Blogs in Higher Ed: Personal Voice as Part of Learning

The use of Internet technology to facilitate interaction, communication, and collaboration is well documented but its use in establishing and developing "personal voice" as part of learning is also now being addressed through the use of blogs. Finding personal voice as a pedagogical method is important to establish learner identity and focus, and journaling has long been recognized as an effective way to provide space for this to occur. The blog, however, provides a context in which personal voice can be "published" by the student, which means that attention is given to content, relevancy, and connection with learning outcomes to a higher degree than a traditional journal submission. The idea that more than one person will view the work is quite powerful in promoting a sense of ownership from the student. Teachers can also benefit from "hearing" the personal voice of their students to begin to really understand the learning path of each student through a course.

In our initial studies we have been interested specifically in asking:

  • Is blogging perceived as a good way to establish personal voice by both students and instructors?
  • Is there a tension created by the published nature of the blog?
  • What do instructors need to do to contextualize blogging in a course?
Studies So Far

This past semester we were able to initiate four studies in one doctoral course; one adult, directed studies course; one remedial English course; and with a small group of second language students. While these instructors will continue using the blog in their courses next semester, they worked with a few students so far and helped us to glean some important information that will help us better develop our blog studies this continuing semester.

STUDY 1 CONTEXT

Students in a professional directed studies program created blogs as a reflective tool in the course. Each student received a grade for their blog, with grades being based on the numbers of submissions, not on the content. The instructor asked that reflection concentrate on course readings or personal experience.

Students - The overall reaction from the students was that they found it less enjoyable and more of a "chore," and they seemed to focus only on completion for a grade.

Instructor's comments - Too small a sampling to really decide on value of the tool. Culture of the program d'es not lend itself to non-directed constructive reflection but would like to use the tool in a larger class setting. It is important to model reflection and provide more guiding questions for students. Not sure about the grading if it should be weekly or less often. Plan is to develop a portfolio approach using blogs to try to support more ownership of the context from the students.

STUDY 2 CONTEXT

The students in this pilot were participating in a doctoral-level course in which blogging was provided as a journaling tool but was optional. Out of 25 students, only three chose to blog.

Students -Those who chose to blog enjoyed the convenience and visual permanency of the blog. They found that it made their sequencing easier in terms of thought progression.

Instructor's comments- It would be better to establish individual blogs as the only way to journal in order to actually evaluate the effectiveness. Blogrings (Blogrings here refer to students within a class sharing their blog with specific individuals to prompt response.) could be encouraged to support small group connection and student-to-student support. This could probably provide more learning support than discussion boards and/or chat.

STUDY 3

In this group there were 27 who blogged. These students were in a first-year creative writing class and were expected to blog twice a week on any topic that interested them; a few times the instructor gave them a topic. The instructor checked on them periodically, but did not check their grammar, mechanics, or spelling. It was more of a self-reflection exercise, so there was no grade assigned.

Students - Most of the students enjoyed it at first; a few did not like it, but at least five were very excited about blogging and thought it should remain in the syllabus for next semester's students. One student said she hated the idea of blogging at first, but now she is hooked on it. This student continued blogging even after the end of the semester.

Instructor's comments - Enjoyed blogging and checking students' blogs, although found it difficult to remember that blogging was taking place regularly. The class formed blogrings at the suggestion of one of the students - there were three blogrings altogether. The plan is to keep blogging as part of the syllabus for next semester, and to check on each student's blog much more regularly.

STUDY 4

Only six students participated in a language support group although a blogring was started. This project will continue next semester during which time the use of the blog for these students will be assessed more carefully. So far, the students have found the blogring helpful in staying connected.

Summary and Recommendations
Although each of these small pilot studies has given some indication of initial responses from instructors and students, there is potential to attempt more. What has become clear so far can be summarized as follows:

  • Blogging must be integrated early in the course design and must be clearly connected to the course outcomes before it can become anything more than just an extra task for the students.
  • Grading d'es seem to motivate the students, but it seems to be more effective to grade according to effort in relevancy to course content and outcomes than simply on numbers of submissions.
  • There is an issue with privacy, particularly with older students. This should be addressed by emphasizing how to secure and share entries.
  • Instructors need time to evaluate the importance of self-reflection as a methodological approach in learning as well as the value of integrating personal voice in the learning context. Otherwise the exercise will be perceived as futile to the students.

As we progress to our next phase of study, we will attempt to better prepare each instructor by discussing how blogging relates to course outcomes. As with all new instructional technology, understanding of the benefits to the teaching and learning experience should be fully grasped by the instructor and shared with the students before integrated into the course.

About Trevecca

Trevecca Nazarene University is a private, Christian, 4-year Liberal Arts institution in Nashville, Tennessee. It has just under 3,000 students covering baccalaureate and graduate degrees and with a focus on professional preparation programs. There are 75 full-time faculty and approximately 50 adjunct professors. The Center for Instructional Technology is a resource center addressing training of all faculty in the application and use of technology in teaching and learning. We have five full-time staff and offer workshops, tutorials, online training, and support in Smart technology, audio visuals, multimedia, and Internet technology for traditional campus classes and online and/or distance learning.

Each year, the Center focuses on specific technologies and encourages faculty to become involved in exploring the use of technology in their various instructional contexts. The Center approaches faculty who show interest in specific uses of technology to pilot ideas and applications. This year, we are focusing on the use of blogging as an instructional tool in a variety of settings. Several faculty responded to participate in initial studies with a view to moving to a more controlled study over a longer period of time. The initial studies took place over the fall semester, and we hope to increase the study scope to include more specific outcomes and more classes over the winter semester.

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