The following is an article that I wrote for an online educational site. It is based on research I undertook during my teacher training course, and during this academic year I have started to reflect more heavily on that course (perhaps due to the impact of Covid on teaching and learning). This website – Dave Does History – shows that I am keen blogger, particularly in how it can be used to connect people and to promote ideas. But I have yet to “crack” its uses within a classroom setting.
At the turn of the 21st Century, educational theorist Marc Prensky warned:
‘Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach’.
This statement was written twenty years ago but yet there are clear concerns that the world of teaching has not fully engaged or helped the needs of the new generation.
It could be argued that today’s students – dubbed by some as the ‘Google Generation’ – learn and engage differently to those born in the 20th Century. Other writers had noted that the ‘Google Generation’ want a variety of learning experiences, to multi-task, and feel the need to be connected to the web. Such is the severity of change that Margaryan & Littlejohn’s comment of a ‘pedagogic revolution’ cannot be ignored. All of this raises an important question as to the role of the teacher in this digital age: do they move forward and embrace the latest fashions, or do they bolt the doors in an attempt to resist change and continue to hark back to old, established methods?
Like all revolutions, it would be foolish to deny the existence of change or attempt to hold onto an Ancien Régime; teachers must become competent in digital technology in order to create the platform for effective teaching and learning. But this is not to mean that all teachers must become digital experts to create detailed and complex virtual learning platforms to engage learners, but rather to view and consider the available materials that already exist online.
One such tool is that of blogs, which from the late 1990s exploded on the internet as a communicative tool. From its beginning as a simple personal online diary, the format has evolved to comprise so much more, with many utilising its potential as an educational tool (termed an edu-blog). It is estimated that there are 500 million blogs, with two million posts updated on a daily basis, all of which confirms the assertions of many that there is an exploding blogosphere. There are many reasons why blogging has captured the hearts of millions, ranging from its simplicity to its transparency, as well as in its ability to reach out to a wider audience in order to collaborate; all of these are advantages for its use in the classroom.
Blogging enthusiast Will Richardson believes the blog can act as an ‘online filing cabinet’ of materials which could benefit the entire class; for example, assignment briefs, downloadable PowerPoints, and information sheets. In this manner a blog could serve as the living memory of the classroom, thereby helping students in their academic progression and success.
Furthermore, a blog can be expanded to become so much more, particularly as a tool for students to discuss and interact, thereby providing the potential for deeper learning to occur. With regard to the capability of e-learning, other writers (Dyke, Conole, Ravenscroft, de Freitas) note that it can allow students to experiment, reflect, and reach ‘higher level conceptual thinking and reasoning’. This could allow students to take greater ownership of the direction of their own learning, thereby engaging them to a much deeper extent than being mere consumers of information.
So, rather than have students handing in assignments to be read, handed back, and then forgotten, students could have a different way in looking at the work that they produce. Their essays, artwork, and ideas are not for a closed audience, but rather available to be viewed by the entire world. As Richardson states: ‘It’s not meant to be discarded or stored in a folder somewhere; it’s meant to be added to the conversation and potentially used to teach others’. Richardson hits on the other feature of a blog: its ability to make connections with others outside of the classroom in the wider online community.
However, the drawbacks of the blog must be noted. These include, what Pollard & Hillage call, being ‘technology dependent’, thereby distracting from the real essence of teaching and learning. Dawson has also warned of the ‘hype about blogs’, which could lead to both teacher and student becoming ‘blogged down and blogged out’. There is also a concern of the demands of the ‘Google Generation’ of millennials who have higher expectations of what to expect from a website, thereby asking questions of an older generation of teacher who may not have the skill or confidence in constructing a blog that excites their students.
A more serious concern is that of online safety and the need to safeguard students from issues such as internet cyber-stalking, bullying, or radicalisation. However, the last few years has placed a greater emphasis on schools for fostering the idea of digital citizenship to help students engage online in a responsible manner. Blogger Tim O’Reilly formulated a ‘Blogger’s Code of Conduct’, which includes taking responsibility ‘not just for your own words, but for the comments you allow on your blog’, as well as the statement: ‘Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person’. All of this offers solutions to the fears of engaging with an online community.
The vast majority of schools and colleges have an online web and social media presence, but these are used as a communicative tools rather than collaborative tools. Some may utilise a blog to provide simple updates (perhaps from the headteacher) but they fail to harness the full potential of an edu-blog. And what of my own experience with blogs? An honest answer is that I have had a varied experience. The first time I attempted a blog approach in the classroom I found myself, as Dawson noted above, ‘blogged down and blogged out’. Each student created a blog but it all became far too many to read and to provide meaningful feedback, meaning that the whole project fell flat on its face. But this has not tempered my own enthusiasm for them: I have sustained my own blog where I post about ideas and discussion from the classroom, and my college has dabbled with the promotion of Wix sites for our learners. Students will create their own blog to help them reflect on their education experience, which will provide an opportunity for deeper learning and greater collaboration with their peers.
Of course, this latest approach may fail to bring about the desired results. However, the digital revolution is so wide that new attempts will always be welcomed to help engage students. The wealth of advantages of a blog – simplicity, low cost, benefits of deeper learning – mean that it cannot be simply ignored. However, for it to be successful it is clear that it requires ownership and participation of both teacher and student.