Blogs in FE

‘...the street finds its own uses for things’ – William Gibson, Burning Chrome
‘...the future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.’ – William Gibson, NPR interview, November 1999

It is that time of year again – some text I wrote for an online conference on blogging.

Blogging tools provide a simple way for teachers to publish on the Web. The date based metaphor lends itself to publishing a ‘class diary’ for each class or cohort. Categories or tags allow posts to be indexed for later revision, and most blog tools include a free text search function. The comment facility allows students to ask questions that can be answered by the tutor or by other course members, and it is relatively straight forward to provide a form for sending a private message to the tutor of the course.

The content of posts can include links to carefully chosen Web sites that provide interactive content (examples include BBC Skillswise, the Web sites provided by many professional organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and to content provided by other teachers). If the tutor adds at least one link each week, the result by the end of the year is effectively a scheme of work with Web links. This resource can be checked and reused, and can often (depending on the blogging tool used) be exported for use in a VLE.

A blog post can also act as a container for multimedia content of various kinds so that students can review a point. The term ‘Web 2.0’ is applied to a range of Web services that encourage ‘user generated content’ and that allow comment on resources that are offered. Examples include YouTube, most of the podcasting services including iTunes and tagging sites such as Technorati. I have used a simple screen cam program to record the appearance of my computer screen while talking through a PowerPoint presentation. The results have been packaged as YouTube videos and have helped a number of students. I have also experimented with audio files – just downloadable MP3s. Most recently, I have started to use to embed clickable PowerPoints into blog posts without a sound track. Non-text material like this may help some students access information more efficiently. I am not sure that students understand that they can add to blogs in the form of comments or by tagging. Perhaps students who can use the Web to find information would benefit from a structured introduction to using the other affordances provided by many Web sites.

The Hot Potatoes software provides a simple way for tutors to add formative assessment to blog posts. The software can produce quizzes in various forms, including multiple choice quizzes, crosswords, cloze tests and statement matching exercises. Quizzes can be ‘exported’ as Web pages, or in a format that allows upload into popular VLEs. Many blogging tools allow file upload so that the Web page format quizzes can be linked to from a blog post. In this way, students can learn something from (say) an embedded YouTube, and then test their knowledge of the subject using a linked Hot Potatoes quiz. A comment left on the blog could alert the tutor to a difficulty that the student has encountered – and possibly another student may reply and clarify the point. The only thing missing from this scenario is tracking of student outcomes – that is a function for the College VLE.

GCSE Maths Help is a blog that I use to support GCSE Maths students in FE. I was hoping to ‘complete the circle’ on this blog by encouraging students to ask questions about posts and possibly support each other. I did not build in any special activities or book an IT room to demonstrate the blog to the students. There were no comments left at all over the year, with the exception of some worried youngsters (not at our college) who were trying to spot topics for the second exam paper. Most of our part time and evening students have access to an Internet connected computer and can search for Web pages using Google. I think that students may be less well informed about what we can call ‘Web 2.0’, the world of responsive Web sites where you can leave comments and tag articles with your own tags to build a set of categories for yourself. I shall be continuing the GCSE Maths blog next year, and I will be booking an IT room early and devising an activity that has students posting to the blog. We shall see what difference that makes, and I am hoping for some reflective use of the blog.

Some questions

  • What blog platforms are we all using?
  • Does your VLE afford blogs to students? If so, can these blogs be private to the student and tutor? (Moodle blogs are not by design)
  • Do you see yourself using a class blog mainly to provide information (Web links, embedded resoures) or to invite interaction (quizzes, puzzles, activities)
  • Is ‘ownership’ an issue for you? Some of my colleagues like the fact that they can publish to their students using a system that is not a College system.

Other posts about blogging in FE

Comments are closed.