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BLOGS IN EDUCATION January 27, 2007

Posted by stacey27 in blogs.
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Introduction

New learning technologies are emerging, which means that many questions are being raised and many walls must be broken down. As more people are adapting the blog to be used in education, it is important to understand what a blog is, how people are using blogs, what the challenges are with blogs, and why blogs should be used.

What Is A Blog?

Some say a blog, short for “web log,” is “a tool that serves as an online journal encouraging personal reflection” (Williams, 2004). However, a universal truth is that blogs are easy to use, do not require the user to install any software, offer plenty of control over the design and operation of the blog, instantly updated and available, and linkable (Armstrong). Thus, blogs are growing tremendously, gaining a dedicated readership. Educators are finding that blogs encourage students to further discuss topics and share up-to-date information (Williams, 2004).

Blogs possess a personality but most importantly, a point of view (Kennedy, 2003). This is evident through the writing on a blog. However, at first, writing a blog seems to be only a form of publishing. “But as time goes by, blogging resembles more and more a conversation. And for a conversation to be successful, it must be given a purpose and it must remain…unconstrained” (Downes, 2004).

Blogging is actually not about writing at all. Writing is just the end process that takes place if all else has been done properly. Blogging is about reading and engaging with the content and the authors (Downes, 2004). A blogger who does not know this ends up writing a quite boring blog. However, the blogger that is a reader understands that to write a good blog is to engage in a topic. Therefore, blogging has evolved from a simple tool to publish online diaries to a high traffic publication tool of the large industries (Williams, 2004).

In education, because blogs are becoming easier to use, they are more welcomed (O’Hear, 2006). And educators are finding that students hold and overwhelmingly positive view of blogs (Armstrong).

How Are Blogs Used?

It seems that the areas where blogs are being used most in educational applications is where journals have already proven to be a useful tool and thus, the transition to blogs met less resistance. However, just requiring students to write in a blog is not enough. Blogging in an educational environment is most effective when the students are given some direction at the beginning as to how to blog and what to expect from it (Williams, 2004). One professor of English, Jeff Golub, encourages his students, future teachers, to encourage personal authorship of students. He belives, “…students will write when they have something to say, when they have an audience, and when they get feedback” (Kennedy, 2003).

Blog use by students ranges from offering personal online space, posing questions, publishing work, and linking and commenting to other sources on the web (O’Hear, 2006). Blogs have benefit students by being a tool to document in-class discussions where participation credit is awarded for commenting on the blog (Downes, 2004). They can be used as a place to store a collection of important snippets of information gathered from lecture and notes (Armstrong). Also, great advantages can come when multiple people author a single blog and contribute to a unified purpose (Downes, 2004).

One way educators utilize blogs in education is for assignments. They will assign a specific reading and require students to post their responses on a blog (Carvin, 2006). Teachers also have been using blogs for their classes to create the class web site and post everything from the syllabi to assignment notifications. They may also use these class blogs to post links to relevant web pages on the internet in order to spark conversation or comments (Downes, 2004).

What Are The Challenges?

Despite the many ways that blogs can be used, there are challenges that must first be faced. These challenges range from technology to blog management to learning styles.

One downside to a blog is that there can be a technical barrier (Watrall, 2006). A blog is no good when a person cannot get past the learning curve to make use of the blog. Proper education about the blog must occur before benefiting from the blog if such a barrier exists. And just because a piece of technology can be used for education that does not mean that it will produce positive results for all aspects of education. As when using any technology with learning, the challenge always lies in the integration (Kennedy, 2003). One area of learning that blogs do not lend themselves very well to is memorization. Students using this method of learning do not require the self-organization and self-assessment that a blog offers (Homik).

“The social and peer contact and learning between students and face to face training is very difficult to replicate online,” even on a blog (Armstrong, Conclusions section, para. 4). For all that a blog can do, it is not able to do everything. Also, no matter how great of a tool a blog is, it is only effective if the learner wants to use it. That is when the most learning is harvested (Farmer, 2004). If a student does not want to take part in the blog, the value of a blog is lost.

“Students have long learned as much from each other as they have from an instructor or a text book – it’s just a question of finding an appropriate vehicle for facilitating this learning” (Williams, 2004, Summary section, para. 5). Could the appropriate vehicle be a blog? Quite possibly.

