Presentation notes for: “Using a Blog-Based Environment to Support a Community of Learners”
Institute for Student Success, Humboldt State University
Presenters: Daniel Fiore, Riley Quarles, Claire Knox, and Child Development Faculty
Riley introduced everyone by saying that the network of blogs (WordPress) created with the Child Development department began with solving a problem: communication. Claire Knox pointed out that there was learning that they wanted visible to everyone, they wanted everyone participating in the conversations. They wanted the learning to not be locked down behind a learning management system. Resources for the presentation are at the Child Development site for the Institute.
They created a network of blogs to support their program. The network of blogs arose from the users – the needs of the faculty. All of the course blogs reflect the interest and needs of the individual classes. The blogs serve as eportfolios.
The department blog provides calendars, advising, and a link to all of the other classes. The site supports online and hybrid courses. It allows students to feel and be connected throughout the program.
They also wanted to engage alumni in an open site. They are expanding the community to include former students. Students create their own blogs that feed into course and department sites. They are using RSS feeds and categories in WordPress.
Blog posts help students get to know one another before they work together in the class or in other classes. This has increased the sense of connectedness and community.
The students sign up for a blog at WordPress.com, send the address to the instructor, the instructor puts them into a plug-in that gathers the students postings that are labeled or catagorized according to the class instructions. The pulg-in automatically pulls in all of the materials that the students tag to the class blog. Instructors and students then comment on the postings.
The blogs allow students to explore topics further. The instructor was using the blog to post more articles and resources and the students began to do the same on their blogs.
Carole said that she is not a technological person but found that WordPress was easy to use and the program allows the faculty to go at their own pace in using these tools. The blogs assignments were good tools to discuss web presence, communicating online, and our web history. They had conversations about how the blog can represent the student to prospective employers and how what you put online represents you.
They want the students to carry their experiences in the program and their relationships after they leave the program. Learning management systems do not allow that. They want the learning community to continue.
All of the course content from the courses stays visible. Students can look at other classes and see how course materials are related to other courses. They begin to link what they are learning to their other classes. Students can go and look at any courses that they are going to take in the future. They can see how all the courses fit together. Faculty can also visit the sites and find new ways to make connections to other classes in the program. Typically, faculty in purely face-to-face courses might not have that opportunity. The blogs also serve as a community orientation site.
They have also had a lot of discussions about privacy – there are some materials that they put into Moodle (the learning management system). Observations of children or copy written materials, for instance, need to be kept private.
Even though the environment looks structured, the community created by the students and their comments represents another network within the network – this is like the idea of rhizomatic learning posited by Dave Cormier. There are opportunities here for collaborative learning and team-based projects. Blogs allow students to communicate their processes, to reflect on how they learn. Peer instruction and support can begin in this network and follow them throughout the program (also much like Eric Mazur’s ideas on peer instruction). This is also a good example of students learning through their connections with one another (connectivism).