Blogs in higher education - some ideas about their benefits and downsides
I have recently been awarded a small course development grant meant to use blogs in the teaching of European studies. I already had an idea about what I wanted to do: help students create and administer a web space where information about European politics, media, culture, and student life is presented in bilingual fashion (with posts in Swedish or English and in the foreign language of choice or in the mother tongue of students in the Bachelor and Master respectively).
I have recently been awarded a small course development grant meant to use blogs in the teaching of European studies. I already had an idea about what I wanted to do: help students create and administer a web space where information about European politics, media, culture, and student life is presented in bilingual fashion (with posts in Swedish or English and in the foreign language of choice or in the mother tongue of students in the Bachelor and Master respectively). The blog entries will be structured along several themes, and the students will be grouped according to their preference in theme groups. The blog is planned to become a permanent feature of the programs, with different generations of students writing and commenting on each other’s posts.
When writing the course development proposal I had clearly in mind the advantages of using a blog. In discussions with one other interested colleague, we came up with a list, which I will share with you below:
- Allows web-savvy students to legitimately use their favorite source of information, the Internet, and makes use of their skills for the purposes of the program
- Increases the students’ motivation to take an active part in the learning process, since blogging is fun and interesting
- Develops the communication skills of students that are less internet-savvy through peer-to-peer learning
- Keeps students informed with the most up-to-date information about of their object of study
- Through the use of comments and other forms of feedback, it develops critical thinking (and the appropriate ways to put it into writing)
- It is a portal for creativity and personal initiative where good ideas are rewarded not only with good grades but also with direct responses from colleagues and, hopefully, from readers across the web
- It increases the visibility of our programs on the web and has the effect of giving it a more clearly defined positive image, which in turn may result in higher commitment of the students to the program and a sense of pride in their work
- It makes learning flat, not hierarchical, with the teacher as control point rather than unique source of information and interpretation
Of course, the list is not complete, and several other points could be added (if you have any suggestions, they are welcome). The last point is for me the most important: the fabrication and distribution of knowledge is no longer in the hands of one person, the teacher, supposed to be in control of the information flow and in the possession of the “truth”. On the contrary, students and teacher are nodes in a knowledge network, where information is communicated and, most importantly, interpreted and contextualized.
Despite the great enthusiasm with which I embarked on this project, I could not help but worry about all sorts of possible downsides. I will enumerate these points as well:
- Students may in fact be less web-savvy than I assume – harder to teach them the tools of web communication and publication
- Students may be less interested in participating in the knowledge network and may prefer the one-way teaching system with the teacher as the unique source – too costly to engage in knowledge production
- Students may lack self-criticism or may air controversial, politically and factually incorrect information
- Students that do possess relevant and important information may be reluctant to share it because this would take away their advantage in the classroom
So, after having considered these negative sides of the project, I am now in the phase of thinking of preventive measures against them. If any of you has any ideas or direct experience of using blogs in your teaching, I would really appreciate your feedback. After all, this blog is also about sharing knowledge, is it not?
From the archives - this post was originally published at http://uvenus.org on 2010.06.07.
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