Why Use A Blog?

Each person could use a blog for a completely different reason. However, there are some known reasons that people blog. The most attractive characteristic of a blog is how easy it is to use (Downes, 2004). It is easy to locate, manage and access, and impossible to lose (Armstrong). And because a blog can be used for a number of reasons, “there is no absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to use a blog.” It can be molded to fit an individual’s needs (Carvin, 2006, para. 11).

Another benefit of blogs is that the publication of personal thoughts for the public to read can prove to be uplifting and sometimes healing (Williams, 2004). It provides a venue for the release of feelings and makes a blogger feel more accomplished. In the recent past, bulletin boards and chatting capabilities have demonstrated a varying degree of effectiveness. However, blogs give the student a greater sense of control and a higher degree of satisfaction in online learning (Armstrong). Shy students respond very well to blogs and are able to show as much energy as more outgoing students usually do in class (Carvin, 2006). Thus, most all students seem to react very positively to using blogs in education (Armstrong).

In addition, blogs connect more people than just those in one class. They can reach across many classes or across the world (Carvin, 2006). This occurrence of, “collective knowledge generation can and should be applied to traditional educational environments” (Williams, 2004, Introduction section, para. 8). They provide benefits for students of a wide range of ages. One fifth-grade student, Dominic Ouellet-Tremblay, wrote, “the blogs give us a chance to communicate between us and motivate us to write more”. Because students, now in fifth grade, are utilizing blogs for learning, as these students enter high school and college, they will be expecting their educators to use similar technologies and will be well experienced at using blogs (Downes, 2004, para. 3).

Educators must begin to embrace this learning technology or lose out on many great opportunities for learning. The creative nature of blogging and open learning environment allows students to guide their own learning in a way that surpasses the traditional curriculum. In college, professors are expecting much more from their students. “If professors want students to become autonomous, creative, helpful, and cooperative, educational institutions must actually allow students to practice exactly these skills…by designing curriculums and courses that really value these courses” (Williams, 2004, The BSBG MBA Blog section, para. 11). The blog could greatly aid in the development of such skills.

In the traditional work that is produced for class, either individually or in a group, is completed knowing that the work will be under the scrutiny of the teacher. This assessment of the work is usually the sole motivation for the student (Farmer, 2004). The student’s work is done to satisfy the teacher. Because a blog’s audience is the public, the work on a blog is done with this wider audience in mind. A student is more compelled to produce higher quality work when a larger audience will be critiquing the work. Therefore, a greater learning experience is had by the student.

Not only does a blog give a student more of a sense of purpose, but it gives the student’s studying a sense of order and routine (Armstrong). Because of how a blog is structured, the posts are displayed in a reverse-chronological order. And the ease of use allows a student to post regularly. “The learner needs to articulate the connection between new information and what they already know” (Armstrong, Learning Journals section, para. 3). This order and routine makes it easier for a user to reflect on learned information. In the same respect, a blog allows a blogger to capture knowledge and catalog for access at a later time (Williams, 2004).

If a student does not play an active role in learning, the knowledge is quickly forgotten. Learning logs, or blogs, can help to lessen the lost knowledge by serving as the active learning element (Homik). Writing a blog helps a student to develop a confident and clear voice and develops higher level thinking because he or she must confront personal views and analyze how these views might be interpreted and judged by others. By doing so and engaging with the content, a student increases the success of the transfer of knowledge. Also, the “…learning through hypertext links to relevant material encourages revisiting and revising of learned concepts, enriching the learning experience.” This feature further adds to the engagement and active involvement with content. The power of blogs in the educational environment really lies in the heightened autonomy while at the same time encouraging more interaction with peers, thus making the blog a transformational technology (Williams, 2004).

“We read about the potential of online learning to bring learning to life, to engender workplace learning or life long learning…This is the sort of thing they mean: that the lessons we might expect to find in the classroom work their way through alternative means, into our day-to-day activities” (Downes, 2004).

