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.]