March 26th, 2012

Getting Started with Student Blogs: Tips for the Digital Immigrant

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Digital Natives are all around us. They populate our college courses and use the newest mobile technologies to communicate, collaborate, create and share information on social media sites. There is, however, often a disconnection on their path to learning. Quite often we find Digital Native students taught by Digital Immigrant professors (Prensky, 2001) who fear, dismiss or are unaware of the potential learning power of Web 2.0 technologies.

According to a recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith & Zickuhr, 2010) teen and young adult use of social networking sites has exploded since 2006. Yet, most collegiate faculty will choose not to embrace a device that could greatly enhance their teaching prowess and, more importantly, assist the development of their students.

Digital Immigrant professors often believe that Digital Native students’ familiarity with social media software and cutting edge mobile technologies corresponds to a deep and critical use of Twitter, Facebook and blogs in research or coursework applications (Kumar, 2010). This double-edged facet both excites and scares faculty. If students are so familiar with social media, then they could use it to uncover new ways to research material. If students are so much more versed than faculty in the technology, then I, as a teacher, cannot teach them.

There is a solution to this problem. The use of an effective and basic social media tool in the higher education classroom can be a wonderful bridge between the cyber skills of students and the thoughtful lessons provided by professors. The answer is found in creating a blogging assignment.

In my Writing for the Media course, I adopted the creation of a blog as a new assignment. As a Digital Immigrant professor whose early professional and academic careers pre-dated the Internet, I was, at first, skeptical of introducing a technology-based exercise in which I held very little expertise. Deep down I knew that I needed to shelve my fear and learn as much about blogs as I could because it made sense to use web tools as a relational component of instruction. Besides, blogs are particularly well suited for a whole variety of courses. They can be used for writing essays, research, communication studies, visual art galleries, e-Portfolios and other impactful endeavors. And blogs make fantastic end-of-semester presentation forums.

Based upon my experience, I recommend a few essential steps for implementing a blog as a student-generated learning exercise. First, discover as much as you can about the appearance and basic functionality of blogs. You do not need to be an IT expert; however, you do need to have a good idea about how to create and update posts, and the overall maintenance. Second, find a free platform, such as Blogger or WordPress, to house the student blogs. This search will greatly assist the access and naming conditions for project work with very little hassle. Third, create your own site before you ask students to create theirs. Here is where you can get ahead of the curve, maintain an expert practitioner status and promote your confidence. This is my site here: http://massmediazone.blogspot.com/

These simple steps will assist your in learning the new language of blogs and the unique cultural qualities of social media. In time, you will be like every immigrant and learn to love your new land.

References:
Kumar, S. (2010). Teaching history with blogs for student engagement and critical use of digital media. Journal of Applied Computing, Vol. 6, No. 2: 69-76.

Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., and Zickuhr, K. (2010). Social media & mobile internet use among teens and young adults. Pew Internet & American Life Project. http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Social-Media-and-Young-Adults.aspx

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, Vol. 9, No. 5: 1-6.

Dr. David McCoy is an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Digital Media at Ashland University.