Conclusion

Blogs provide educators with a supportive learning tool that can be used for a variety of purposes. Blogs offer a learning experience that is unique and actively engages the student. Once past the technological barrier and in the appropriate learning situations, if blogs are incorporated into the learning activities, a greater transfer of knowledge will occur for the student and provide a richer learning experience. Thus, teachers and students alike must learn what a blog is, how blogs are being used, what the challenges with blogs are, and why blogs should be used.

References

Armstrong, Laurie, Dr. Marsha Berry, and Reece Lamshed. BLOGS AS ELECTRONIC LEARNING JOURNALS. Retrieved January 11, 2007, from http://www.usq.edu.au/electpub/e-jist/docs/Vol7_No1/CurrentPractice/Blogs.htm.

Carvin, Andy. (2006). Using Blogs as a Novel Approach to Engage Students. Retrieved January 11, 2007, from PBS TeacherSource learningnow.com Web Site: http://www.pbs.org/teachersource/learning.now/2006/06/using_blogs_as_a_novel_approac.html.

Downes, Stephen. (2004, September/October). Educational Blogging. EDUCAUSE Review, 39(5), 14-26.

Farmer, James. (2004, April). What’s the Blogging Point?: Can personal webpublishing have a qualitative impact on learning. Retrieved January 11, 2007, from incorporated subversion Web Site: http://radio.weblogs.com/0120501/2004/04/05.html#a625.

Homik, Martin and Erica Melis. USING BLOGS FOR LEARNING LOGS. Retrieved January 13, 2007, from ActiveMath Web Site: http://www.activemath.org/pubs/HomikMelis-ep2006.pdf.

Kennedy, Kristen. (2003). Writing With Web Logs. Retrieved January 13, 2007, from techLearning Web Site: http://www.techlearning.com/db_area/archives/TL/2003/02/blogs.php.

O’Hear, Steve. (2006). e-learning 2.0 – how Web technologies are shaping education. Retrieved January 11, 2007, from Read/WriteWeb Web Site: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/e-learning_20.php.

Watrall, Ethan and Nicole Ellison. (2006). Blogs for Learning: A case study. Retrieved January 11, 2007, from Higher Ed Blog Con 2006 Web Site: http://www.higheredblogcon.com/index.php/blogs-for-learning-a-case-study/.

Williams, Jeremy and Joanne Jacobs. (2004). Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(2), 232-247.

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INTENTION VERSUS INTERPRETATION January 26, 2007

Posted by stacey27 in intention-interpretation.
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Introduction

Due to the gap between the intentions of educators and the interpretations of learners, much of the information expected to be transferred is lost; however through the understanding of this gap and intentional actions to close the gap, it is possible for educators to increase the transfer of information to students and assist in the application of the information into the learner’s world. To understand the issue, it is important to define learning. Then, through understanding educators’ intentions and learners’ interpretations, it is important to grasp how this gap occurs and why is it needs to be addressed. Lastly, there are some steps that can be taken to lessen the gap and ensure a higher transfer of information.

Learning Defined

“Learning…is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” (Foundations, 1997, Experiential Education: What It Is section, para. 5). This is becoming a widely held belief and is influencing our techniques and strategies for learning more and more. As there have been many shifts recently in the theory of learning, importance is being placed on the learner’s experience, control, and interpretation in conjunction with the environmental factors to develop the most effective strategies for teaching.

A study conducted by Säljö analyzed what individuals understood by learning. The results were categorized and include learning as a measurable increase in knowledge, learning as memorizing, learning as acquiring facts, skills, and methods, learning as making sense or extracting meaning, and learning as interpreting and understanding reality in a different way (Säljö, 1979). Of course, some knowledge is simply fact-based or requiring memorization; however other learning requires a relation to the world around the user and an individual interpretation of the information, as exampled in the last two types of learning categorized by Säljö. Yet Säljö is not the only theorist to see learning categorized in this way. Many developmental theorists explore how knowledge is acquired through how we make meaning of our experience in the world (Foundations, 1997). Learning is a complex activity and is affected by many factors.

Intention

An educator sets out to provide a means to transfer information to a learner. The educator intends for the information, which exists in his or her personal realm of understanding, to be accurately received by the learner. However, based on the above explanation of how people learn, that job is quite complex. Therefore, as great as intentions can be, many times the intention gets lost in the process.

