September 20, 2008

Blogs Help Create Learning Communities

By: in Articles, Learning Communities

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Susan Baim, assistant professor of business technology at Miami University-Middletown, uses weblogs to supplement her face-to-face courses to

  • improve students’ abilities to use the internet as a research medium
  • provide students with networking opportunities and build learning communities beyond the classroom
  • improve students’ writing skills.

Miami University-Middletown is a commuter campus, so opportunities for students to interact with each other outside of class are limited. Blogs helps students know each other at a “deeper” level, Baim says.

She uses LiveJournal (www.livejournal.com) in her courses and requires each student to set up an account and create a personalized web page by choosing an individual user name, page colors and borders, font size and type, animated mood icons, and photographs.

Baim encourages students to include personal information on their web pages, which can include an e-mail address, location, college or university, birth date, and interests. Since the forum is public, she reminds students not to post anything they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with the world. For the duration of each course, Baim requires students to list each other in their friends group, which allows for easy access to each others’ pages.

To encourage students to use their blogs, Baim creates a blog of her own and asks students to post their thoughts on their blogs and respond to each other frequently. She also asks students to introduce new topics, questions, and controversial points of view to keep discussions lively.

Baim requires her students to write at least 500 words per week on their blogs and respond to at least five classmates or other students within the business technology program. The nature of the exchanges is open-ended. Because many of her students are non-traditional with full-time jobs, families, and perhaps more stress than traditional students experience. “Blogs are a way to talk about some of these issues, and many students say they enjoy being able to talk to people outside their immediate families.”
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The blogs also provide a forum for ideas related to the course which there might not otherwise be enough time to thoroughly explore. “In a lot of fields where what’s going on in the outside worlds is critical to bring into the classroom, LiveJournal is an excellent way to do that. Students may see something and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to write about that on LiveJournal.’ Without this forum, they may forget about it by the time they get to the classroom. It gives students the chance to add value to the classroom discussion without having to be in the classroom.”

Like a threaded discussion in a course management system, blogs can maintain an accurate, semi-permanent record of a dialogue. Unlike a threaded discussion, blogs provide students with a public forum in which they can connect with people with similar interests from around the world and express their opinions and interesting information they find on their own web page. LiveJournal has thousands of communities, and Baim’s students can interact with people from other campuses.

“For students who are learning about technology, having them create their own personalized web pages is an interesting way to go,” Baim says. “What’s really interesting about it is that the people on LiveJournal talk about just about anything in the world, things that are not in newspapers. Some of our students taking language courses, for example, can go to people who live in Spain or other Spanish-speaking countries and read what they post.”

Learning Outcomes

Baim has used LiveJournal in her courses for the past four years and has found that students

  • develop a better grounding in fundamental course concepts and use their online discussions to refine ideas that were introduced in the classroom
  • seek peer assistance with difficult course concepts, homework, or projects
  • become more active in their discussions after guest speakers participate in classroom discussions
  • establish networks among themselves by adding each other to specialized friends groups
  • come to class better prepared for face-to-face discussion, asking more thought-provoking questions. Baim speculates that this is due to the relationships students develop online and the additional time they have to formulate ideas.

When students gain experience using blogs in her courses, sometimes they continue even after the course has ended, Baim says.

Contact Susan Baim at baimsa@muohio.edu.

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