Saturday, January 29, 2005

Week 2 Assignment and Reflection

This is my second week assignment. I'm supposed to write an article on the various kinds of information found in the student and teacher blogs from Bee's grid and design a blog-course for ESL.

Grinding thru the various blogs was, I suppose, a reasonable exercise. It was a good way to see the pedestrian applications of blog software in (what I assume) were ESL applications. There was a rather narrow range of application in both sets of blogs. I didn't see a GREAT deal of meta-cognition being applied to the blogging experiences across the 8 blogs I looked at. The majority of them were diary-like -- with a greater or lesser emphasis on the various coursework and assignments. I can't throw too many stones here -- the posts for my blog in this course follow basically the same format -- and this course is, after all, BSL (blogging as Second Langauge) training.

I felt a little cheated, tho, that nobody in the sample had done
a) A Newspaper style group blog.
b) Used the language/blog combination to write fiction
c) Engaged in a larger examination of what they thought about their thinking about blogging and learning English.

I was sympathetic with the one teacher who went on hiatis from blogging because she wanted to break out of the "blogging because my audience expects it" rut. I write a regular weekly column about Distance Education in my Cognitive Dissonance blog, and there are times when I wonder if it's all worth it myself.

The second part of the task is to design a course that has in it, a blog.

Now, in the first place, that's a backwards assignment. We should be designing the instruction and only THEN deal with whether a blog is an appropriate channel for adding to the class based on an instructional goal. But .. I'll suspend my disbelieve (and design sense) for the purposes of the argument. :D

Since I don't teach ESL, I'm going to take the liberty to write about the application of a blog in a Masters Level Special Education program. It's particularly pertinent because the faculty member who is teaching the class (and whom I am supporting in getting this thing rolling) wants to incorporate blogs into his class.

(i) the public you will be dealing with
- the class is 10 adult students, new in the field of special education.

(ii) their level, their communicative competence
- they are, generally, classroom teachers who wish to get an MA in Significant Disabilities
- they generally have limited technological expertise

(iii) your setting, degree of formality of instruction
- the teacher is a "hard-core classroom lecturer" who is having trouble adapting to the online melieu. He needs to find ways to let go and allow the students to learn without getting his digitized powerpoints in the way

(iv) access, amount of time you can spend on it
- target goal is to spend about an hour a day of teacher time, about 20 minutes a day of student time.

(v) curricular constraints, institutional support, technical resources
- topical constraints are largely limited only by the content requirements of a rather liberal syllabus. The course will have the services of an expert technician and blogger to aid the teacher and student in determining valid applications of the blogging tools.

(vi) your common needs and objective
- All of us share the common need to connect on a more personal and regular basis. When dealing with the often emotion-charged material -- especially in the field of Significant Disability -- it's important for the students to be able to communicate with each other and construct their own meaning out of the material, the relationships, and their "day jobs"

The teacher has decided that blogs will be a good way for students to produce some extended writings on selected subjects over the duration of the course. Some of the topics will be assigned, others will be more open.

This is coming up on the end of the second week of EVO-2005. I'm not as involved this week as last, in large part because of more immediate demands on my time and resources in the Real World. In addition, the exercises (and group acitivites) this week seemed a bit weaker than the week prior and I just couldn't work up enough "oomph" to participate in them. I *did* want to get up and meet in TappedIn last Wednesday, but I overslept -- the session was at 5am local time here.

The coming week, I'm hoping that I'll be able to be more engaged in the group work and that I'll find an assignment I like. :D


aaron said...

Hi Nathan....after reading over your course design, I wonder whether or not the use of a topic based discussion board would be more suitable, especially since you say the whole group shares a common need to connect on a more personal and regular basis. Discussion groups are more private and centralized, where participants may feel more comfortable sharing their feelings and personal details - espeically with 'emotionally charged material'. Why would you choose to use something so public, like a blog, for this course? It is not clear to me why the choice of blogs is appropriate here. If I had this group, I would use a private discussion list....then again.....???

Nathan Lowell said...

The previous iterations of the course have used discussion boards. The problems are these.

a. Discussion boards get a lot of "that was a good point and i'll add a couple cents worth to it" posts. The did not get the kind of extended writing that the teach expected and wanted from the group. His perception is that they should be writing 2-3 page papers, not 2-4 sentence responses. By removing the group to individual writing spaces, he hopes to encourage that.

b. Discussion boards disappear when the course is over. Students lose all access to their artifacts when Blackboard locks the door at the end of the semester. That's unfortunate because one of the goals is to begin promoting the portfolio. When the artifacts get locked away ...

c. Hidden discussion does nothing for public awareness. This is a critical issue in American Education and the discussion is one that can help improve the lives of a million children. The assignments and writings that the students will be asked to do are being slanted toward the community of professional practice and so locking them behind a door is not helpful.

d. The students need to remember to log in and navigate thru a less than helpful interface. Blogger is MUCH simpler.

One key issue to remember here is that the instructor has used the Locked Discussion before and is not happy with the outcomes for all the reasons listed above.

Blogs may not be any better.

aaron said...

I see your point now....reasons for moving away from discussion groups are much clearer. And I like the idea of raising public awareness of issues that tend to get ignored in the larger discourses of society. Maybe that could be a real motivating factor to the students, especially if you can show them how accessable their postings are to the public and how easily they can be found by those looking for such material. As you say....blogs might not work either, but at least they'd be a lot more fun than those boring discussion lists!