The intention can exist in many forms. The way that information is written can carry intended meaning and be expressed in a certain way that the educator believes is most effective. Also the intention could exist in the design of a review activity or an illustration. To the educator, their presentation of this information is designed with the intent that it will be successfully transferred to the student.

In computer-based learning, an educator designs a course about statistics. The textual information is written following a proven format with objectives. Review questions and interactive games are inserted throughout the computer-based learning. For students who learn best by reading, the approach would be effective, but, for example, a student who learns by hearing the information would struggle to interpret the information correctly. Also, the attempt could fail if the students taking the course were only proficient in basic math and thus, the higher-level concepts in statistics are beyond their understanding.

Interpretation

For students, the learning process can be a frustrating one. Because learners all have distinct ways learning and a separate world of experiences, no piece of information will be interpreted in exactly the same way. No individual learning experience is the same or is just how the educator intended.

“Students construct meaning as they read, listen, act and reflect on the subject content” (Alexander, 1995, Teaching and Learning Strategies section, para. 3). To truly understand something requires an active process. A learner must relate new information to existing knowledge and alter that existing knowledge to accommodate the new information. The deeper information is processed, the more likely a learner will retain the information (Smith). For example, a learner may already know that the origin of the Christmas holiday is religious. However when new information is presented, showing evidence that throughout time people have celebrated it in a very non-religious way, the chunk of information already stored in the learner’s knowledge base is pulled forth and reinscribed to include this supporting piece of information.

The Gap

As alluded to in the previous sections, learning requires a meeting of the educator’s intentions and the student’s interpretations and there is most always a gap between the two. Many times, the efforts of the student do not produce an accurate interpretation of the information the educator intended to transfer due to the various elements of the learning environment and due to the learning process itself.

Computer communication that is text-based can lead to many misunderstandings that go unrecognized. During computer-based learning, the environment is different from a standard classroom setting. Most times, a student participating in computer-based learning is experiencing the learning unaccompanied. Without the educator present to monitor learning, when a misunderstanding presents itself, there is not usually an immediate way to clear up the confusion. However, in face to face communication, not only is information transferred, but there is an important opportunity to set straight any wrongly interpreted information. In addition, communication is aided by the tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language used. When communication is limited to a basic computer-based message, the lines of communication are limited. Thus, face to face learning, with immediate feedback and visual communication cues, has an advantage over computer-based learning by lessening one of the chances for information to be wrongly interpreted (Pedagogy).

When a learner invests in understanding communication on a topic, any slight variation from the intended meaning will result in a loss of information or could result in the alteration of the meaning (Pedagogy). By learning the details of a battle, much knowledge is gained, but by missing a small piece of information, such as which side of the battle was fought by who, the meaning of the information is greatly distorted. A greater chance for the alteration of information can occur when a learner maps out his or her own interpreted structure of information. The interpretation is unique to the learner and the ability to accurately acquire the structure intended by the author is more doubtful. Yet it is imperative for the students to effectively interpret the structure of any information before constructing the meaning because meaning is most successfully given through structure (Alexander, 1995). Yet again there presents the chance for a gap between the way information is interpreted and the way it was intended to be interpreted.

When a learner engages in computer-based learning, he or she is essentially participating in a reading activity that is a complex reception of visual content, primarily text, and requires interpretive understanding (Istrate, 2002). No matter the subject, learning, a complicated activity, involves relating the information into the learner’s world. As experiential education advocates argue, information can not be “…’learned’ apart from understanding, mastery, and application” (Foundations, Experiential Education section, para. 8). In addition, constructivists believe that personal reality affects a learner’s analysis and the world. All knowledge possessed is a uniquely wrapped chunk of information that relies upon the observations, processing, and interpretation of the learner (Tran). All of these theories share one truth: That learning is an individual experience and it relies on the learner’s understanding of the information. Because each learner creates their own version of the information, no two learning experiences are the same. And the educator is again faced with the dilemma that information is not being transferred as intended.

Narrowing the Gap

Aware of the issue and challenges to be faced, it is the educator’s responsibility to attempt to narrow the gap between the intentions of the educator and the interpretations of the learner. There are many actions that can be taken to ensure the best transfer of information to the learner.

