpose. It is the teacher’s responsibility to understand these tools so that he can appropriately decide which to use in planning a lesson and designing instruction.

What of blogs now?

By now, you must have known that blogs are online journals and diaries. It is accessible, via the Internet, anytime and anywhere. What’s more, a subscription is not needed. Basic blogging is for free. Aside from these, blogs can be individualistic and at the same time, collaborative.

Its individualistic nature allows the blog author to develop a personalized content, likewise, his very own *knowledge management system. Since comments and feedback are staple features of blogs, it makes it collaborative. Group blogs are possible, besides. This offers blog members of a particular blog to discuss and share ideas with one another.

Blogs can also be multidisciplinary. While reading and writing are the two basic skills necessary to develop and maintain a blog, digital fluency is required to keep it excitingly going. Topics and content to write about can be anything under the sun. From general information to politics, IT to arts and crafts, religion to entertainment, blog content crosses disciplines and genres.

Another remarkable thing about blogs is that, it is easy to learn. More and more, free blog techtorials are cropping up in the Internet. Depending on the time and technology, a novice blogger can quickly move up to average level and exceptional status. The community of bloggers around the world is a thriving one. It is likely that a newbie will get all the help and support by simply becoming a member of the blogosphere.

And so, teacher! Ready? Get set! Blog!

How can blogs be tools for teaching? Lorrie Jackson of Education World identifies the following ways to maximize blogs in the classroom.

• Reflect on their reading or classroom discussions.
• Investigate topics online and then report on their research.
• Record group progress on a project.
• Talk about shared classroom experiences.
• Copy and paste thought-provoking quotes from other blogs, and then offer their own thoughts on the topic.
• Ask professional writers to edit their blogs, or provide feedback.

For older learners with more sophisticated computer and technology skills, The Crooked Timber (2003) enumerates five techniques to use blogs in teaching and instruction.
(1) Standard class web pages
(2) Professor-written blogs that cover interesting developments that relate to the theme of the course.
(3) Organization of in-class discussion
(4) Organization of intensive seminars where students have to provide weekly summaries of the readings.
(5) Requiring students to write their own blogs as part of their grade

And because I am a school librarian, whose many roles include helping teachers teach, allow me to add some tips and ideas in the pot.
• Compile and create directories of websites and online resources that students can use as references to the course.
• Post activities of lessons. This can be motivational games, enrichment activities or reinforcements used to extend concepts and topics relating to different worldviews.
• Make it a digital gallery of students’ works or a digital anthology of finished written compositions.
• Invite other class from other schools locally and abroad to discuss unit lessons.
• Publish a class online project where in other students can benefit from.
The list can go on and on. The creative teacher can always think of ways and strategies to optimize blogs as teaching tools. There are, however, limitations to these possibilities. Identifying some of them will aid the teacher to prepare for solutions; to bargain with administration and parents; and to get ready for students’ questions.
The Filipino Librarian (2006) constructively referred to these limitations as issues to discuss and talk about.
Time: Teachers are a busy lot. Where can you squeeze in your busy schedule to learn about blogging basics? How long is your unit lesson? Is the blog a long term project or a short one?
Control: Will you be teaching the lesson or course alone? Or do you have a teacher to team with you? Are learning objectives clear and well thought of? What is the extent of student involvement in the blog? How will you asses learning and student performance?
Ethics: Rules, procedures and guidelines for students are a MUST.
Digital divide: While Internet access is common and widespread, consider all your learners’ economic status.
Other factors to consider are school policy on technology use; paternal consent (for younger learners, like basic education students, this is a requirement); technology literacy level of teacher and learner; and internal and external support systems.
To further help you visualize as to how blogs can be teaching tools, let us visit some of them.
Moodle / E-Learning
Digital Anthology of Teacher Sol’s Class
Blogging for Teachers
Blogs & Education
Pinoy Teachers Network
The Filipino Librarian

IV. Conclusion

Blogging has indeed become a trendy activity for kids and teenagers. But, like in all technology, it is important that they learn life skills from using them. Becoming responsible facilitators of technology begins with witnessing and interacting with good examples. Teachers must therefore, fulfill their role as facilitators of learning who can model the conscientious use of learning tools and technology in classroom setting and in life, in general.

An understanding of blogging technology is paramount to using blogs as teaching tools. Technical and computer literacy will bring the teacher to the next level, extending learning experiences for students a notch higher than traditional practice, but a teacher’s creativity and imagination will spell a big difference.

Teachers must contend with the issues and limitations brought by blogs and blogging technology to make it work. Meaningful use of blogs as teaching tools does not happen in a vacuum or in a spur of the moment. It must be well thought of, well planned and driven by learning objectives and sound pedagogy.

V. References


marry said...

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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