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.]

15 thoughts on “teaching critical blogging

  1. Christian

    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 🙂

  2. Cassandra

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

  3. Jill

    Why, Cassandra?

  4. dani

    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.. :))

  5. dani

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

    Beklager det.

  6. Jill

    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.

  7. dani

    I dag var det f¯rste gang jeg tenker
    at postingene mine var tilfredstillende.
    Grunnen til det er at jeg f¯ler meg sikrere
    p kunnskapen om usability emnet, derfor ogs ble det mye mer kritisk skriving.

    Jeg tenker kanskje at det m finnes en mal
    for en akseptabel posting.
    Den malen vi jobbet etter i dag, jeg tenker pÂ
    de tre sp¯rsmÂlene vi mÂtte svare pÂ:
    1. hva slags side
    2. hvem er forfatteren
    3. og finne ut om noe p siden.(liten usability test)
    og at det har en personlig preg(hum¯r osv..)
    dette er en fin mal  jobbe etter.
    vi fÂr se hvordan det gÂr fremover med postingene.

  8. Katja

    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.

  9. Rayne

    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.

  10. jempa

    OK, I get it, finally!

  11. Robert's blog

    How to interest students?
    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…

  12. HUIN105: Webdesign og webestetikk

    diskusjoner p tvers av blogger
    En gruppe bloggende studenter i Melbourne og en del andre diskuterer for tiden Rebecca Bloods artikkel om weblogghistorie. Diskusjonen er…

  13. Malins blog

    att blogga
    Eftersom jag ‰r en relativt ny bloggarel‰ste jag helt nyligen Rebecca Bloods bok WeblogHandbook och uppt‰ckte s sent som idag…

  14. Malins blog

    mer ordning
    steffanie undrar vad en webblog egentlgen ‰r. Man kan tycka att det ‰r onˆdigt att tvinga in saker i fack…

  15. Workbench

    Some webloggers have class
    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.

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