It is the responsibility of the educator to create situations that result in an acquisition of knowledge due to experience. This requires the educator to know his or her students, understand which types of experiences help them learn, and expect and respond to situations that develop as an experience unfolds. By being prepared, an educator can better adapt his or her content to the students (Foundations, 1997).

However, knowing the students is not enough. An educator must also ask, “What specific learning and knowledge do I intend to result from this situation?” By doing so, all succeeding planning decisions have a framework and the possible learning outcomes of individual students are not limited. This question will ensure that the “intention to the learning areas will be a part of the experience that results” (Foundations, 1997).

Even with all of this planning by the educator, the learner is still the center of the learning with the educator only advising and facilitating (Tran). An experience that effectively aids students in the transfer of knowledge and allows students to explore and learn on their own terms is critical. But by assisting the process, the educator can further ensure that the students are receiving the intended learning experience. One way to engage learners in an active learning environment is to initiate a group discussion. In a sort of rule of averages way, a learner in a group of other learners can become aware of the variations of interpretation and development of meaning, and, through compiling it all together, result in a construction of meaning closer to the intended learning and individual to himself or herself (Alexander, 1995).

In order to provide a situation where an educator can best support the learning experience, he or she must be dedicated to developing student-teacher relationships, priorities, timelines, allocating resources, and decision making (Foundations, 1997). An educator must be aware of learner needs, abilities, and learning style preferences to be able to match the teaching style to the learning style. Personality type tests, such as Myers-Briggs, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, and the Classroom Work Style Survey are sometimes used by educators to accurately gauge their learners. However, no matter how many tests are done to estimate the ability and styles of learners, there will always be a variety in a group. By providing a variety of activities to address the different learners, all learners will have some activities to which they better relate and are more successful (Zhenhui, 2001).

Conclusion

No matter how the issue of intention and interpretation is addressed, by being more aware is a good first step. However, to truly make a difference, educators must take steps to ensure that their content and learning experiences suit the intended learning audience. There is a gap between the intentions of educators and the interpretations of learners where unfortunately, information that is intended to be transferred is lost or corrupted; therefore, by understanding this gap and intentionally acting to close the gap, educators can successfully increase the transfer of information to students and students can apply the information into their world.

By narrowing the gap between the intention of the teacher and the interpretations of the learner, the chances of achieving the desired learning outcome is increased (Zhenhui, 2001).

References

Alexander. Shirley. (1995). Teaching and Learning on the World Wide Web. Retrieved December 13, 2006, from Australasian World Wide Web Conference 2007 Web Site: http://ausweb.scu.edu.au/aw95/education2/alexander/index.html.

Foundations of Experiential Education. (December 1997). Retrieved December 13, 2006, from Emory College Web Site: http://www.tpl.emory.edu/foundations.htm.

Istrate, Olympius. (May 2002). Design for elearning. Retrieved December 13, 2006, from eLearning forum Web Site: http://www.elearning-forum.ro/elearning_theory/elearning_design.html.

Learning Intentions. Retrieved December 13, 2006 from Learning and Teaching Scotland Web Site: http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/sharedglossary/learningintentions.asp.

Pedagogy of CMC, The. Retrieved December 13, 2006, from The University of Edinburgh Web Site: http://www.elearn.malts.ed.ac.uk/services/CMC/pedagogy.phtml.

Säljö, R. (1979). Saljo on Learning. Retrieved January 14, 2007, from The Informal Education Homepage Web Site: http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~infed/ohps/exhibits/saljo_learning.htm.

Smith, Ian. KEY IDEAS. Retrieved December 13, 2006, from Learning Unlimited Web Site: http://www.learningunlimited.co.uk/ideas/key/big_l.html.

Tran, Tu. Learner-centered Education Primer. Retrieved December 13, 2006, from Western Association of Schools and Colleges Web Site: http://www.wascsenior.org/wasc/Session%20Materials/Tranlearningcenteredprimer.pdf.

Zhenhui, Rao. (2001). Matching Teaching Styles with Learning Styles in East Asian Contexts. Retrieved December 13, 2006, from The Internet TESL Journal Web Site: http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Zhenhui-TeachingStyles.html