Blogging with students – 5 key questions

Many of our students today will end up working in a company that uses social media and digital marketing.  The importance of a social presence for organisations is now firmly established and blogging is being used by many firms to increase brand recognition and for generating leads.  So how can we prepare current students for a career in these socially enabled enterprises?

Blogging can also be used as a learning tool to help students develop their writing skills and allow them to demonstrate to employers that they can communicate effectively online. It also offers an innovative alternative to traditional assessment methods and can be used as an individual or collaborative assignment.

While some educators and students are nervous about sharing information online and wary of their inexperience with blogging, these reservations can be addressed by incorporating training in digital citizenship and digital literacy skills.  Like any learning activity, the key is in aligning the task with the learning objectives and agreeing mutual expectations.  So, if you are contemplating introducing students to blogging, here are some things you will need to consider.

#1 Where will they blog?

If you have a blogging facility within your VLE, it will probably be the safest option for student blogs as it will allow you more control.  Alternatively, you could try an education blogging platform, such as Edublogs or Weebly.  If you want to offer students a more authentic blogging experience, you can choose from a range of the popular public blog sites, including WordPress or Blogger.

If you are using a public site, it may be safer for students to only use their first name or a pseudo-name.  You should also make sure that they know how to use the moderation features in order to filter out any spam or offensive comments.

#2 Will it be a solo or group effort?

If you have a small group, individual blogs will allow students more opportunity to demonstrate their creativity and develop their writing skills.  However, if you have a large class it will be more manageable to moderate and comment on collaborative blogs.  This could be in the form of group blogs  where the students work together on blog posts, or you could have one class blog where the students submit their posts through you for review.

Whichever approach you adopt, encourage students to comment on each other’s blog posts so that it becomes a peer-learning exercise where students gain experience of being both writer and reviewer.

#3 What will they blog about?

Blogging will work best if students are writing about something that they are passionate about.  Popular types of blog posts include:

  • Journal – students could describe a field trip or how they went about their research
  • Reflective – students contemplate what they have done and their thought processes
  • News – students write about something interesting that has happened
  • Review – students outline their opinion on a performance, event, article, etc.
  • Editorial – students express their views on an issues, backing them up with facts
  • Instructional – students explain how to complete a task or use an application
  • Advisory – students offer advice based on their own experiences

Don’t assume that students will know how to blog (or comment) so encourage them to review other educational blogs appropriate for their level.  Also, make sure that you agree some ground rules so that everybody is clear about how they should contribute and the tone they should use.  It is usually a good idea to start with an ice-breaker post, perhaps where they introduce themselves and outline what they will be blogging about.  Students should also be encouraged to incorporate media in their blogs, such as images, video clips, podcasts or slideshows.  This Prezi guide to blogging basics provides a quick introduction to blogging for students.

 

#4 Who will their audience be?

It’s always important to keep your audience in mind when writing, and blogging is no different.  Students will need to aware of who will be reading their blogs from the outset.  If the subject is sensitive, you may be the only reader, however in order for students to get the most from the exercise, their blogs should be accessible by others so that they are exposed to comments and learn how to respond appropriately.  If you are using an educational or internal blog, you can restrict this to the class.  However, older students may benefit from the real-world networking and feedback opportunities offered by public blogs.

#5 How will it be assessed?

Ideally, blogging should be used as a developmental process through which students can practise their writing and learn how to communicate effectively online.  However, in reality we often find that unless an activity is part of their summative assessment, students will be unwilling to dedicate time to ungraded tasks.  If this is likely to be the case with your class, use the blog as an alternative to a written assignment or presentation, taking into consideration the student’s tone, writing style, use of media and response to comments when allocating a grade.  For formal assessment submissions, it might be worthwhile asking students to keep a backup of their work or submit it in an second format in case of any technical difficulties.

Blogging (2)

Blogging can be a powerful learning tool that allows students to express their creativity and become confident writers.  It is also a great way to prepare students for the workplace and to develop the 21st century communication skills that employers are increasingly looking for.

For more ideas on how you can enhance student employability through technology supported assessment, take a look at the guide by Jisc.  Have you used blogging with students? Share your experiences in the comments!

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