June 7th, 2010

Blogging to Improve Student Learning: Tips and Tools for Getting Started

By:

Most universities press their faculty to add technology to their classroom by adopting the Learning Management System—Blackboard, Moodle, etc. This is a mistake. Faculty often end up spending hours learning the system and loading the same content that they use in the classroom, and finish wondering if the benefit was worth the effort.

I instead encourage faculty to start by adding a blog to their class. A blog can be set up in minutes and is easy to learn and maintain. Plus, there are a variety of studies proving that blogging can improve educational outcomes. For instance:

  • Faculty at the University of Maryland Baltimore County found that when they switched chemistry labs from individual students doing experiments and submitting their results, to groups of students posting their findings to a blog and receiving feedback from other students, the average passing rate in class went from 71.2 percent to 85.6 percent, even as the minimum score needed to pass went up. Read more about the UMBC experience here ».
  • David Wiley at Brigham Young University had his students post their written work to a blog before handing it in. The students received comments from other students and even faculty at other institutions, which improved their work greatly. Wiley found that dozens of other people were effectively doing his job for him by providing students with commentary to improve their work. It multiplied student outcomes without extra effort on his part. Read more about the experience here » .

One of the benefits of blogging is that it is public, and we are more attentive to the quality of our work when it is public than if it is just viewed by one other person. Plus, blogging creates a person-centered discussion, as opposed to the topic-centered discussion of the LMS. Students are less invested in LMS discussions and often lend the minimum commentary necessary fulfill the requirement. But students become much more invested in their work when blogging, and thus are more engaged with the material.

Also, Kris Kelly notes that blogging encourages higher levels of reasoning because the “focus is not necessarily on the content of the blog, but more on the process of constructing and evaluating knowledge helping us reach the sometimes elusive upper levels – analyzing, evaluating, and creating – of Bloom’s Taxonomy” (http://tinyurl.com/mtj6kf).

One simple way to incorporate blogging into nearly any course is to create a single class blog and post case studies, news items, or topics for commentary. Another option is to assign students to post notes on each class along with their thoughts on the material, and assign other students to comment on the postings.

Add blogging to your classes with any of the free platforms below:

Blogger – Google’s publishing tool: http://www.blogger.com

Tumblr – A feature rich system: http://www.tumblr.com

Posterious – Super simple, and with lots of functionality: http://posterous.com

Soup.io – Another powerful product from the “io” people: http://www.soup.io

Edmodo – Good for making password protected groups of blogs: http://www.edmodo.com

Share your ideas: I would love to hear ideas for using blogs in the classroom. Please share your experiences or ideas by posting a comment to this article in the space below.

John Orlando, PhD, is the Program Director for the online Master of Science in Business Continuity Management and Master of Science in Information Assurance programs at Norwich University. John develops faculty training in online education and is available for consulting at jorlando@norwich.edu.