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Reflection – John Tulinsky

by on November 27, 2007

The Blog as a Classroom Tool

At the beginning of the quarter I was interested to learn that we would be using a blog to supplement normal class discussions in our Change Management class. The proliferation of blogs devoted to every conceivable topic cannot be overstated. At their best blogs are an outstanding medium for rapid publication and for a productive interaction between users and authors. However, like any buzzword-generating phenomenon they have been adopted in numerous environments, some of which are a bad fit for the technology.

Our class blog was collaborative and invitation-only. That is, posting was limited to students in the class and posts were related to class material. The professor reviewed posts and comments before publication. A small number of posts were taken down or posted anonymously but overall there was limited moderation of the content. As of November 27, 2007 the blog contained 201 posts; 44 posts had been commented upon, with a total of 90 comments. The most comments to a single post were eight; however the majority of posts with comments had a single comment. Also, there was a clear trend with a higher percentage of commented posts and nearly all of the posts with multiple comments occurring early in the quarter.

As a medium for rapidly elaborating upon classroom discussion and for the general display of student’s work the blog was a great success. I found that the posts were consistently interesting, well-written and often thought-provoking. However, as a means for generating an interactive discussion it was less successful, as shown by the commenting statistics. I believe that this is largely due to the sheer volume of posts. Blogs are based on the chronology of posts; with over 200 posts in approximately 10 weeks any individual post quickly sinks below the fold. Individual posts need more visibility to generate active follow-up discussion. However, given the volume of material I don’t see an easy solution. The volume of posts also complicated navigation. Over the course of the quarter I’ve thought about other tools for collaboration of this sort. One possibility is to use a social networking tool such as ning. Each student would have her own page, and be part of a network consisting of the class. Access could be restricted to the class or made open to the public. Students could be updated of other student’s posts through an RSS feed. This approach has the advantage of grouping student’s work together, however the professor loses control as a moderator and it would be difficult to, for example, scan all of the book reviews. I think a better approach would be to use a more sophisticated blogging tool. Being able to search the site and filter the results, for example by student, by assignment (book review, reflection…) and especially by tag would facilitate comparison of different posts and possibly stimulate discussion. For example, the professor could supply a standard tag for each lecture, much like conferences suggest flickr tags to attendees. Any reflection based on a particular lecture would have a specific tag, as well as other tags added by the student, thus simplifying the task of finding all posts on a specific topic.

My primary complaints about the use of the blog in our class regard usability issues of the tool used. However, in general I found contributing to and reading Ideas 4 Change to be an interesting and valuable learning experience. I hope that it continues to be used in future classes.

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