Friday: March 14, 2003

teaching critical blogging

Adrian emphasises process- and problem-based teaching, and his weblog has lots of notes about his teaching. Yesterday he wrote about the stages between a student asking "What's the difference between a blog and a webpage" and the class finding information and assessing its validity. (Btw, you get the best results by typing that question into Google, which none of the students did. Jon writes that he wouldn't have thought of that either, actually, and he's certainly net literate...)

As a new teacher I find this kind of very concrete example of how process-based teaching can work really useful. It also reminds me (yet again) that so much of what I take for granted is utterly cryptic to students. For instance, in his description of the discussion on how to figure out whether Rebecca Blood's essay on the history of weblogs is an authoritative source, Adrian not only lists many ways of working out that it is indeed authoritative, he also demonstrates that what is blindingly obvious to someone whose net literate is impossible to see for most people.

Next week's topic in my web design class is usability. Some of Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox columns are on the curriculum, and we're going to do our own usability testing of some websites, and don't worry, the week after we'll discuss alternatives to usability. But I think I'll start by asking the students to figure out what usability actually is.

You see, my students are all blogging, but they're mostly not blogging very critically. They use their blogs as learning logs, which is good, and they write about what we've done in class and how they've read X or tried that, and what they're trying to do with the design of their blogs and what their project group's planning and so on. They link to each others blogs too, which is excellent, and many of them have clearly established their blogs as their own spaces.

So this is all good, but I also want them to blog critically. To link to relevant articles and websites and write about them and consider them and connect them and so on. For instance, they rarely link to more than one external site in one entry, which I'm realising is actually quite an important function of good blogging: it connects separate things with a personal perspective. It's hard to work out quite how to teach independent, critical thought. To my great surprise I've discovered that giving a 2 x 45 minute lecture is way easier than setting up tasks and discussions and problems that actually help the students develop their own skills. I don't believe in lectures, though. I know some of my students do.

I've got some students who just aren't comfortable blogging, too. Some of them haven't actually written anything for weeks, though they're active in their project groups. They need to write more in order to fulfill the requirements to pass the course. Hm. Studentene skal lykkes, "Students shall succeed", is the law writ in the Quality Reform of Norwegian tertiary education (strictly speaking not valid till next semester, but still). It's a drastic leap from the rather medieval traditions of Norwegian universities up till now, where students who failed were just not good enough. Bad luck. You probably shouldn't have gone to university in the first place, was the unspoken refrain. I prefer the new credos, though I guess it's hard to figure out: do the non-bloggers not blog because they're lazy or because they need help, somehow? How can I help them to succeed? More intensity, varied teaching methods and more feedback, the Stortingsmelding says (point 5.3.4). And use computers. Well, I've got the computers, anyway.

I guess I should ask the students. Oh, and as always, comments are welcome from all.

[update: Mark reminds us that even "authoritative" websites can be wrong or controversial, and Rebecca Blood responds to the criticism of the article being inaccurate on another blog. Personally, I love Rebecca's article, and her book, too: Rebecca emphasises exactly the aspects of blogging that I think are essential to it, and she's been one of the people who's most clearly seen and expressed that weblogs are the Web's first native genre. The main point of the essay, to me, isn't exactly who did what when (I guess I don't really care that much about that) but the flow and ideas of it all.]

Posted by Jill at March 14, 2003 11:50 AM.


On March 15, 2003 10:36 PM, the entry "How to interest students?" at Robert's blog linked to this entry.

Excerpt: Jill Walker, in a recent blog wonders how she can get her students blogging? Maybe introduce them to the major blog controversies that seem to be held in all sorts of readily-accessible archives? (I innocently stumbled upon some links provided...... [read more]

On March 16, 2003 11:01 AM, the entry "diskusjoner på tvers av blogger" at HUIN105: Webdesign og webestetikk linked to this entry.

Excerpt: En gruppe bloggende studenter i Melbourne og en del andre diskuterer for tiden Rebecca Bloods artikkel om weblogghistorie. Diskusjonen er...... [read more]

On March 16, 2003 11:49 PM, the entry "att blogga" at Malins blog linked to this entry.

Excerpt: Eftersom jag är en relativt ny bloggareläste jag helt nyligen Rebecca Bloods bok WeblogHandbook och upptäckte så sent som idag...... [read more]

On March 25, 2003 10:00 PM, the entry "mer ordning" at Malins blog linked to this entry.

Excerpt: steffanie undrar vad en webblog egentlgen är. Man kan tycka att det är onödigt att tvinga in saker i fack...... [read more]

On August 13, 2003 04:53 AM, the entry "Some webloggers have class" at Workbench linked to this entry.

