In this investigation I focus on faculty behavior that will extend and enhance how students at two-year colleges engage with critical inquiry and analytical writing through blogging and other Web 2.0 tools. Blogs, wikis, pod and video casts, and chatting/discussion are among the Web 2.0 technologies that allow for immediate, networked, and ongoing interaction in support of student learning (Kop 270). I’ve chosen blogging as the primary medium and genre for a collaborative learning project involving digital archiving for two Introduction to Literature classes because the students from the two classes are on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean. With its visual, collaborative and iterative capacities, blogging through a classroom site will facilitate collaboration, resource curation, and cross-cultural exchange.
Choosing blogging as a means of instruction and student knowledge creation and display is more than a choice to use a current technology.
As Tony Bates indicates in his online text, Teaching in a Digital Age, the fundamental changes taking place in the age of digital education include affordances that create more opportunity for student exploration and agency in learning processes, which is exciting for teachers. However, other aspects of this era of rapid change can limit the agency of instructors or the perspicuity with which they select instructional methods. On the one hand, instructors can find themselves expected by institutions to serve more students while working in more time-consuming technological learning environments and acting more as facilitators than as designers of learning experiences. On the other, instructors may lose agency either through institutional policy governing educational products or through lack of professional development to enable them to assess the value of emerging technologies as pedagogical tools. Though the role of a college instructor today may be perceived by students and administrators primarily as that of a tutor who is teaching a course and has also authored course content (Kop 270), with appropriate agency, such a tutor today has the exciting opportunity to work with powerful tools and pedagogies to create deeply effective, learner-centered instruction.
In the field of composition studies, the use of blogs and multimodal composition genres has been hailed as a use of democratic pedagogies to empower students whose literacy backgrounds and career goals involve “new literacies” rather than the standard literacies of the academy. In her analysis of the capacities and limitations of blogging to support learner-centered pedagogies, Patricia Boyd (2013) cites the 2002 work of Celsi and Wofinbarger, who categorize educational technologies in three waves, the third coinciding with today’s Web 2.0 technologies (such as blogging) that alter the nature of education by enabling student users to participate in networked research, knowledge creation, and knowledge sharing:
Wave 1 does not challenge traditional teaching practices, instead focusing on the technology behind the scenes of teaching—for instance, using Excel to calculate grades. Wave 2 focuses on technology use that replaces current teaching methods but does not change the logic behind the pedagogical methods—for instance, using PowerPoint presentations to replace lecture notes or overheads. Wave 3 technology use, however, challenges conceptions of traditional classrooms and transforms ‘the classroom from a teacher broadcast-centered medium to a learner-centered and interactive teaching experience.’ (85-86)
With their interactive qualities such as comment features, communal composing features, and instant publication capacity, blogs can allow students to work in genres appropriate to real audiences (whether academic, disciplinary or popular), to control and extend the scope of inquiry and design, and to enlist the engagement of peers and more knowledgeable communities of practice alike in constructing knowledge. All of this can lead to greater student ownership of learning, and greater student achievement.
Pursel and Xie (2014) studied the use of blogs housed internally by a university to explore which blog patterns led to improved student performance over time. They highlighted the success of a philosophy instructor who combined multiple classes over both space and time with his personal blog to facilitate ongoing discourse about disciplinary topics. A hypothetical finding of the study was the relationship between instructors’ use of modeling the behavior expected from students and student achievement. The study also found that “entry-dominant” bloggers persisted longer in blog platforms than “comment-dominant” bloggers.
An additional takeaway that I note from Pursel’s and Xie’s study is, again, the changing nature of instructor agency: instructors who model, who facilitate, and who make effective technology choices are able to leverage student engagement. It remains teacher behavior, albeit in a new technological context, that primarily affects student achievement in the age of connectivist learning.
