Course blogging: So what happens when students were asked to blog for a class? A descriptive analysis of 2 semesters of blog usage of students and the instructor in an ILS course.


Leo Cao, SILS@UNC Chapel-Hill Course Blogging: So what happens when students were asked to blog for a class? A descriptive analysis of 2 semesters of blog usage of students and the instructor in an ILS course.

This poster showcases a descriptive analysis of 2 semesters of implementation of blogs in an undergrad Information and Library Science course at UNC-Chapel Hill. The research interest for this work actually started months after it was implemented in practice. Several colleagues have inquired on its usage, and one actually adopted the platform immediately for his courses. Initial intent of establishing an online blogging community for the class failed miserably after 3-weeks in semester I. However, the usage continued onward for semester I(30 students) and repeated again in semester II(20 students) with a second group of students. Even without the community component, the simple blog platform proved enormously useful over the 9-month period as a hybrid communication tool that epitomizes digital informality.

Forming an online community never quite materialized because reading their peers' posts were frankly quite dry, especially when the only reason students make posts was because that was required of them - posting/commenting requirements were lowered 3 weeks into semester I, and in semester II, it was all voluntary except when asked by the instructor to post for class exercises. The main class blog morphed into a hybrid centralized communication platform for the class, which crossed but did not completely replace the functions of email, PowerPoint, and blackboard courseware - which were all utilized in the course. Individual student blogging were sporadic and looked to be primarily grade driven in semester I, where as semester II, almost no blogging activity unless it was prompted by the instructor for specific tasks.

The perspective of blogs being potentially revolutionary for education is based on the view that the active posting/commenting cycle of information flows that can occur in blogs on the open internet can be replicated in the classroom. That seems quite questionable given the fact that the underlying context and motivation for the activity is completely different - for personal interest vs. for evaluation. As evident by the fact that blogging activity by the students unanimously ceased at the end of both semesters, this point is consistent with reports in the literature.

Preliminary Results

Student feedbacks on their blog use were collected in order to get an assessment on whether it was worth using blogs for future courses. The survey asks about their perspectives on blog use via a 4-point Likert scale, coded as strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree, and the students were also asked to further explain their choices in writing. The collection method was done via posting the questions on the main course blog and asking the students to respond. A consistent 70-85% of the responses, along with detailed comments, were positive on students' perceived value of blogging as important to their learning in the course.

In semester II, similar results were collected, however, note that semester I students were told explicitly that blog activity factors into grade with periodic verbal reminders to post, where as the semester II students were told the same but with far less emphasis with no specific reminders. It was surprising that very few students indicated blog usage as cumbersome in their comments.

Emerging Themes

Pedagogically and logistically speaking from the instructor's perspective, having the main course blog enabled an ease in distributing consisting information. Each student having their own networked blog enables the instructor to manage small-assignments with minimal overhead, as well as potential for asynchronous communication on discussion of specific ideas with or between students individually via direct commenting - student posts an informal idea on his work and the instructor or their peers could give feedback on it, anytime anywhere -facilitate digital serendipity. This blend of course logistical management and platform for informal information exchange is a key advantage of utilizing web 2.0 technologies in the classroom.

In my observations and overall assessment of the students' blog usage, and in contrast to the popular personal blogs, is a fundamental lack of identity association with their blog. They see the blog more as a digital notebook that the instructor asks them to work on, rather than a medium for self expression that personal blogs often are perceived as. The evidence that all 50 students in both semesters ceased posting after the end of the semester reinforces this conclusion, along with the published literature on similar cases with the same result. Course blogging may entirely be a different animal than the perceived active personal blogs in the wild. Maximizing the utility of what it's good at - course management and information exchange aspect may be more fruitful than the original intent of a virtual community.

The fact that a virtual community of scholarship failed to formulate in these two cases is by no means an indication that it's not feasible, it can potentially happen if the motivation factor were intrinsic via personal interests rather than grades alone. On a side note, the substantial student in-class blogging/writing work has proved to be an interesting partial solution to the dreaded side-effect of having technology in the class room (chronic email/web surfing etc).

Discussion

This poster contributes to the larger discussion of how web 2.0 platforms such as blogs can play in a pedagogical environment. Further investigation in this area could expand the knowledge base, one that of particular relevance to information and library professionals in the increasingly digital environment that our services have become. In relation to existing literature on educational blogging, the two descriptive data presented here are best to be treated as case studies with its' own characteristics, as are the existing published literature on blog usage in classrooms.

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