Blogging to a classroom near you

From the blog of Professor Michelle Laughran

Blogging in the Classroom

Well, I started initially using the Internet in the classroom for two reasons... First of all, because there is of course a wealth of educational materials available on the Web, but secondly to show the relevancy of history to our own lives, since news flashes about historical discoveries are released every day!

Through my classroom blogs, I've tried to encourage the idea of history and education as a constantly evolving, thoroughly collaborative process. I post items and comment on blogs of friends and colleagues, they post on mine, and I encourage students to do the same! My use of blogging in the classroom is still experimental and I'm still trying to work out the bugs, but the results of my collaborations so far have been heartening, even just on an interpersonal level. As one student wrote, "Ha hah, it's weird, even though I see teachers as people now, it's hard for me to think that they like the same things that I like." Hopefully, that's about to change, as professors and students join together online to share their interests and to develop together a lifelong love of learning!!

Posted by Michelle Laughran 6:08 a.m.

1 Comment
Dale Brooker said...I have Michelle to thank for getting me started in the blogging world. Last summer as I was finishing my dissertation, I decided that I wanted to share some of my personal feelings about the process itself and let people know about what I was doing in terms of my research. I would also find myself seeking out information I found relevant to the topic I was researching: the re-entry process for former inmates. My personal blog soon included information that I thought would be useful to students, but I wanted a central location for that and during winter break, The Panopticon was launched.

The Panopticon is what it states, "THE source of information, news and scholarly fun for criminal justice students at Saint Joseph's College of Maine." The information provided to students includes upcoming events, etc., that they may find relevant, as well as a vast number of news articles and scholarly research references that students can discuss and comment on. This process has been an exciting one in that students have shown their potential in terms of being able to critically assess their own views, attitudes and beliefs while responding to the postings. Furthermore, they are able to make the connections between what they are learning in the classroom and on the blog with what they might expect to find when entering their chosen profession.

For me, it has been a great process and the students seem to be enjoying the interactions we are having. As I look to the future, I hope to see more blogs emerge that focus on student's research projects or their academic portfolios that track their own interests and pursuits in the lifelong learning process.

The collaborative Web: Two professors tout class blogs as a dynamic teaching tool

At the beginning of 1999, only about two dozen blogs appeared on the Internet. By April 2006, that number had skyrocketed to 35 million.

Michelle Laughran and Dale Brooker

Blogs, essentially journals or logs on the Web, allow people with little or no technical background to easily "post" their content and comment to the posts of others. That ease of use, which often leads to social banter on the Web, also has led professors across the globe to try blogs for academic use. Realizing the potential of blogs, history professor Michelle Laughran and criminal justice professor Dale Brooker put them to work as a teaching tool in the spring semester.

Both Laughran and Brooker believe that by making a blog part of the course curriculum, students are more likely to communicate with each other and with the professor. They say offering this way of interacting outside of class nurtures collaboration between faculty and students. "You're not a passive recipient. You're producing content," says Laughran.
Brooker even invites off-campus colleagues to join his class blog in order to widen the net of interaction. Laughran and Brooker also post to each other's class blog. "The Web," Brooker says, "has become highly collaborative."

For both professors, using blogs academically has been a tremendous success, partly due to the growing interest and familiarity that students have with networking sites such as Facebook, where posting and commenting is relatively popular among college students. Although some students are hesitant at first to post material, preferring to just comment on the professor's posts, that changes over the semester as the students get a feel for the process. Laughran saw her students increase their critical thinking about the material posted on the blog. They questioned sources or hidden agendas, "which gets to the heart of developing information literacy," she says.

Dr. Laughran uses blogs in History of Science and Medicine, Honors Western Civilization, and Honors Senior Seminar. Dr. Brooker uses his blog, The Panopticon, widely within the criminal justice curriculum. Though the public can access these blogs, only registered students can post comments. Even then, professors and blog administrators reserve the right to edit inappropriate content such as profanity.

"In my class I offered it as an option for students who might not feel comfortable speaking up in class," says Laughran. For students in Dr. Brooker's classes, it was a small part of the class participation grade.

Amanda Hart '07 and Robert Smith '08 both had Dr. Laughran and Dr. Brooker for class during the spring semester of 2006, in which the blogs were used in some way for the class.

"There were times where I really liked using the blogs in class, and there were times where I really didn't like it," says Hart. "Teachers can post important things like homework and tests on the blog, but if you don't check it there could be problems. I think it would be easier to use the blog if you could set it up so you could be notified when something new was posted."

"The blogs were very useful in that homework and outside reading could be assigned and suggested," says Smith. "To make the blogs a more useful teaching aid, a set schedule has to be followed by the teacher in regards to postings that directly impact the students."

Even though blogs are easy to use, they still take time. Laughran and Brooker keep up with their class blogs by remaining alert around the clock for material to post. "You have to develop
a mental habit about it," says Laughran. For now, both pro-fessors find it a fun, dynamic way to get students involved and keep their research dynamic.

"We are always on the lookout for something of interest to students," says Brooker. "If I hear a story on NPR on the way in to work, I can post the link immediately." Along with the link, he posts questions about the story's content, how the issue affects the criminal justice system, or even how the story affects the student overall. "I'm trying to get students to make connections between news articles and the criminal justice system," he says. One of the advantages of blogs, he says, is that students see where their professors get their information. "They get to see what our sources are. It's almost like job shadowing."

Dr. Laughran integrates the blog and the classroom. By developing her syllabus in increments on the blog, she can adapt it if something is covered in class discussion. Or if the syllabus is geared toward history majors, but her class has a majority of nursing majors, she can adapt the syllabus to include more medical history and post that to the course blog.

Professors Laughran and Brooker are satisfied with the results of last semester's blogs and plan to use or expand them in future classes. Laughran is looking for a way to include students who don't enjoy using the Internet as much as others. Brooker, who calls blogs a "global pedagogical tool," envisions students creating their own learning blogs in the sophomore year to catalog their knowledge, portfolio-style. "It would allow students to see the progression of their knowledge," he says.

Welcome to the Web 2.0.