University teaching practitioner Susan Greener puts it another way: that at the university level, the advent of digital learning environments has added the roles of designer, guide, mediator, mentor, and collaborator to that of the instructor precisely because the digital age has focused the nature of college level learning and teaching more on pedagogy. Greener highlights the opportunities that faculty have “to influence the learning experience at an early stage in online [and blended] environments” both through assignment design and through modeling, again noting that teaching methods are critical for empowering students to work with technology.
How can faculty model the affordances of blogging technologies to deepen collaborative learning?
Greener cites the 1980s work of social learning theorists Albert Bandura and Barry Zimmerman, who suggest that most learning is done by observing and imitating, and that such learning is particularly strong when the model resembles the learner. Based on her own qualitative study, Greener suggests that modeling technology use, including modeling how to engage with problems, can increase student self-efficacy, particularly for nontraditional college students. This argument reinforces my choice for my unit design, to model use of the types of digital archival materials I will ask students to work with, before introducing students to blogging. My overseas colleague will provide similar modeling for his students based on my lesson design. Each lesson modeling digital archiving aims to focus on a different aspect of digital archive use, progressively modeling more coping strategies, troubleshooting, and recursive thinking as I demonstrate my own work to define ill-structured research problems and locate archival primary sources that address those problems. My unit design will also include modeling of blogging and journal writing.
As I continue to design the unit, I’ll return to the results of Greener’s study, in which she lists thirteen aspects of virtual learning, such as “knowledge of search tools,” “adopting personal reading strategies,” “analysis and synthesis in online communication,” and “self-directed learning online.” I appreciate Greener’s assertion that the value of modeling digital learning, through a projected screen or online tools, is not just in demonstrating proficient skills, but in taking risks and showing students what it looks like to try new things and face unexpected results, then comparing those approaches to more effective strategies.
Openness to this type of modeling on the part of the instructor naturally leads to a more collaborative approach to teaching and learning, such that students can join the modeling conversation with their own suggestions, already beginning at the “observation” stage not only to develop skill proficiency but to develop the ability to use digital tools to connect with peer audiences, a key indicator of ISTE Student Standard 7.
Fully engaging digital age learning may move the roles of student and teacher beyond those of collaborative task engager and designer of collaborative tasks. Two ways that technological environments may actually enhance the role of the teacher are (1) the uncharted and dynamic nature of digital learning environments and of the digital futures for which students are being prepared; and (2) the actual nature of unleashed collaborative learning. Choosing blogging as a medium for a capstone project for Introduction to Literature students, following student demonstration of proficiency in literature-based analytical and interpretive skills in more traditional formats earlier in the course, allows students to apply and extend those skills in a real-world context. Use of another technology, digital archives, further allows students to use “advanced” undergraduate research techniques together with analysis to deepen literary analytical skills. In both cases, changing the role of the teacher to include modeling and collaboration, as well as the more traditional roles of designer, presenter, and coach, demonstrates the affordances of Web 2.0 tools not only for learning but for teaching.
Bates, A.W. (n.d.). Teaching in a digital age. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/part/chapter-1-fundamental-change-in-education/
Berger, P. (2010). Student inquiry and web 2.0. School library monthly, 26(5), 14-17.
Boyd, P. (2013). Blogging in the classroom: Using technologies to promote learner-centered pedagogies. The researcher: An interdisciplinary journal, 26(3), 85-112.
Greener, S. (2009). e-Modeling – Helping learners to develop sound e-learning behaviors. Electronic journal of e-learning, 7(3), 265-272. Retrieved from: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ872416.pdf
Kop, R. (2010). Using social media to create a place that supports communication. In George Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging technologies in distance eduction, Athabasca University Press. Retrieved from http://www.aupress.ca/books/120177/ebook/14_Veletsianos_2010-Emerging_Technologies_in_Distance_Education.pdf
Pursel, B.K., & Xie, H. (2014). Patterns and pedagogy: Exploring student blog use in higher education. Contemporary educational technology, 5(2), 96-109.