It will take a few more days to compile notes, but the reaction and participation at our Ocotillo Online Learning Group this past Friday was very positive. This was obviously brand new territory for many of our faculty, and we had to clarify a bit on what are blogs, why are they different form discussion boards, etc. Fortunately the 4 demos we had set up from our own faculty and staff who have stuck some toes into the blog waters, made it much more clear, or at least opened some eyes to this is a new technology to explore.
However, the highlight was that one of our presenters using blogs on a course-wide scale, Anthropology instructor Rick Effland, actually brought with him 3 of his students who has been using MovableType for his class (see student blog listings). The energy these young people brought to the meeting was refreshing, to say the least.
Two of them had never heard of blogs and were rather phobic of computers, but reported that after trying it there was almost nothing to be afraid of. The third one was already experienced in running her own LiveJournal blog. One said,
This is so easy my dog can write a blog!
Rick’s use of blogs is mostly for his students to do out of class written reflections on what they are learning, something he has tried for years with tools like discussion boards, etc. All 3 students talked about the power of thinking about class concepts after class, processing it, and the ideas that flowed when they could see how their student peers were taking different meaning on the course concepts (the first exercises have been about understanding the culture of Ankgor Wat), and the ideas that were exchanged as students commented on each other’s posts.
One industrious student managed to figure out how to insert images, despite the fact that the blogs were set up initially to not allow uploads. This triggered Rick to start looking out how to introduce other media posted to his instructor’s blog, citing the benefit of being able to tap into dynamic resources available nowhere else but the ‘net.
He did report that he had more students drop the course after they heard of the use of blogs (dropping from 36 to 30 students), but he is more than pleased with the engagement among those 30.
This will be exciting to watch unfold. Rick was a bit taken back when I let him know that his work had been “blogged” by Will just a day or two after posted here. RSS in action is dizzying at first until you catch it and see the beauty of scanning information from sources you select (well at least until they start shoving ads and spam into feeds)
Some of our attendees were caught up in the mindset of wondering how they would read all the things the students write- I attempted to make a point that in this environment, the instructor need not be in the center, that the students were writing as much for themselves and their peers. It is a new game. And Rick shared how he is able to easily scan his students posts via a Macromedia Central RSS reader
And I am going to put some pressure on our future meetings to find ways to get students playing a role in sharing in person their use of online technology with the faculty and staff who attend the meetings.