Excerpt: Jill Walker has been teaching a Web design and aesthetics class at the University of Bergen in Norway that required all students to publish their own weblogs.... [read more]

If your blogging software doesn't do trackbacks, you can send one manually using Kalsey's SimpleTracks. The Trackback URL for this post is http://huminf.uib.no/~jill/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/90.


On March 14, 2003 02:56 PM Christian wrote:

For instance, they rarely link to more than one external site in one entry, which I'm realising is actually quite an important function of good blogging

Remember that it much easier to make lots of links if u write about the internet or internet technology. Also news. If u write about "fishing in valdres" U might not have the same sources for linking. I discussed it with my girlfriend and I guess it must be some areas that is more suited for taking advantage of the power of the technology. Have a good weekend :)

On March 15, 2003 06:52 AM Cassandra wrote:

I think it's a good thing you're not teaching English.

On March 15, 2003 10:58 AM Jill wrote:

Why, Cassandra?

On March 16, 2003 10:26 PM dani wrote:

I think to become a good blogger takes time...
We ve started this course not long ago, and the stuff that students write about are just at normal
development rate..web is big..
If to be seen as a good blogger we need to have more cons and pros in our blogs which can reflect our knowledge of the weblog as a medium.
Maybe we need someone to tell us: ok that's nice but you should really be writing about that, doing that...
I personaly want to write about technical stuff..
Like programming, using blog as place for me to learn and if get some friends doing that what i like, to be a good programmer(webdesigner), then things can develop..
I have tunnel vision about that, thats my course
until i make it or not.
I do not like that idea that we have to write 1500
words about the weblog as a medium, cause it most probably will be written from books or web and i will make an twist on that based on personal experience and understanding..
I would like to get some replyes from the teacher
on the stuff i write and on the design. I m interested cause your eyes will look at the design
and i do not want to be told on the end: sorry that was just not good enough.
I hope something of this was relevant.. :))

On March 16, 2003 10:47 PM dani wrote:

2 setninger som virker som de ikke er egentlig avluttet men har punktum på slutten, fortsetter i neste setning..

Beklager det.

On March 17, 2003 09:25 AM Jill wrote:

Thanks, Dani, for the feedback - I'll work at getting more feedback on everyone's blogs. We should do some peer feedback stuff and definitely discuss more specifically what the blogs should be like.

On March 18, 2003 05:19 PM dani wrote:

I dag var det første gang jeg tenker
at postingene mine var tilfredstillende.
Grunnen til det er at jeg føler meg sikrere
på kunnskapen om usability emnet, derfor også ble det mye mer kritisk skriving.

Jeg tenker kanskje at det må finnes en mal
for en akseptabel posting.
Den malen vi jobbet etter i dag, jeg tenker på
de tre spørsmålene vi måtte svare på:
1. hva slags side
2. hvem er forfatteren
3. og finne ut om noe på siden.(liten usability test)
og at det har en personlig preg(humør osv..)
dette er en fin mal å jobbe etter.
vi får se hvordan det går fremover med postingene.

On April 13, 2003 07:40 PM Katja wrote:

Thank you for this thoughtful entry. As a neophyte, I've been trying to understand what makes a good blog, and will be pondering what you've said. I'm especially interested in opinions about providing external links (quantity? quality? necessary?). I started writing myself mostly because I couldn't find anybody else writing about disability issues the same way (and, yes, to vent) - I would love to find the others who are part of the disability/blogging community and link to them.

On April 24, 2003 11:29 PM Rayne wrote:

Hmm, I'm puzzled by the concept of expecting students to become good bloggers, or teaching them to blog critically.

Blogging is a highly personal, subjective function. To some it's a diary, to others, a form of journalism, yet others use it as a vehicle for communications where chat/BBS/threaded conversation fail to work as needed. There's an enormous distribution in any population between those comfortable with written communication (prose, poetry, text-based rhetoric and dialectic) and those adept at visual communication (graphics, photos, art); in that spread there surely must be those who are not comfortable with either the written or graphic.

Certainly, understanding the differences between blogs and websites, difference in blogging softwares and between blog styles is objective and therefore transferable. But rendering is subjective.

There've been several meta-blog discussions at Salon blogs about "good" blogging and the nature of blogging. Most of us don't agree -- which to my mind only emphasizes the subjectivity, singularity and individuality of the blogging experience.

Food for thought. Enjoyed this entry as an opportunity to ponder blogging's nature.

On March 25, 2004 01:01 PM jempa wrote:

OK, I get it, finally!

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Dr Jill Walker, Dept of Humanistic Informatics, University of Bergen