Blog Technology in Educational Settings

Concentrate on a particular area of technology that interests you, and be prepared to explain to your colleagues its current state of development; where it might be in five years; and the pros and cons of its usefulness in the classroom.

—Assignment for this week’s Teaching Music History course (MHST 537), taught by Anne Hallmark

One specific adaptation of technology that interests me is the use of “blogs” as a means for after-class discussion and discourse. Blogging shares many benefits with similar technologies (such as online bulletin boards, forums, email), in that its asynchronous format allows discussants to log on at their leisure; carefully think about what they want to share, and respond in thoughtful ways. A blogging website can offer users several types of opportunities, like: reading or viewing class events passively; re-articulating what happened in class (such as, from the student’s personal perspective) by writing a “post”; and/or commenting on others’ perspectives by leaving comments at the bottom of each post. As with other Internet technologies, online blogging websites usually allow the inclusion of hyperlinked articles, multimedia (videos, audio, pictures, slideshows), rich text (bold, underline, bullets, other formats), and also function as archives. Many blogging websites (such as Blogger, Xanga, MySpace Blog, BlogSpot) already exist, and most offer free general-use blogs that include some kind of technical support for inexperienced users. For a higher level of customization, “open-source” (non proprietary) software like WordPress (which this blog is run on) or Movable Type are also popular, though these often require a more sophisticated sense of technical expertise. 

The major hurdle that I’ve observed is not with the blogging technology itself, but rather it’s use and how it is supported by the instructor, and included in the classroom: A class with access to a blog is a very different story from a class whose members post regularly to the blog, and whose instructor actively moderates the students’ posts and comments. Also, the kind and style of writing that is posted to the blog will make a significant difference in the level of engagement students have with the blog:

  • What will draw them into reading the blog? 
  • What type of discourse is the instructor hoping to achieve via the blog? 
  • To what extent will the blog be able to help students make connections beyond what is discussed in class? 
  • How can learning on the blog make the jump, back to classroom learning?

It’s my inclination that these types of issues and ideas will be with us in 5 years, 10 years, even 50 years—that it’s not the technology that poses questions like this, but the ways that educators structure and vet their own teaching processes, when working with and engaging students of multiple, or varied, learning styles. 

As parts of my professional roles (Information Architect for the Music-In-Education National Consortium, and Program Coordinator for the  MIE Concentration here at NEC), I have spent the last few years researching and developing educational communities that support blog technology. The CMIE NewsBlog (http://centerformie.org/blog) is one example of my work. It is contributed to, on a weekly basis, by a selection of students from currently-running MIE courses and Guided Internships. These students are designated as “Documentation Specialists“—they each are charged with the responsibility of collecting evidence and examples of classroom teaching/learning n their respective MIE classes or internships, and reporting/sharing/articulating what’s going on in those classes. I have designed a number of post types that students can use as springboards for writing. I also regularly meet with students to mentor them on what kinds of documentation they should collect, and how that documentation can be used in a portfolio or NewsBlog post. We try to steer our writers so that they have an uninformed audience in mind; the premise is that a thoughtfully-written NewsBlog post can also be used in a teaching portfolio, or as the basis for academic writing of some kind. Finally, each MIE instructor incorporates the NewsBlog into his classroom in  a course-appropriate way: the MIE Intro class, for example, uses the NewsBlog as practice for students learning to collect and reflect on documentation. As MIE Program Coordinator, I use the NewsBlog to show a birds-eye view of how each part of the department works in relation to the whole. 

The readership of the CMIE NewsBlog is large and varied: Not only do the Documentation Specialists’ classmates read the NewsBlog; but also MIE faculty, students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, members of the MIE National Consortium, and the general public. NewsBlog posts are moderated by myself and other MIE faculty members, and posters often receive extraordinarily deep feedback on their writing. In fact, since the NewsBlog begun, the MIE Department has seen a marked increase in the quality and maturity of written portfolio work. I am sure that this is not unrelated. 

As long as the teacher is supportive, aware, and comfortable with the use of blogging websites, the inclusion of blog technology is generally un-intrusive and can be a welcome complement to synchronous classroom discussion. I welcome my colleagues to visit the CMIE NewsBlog, read and comment on our students’ work, and contact me should they have any questions or suggestions on its use.

-Randy Wong

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