Instructional Blogging On Campus: Identifying Best Practices

By Stuart Glogoff Sr
Consultant, Learning Technologies
University of Arizona

The University of Arizona’s Learning Technologies Center (LTC) provides centralized support for instructional blogging and hosts blogs for administrative units exploring new ways to provide information to students. In the instructional arena, faculty are integrating blogs into both online and blended learning environments. University administrative units are introducing blogging as a new communications and marketing tool in an effort to reach undergraduate and graduate students in more interactive ways. What, then, are successful academic blogging techniques?

Experiences collected during spring semester 2005 demonstrate this learning tool’s versatility. Instructional blogging was used in a wide range of courses including: Freshman Composition, graduate seminars in English and Philosophy, an upper level Spanish conversation course, art appreciation, and MIS. The applications are as varied as the disciplines adopting blogging. Faculty have introduced blogging to: promote peer review, foster student-to-student, student-to-faculty, and faculty-to-student interaction; discuss course readings; promote discussion and public comment; address class concerns; extend learning beyond the classroom; and develop writing skills because it encourages students to reflect on what they compose.

Several instructors have demonstrated successful instructional blogging practices. A professor who used instructional blogging in two different undergraduate courses recommends blogging as a way to extend learning beyond classroom meetings. From his experience with discussion forums, he believes that 90 percent of his students read forum posts but only 10 percent contribute to discussions in a meaningful way. He replaced forums with blogs and discovered that more students participated and that the quality of their contributions improved markedly. He attributes this to students taking an increased ownership of their ideas and that with their own blogs, students can not lurk as they can on forums. In terms of instructional applications, this professor prefers to use classroom time to address more complex concepts and found that blogs afford his students the opportunity to master the simpler concepts outside the classroom. By addressing a student’s needs through the blog before class meeting, blogging supported a “just-in-time” instructional model.

A second example comes from the UA College of Nursing where a large part of its graduate program’s traditional classroom instruction has been replaced with fully online courses. Faculty are addressing how best to make the transition from the physical classroom to one that is fully online and overcome the absence of face-to-face experiences. Students in this discipline are studying to become nurse practitioners and must make the transition from following a physician’s instructions to making decisions and being able to explain why a particular choice is made. The blog replaces classroom presentations and is now the central place where students describe their first experiences as nurse practitioners. This professor asks her students to incorporate images from their training facility to personalize the virtual environment and classmates comment and share ideas. She added that having the program online creates a need to find new ways for students to derive a social benefit from their educational experience. Blogging helps connect these students and may lead them to “feel like a Wildcat.” This may be an important long-term use as well, because if these online students identify positively with the college they may become donors in the future.

In addition to instructional uses, blogs are being used by administrative units to promote student experiences and to provide information on services, resources and specific programs. The MBA and Undergraduate Programs departments in the College of Business and Public Administration, the Office of Enrollment Management, the College of Nursing admissions office, and this summer’s new student orientation programs are experimenting with blogs. In some cases current students are recruited to write about their college experience and in other cases the unit uses the blog promote its resources and share information. Not every endeavor is successful. Engaging student volunteers to add entries consistently can be a challenge. Ideas to remedy this in the future include paying students to write a fixed number of blog entries each week and providing them with specific topics. Feedback to student bloggers is important as well and units engaging is similar programs should explore ways to add encouraging comments to student posts.

One of the most successful applications comes from the College of Nursing admissions office where its blog gives “potential Master's, Post-Master's and Doctoral applicants another resource to find and ask for information.” The office has introduced “guest bloggers”--current students who share information about themselves, their experiences as an online student, personal goals, and advice for potential applicants. This type of blogging application has great potential for adoption by many other campus units.

The LTC is constantly looking for ways to promote blogging on campus. Last summer an attractive flyer and a website were created to share positive outcomes and highlight support services available to faculty. LTC staff regularly interview faculty who integrate instructional blogging into courses focusing on specific applications and the instructional benefits derived. These observations are being used to document “best practices” which will be shared across campus.

Stuart Glogoff Sr. (stuartg@email.arizona.edu)and Lelia Hudson will be presenting on Extending Instructional Uses of Blogs To The Campus: A Case Study at the July 2005 Syllabus Conference in Los Angeles. You can read Stuart’s blog at: http://blog.ltc.arizona.edu/stuartg/

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