raj boora on course blogging

[Raj Boora just posted some thoughts](http://boora.ca/blog/?p=3543) on setting up a courseblog with a prof., and they echo many of the same things I’ve found on my campus:

> let’s understand that students are as likely to be blogging for the class as they are to be pulling their own teeth – they are going to do it because they need to. You might get the odd student who is really digging it and wants to keep reflecting on it once the class is over, but for most, like pulling teeth, they are only going to jump the hoop once. Thirdly, even though blogging has this aura of being able to put the student at the center of the learning experience, it is still very much the case where students are told what to write and how to write it. It still almost has to be this way in order to create a level field on which the student work can be assessed. Finally… if we know that the students are not going to become bloggers on topic X, and we know that they are unlikely to have a portfolio (yet) where the entries that they do make can become part of a greater whole, why not start them with the most baby step of blogging… commenting.


> If the instructor wants students to blog, s/he should be a blogger as well. Without the passion for the topic and without the ability to show students what the process really is, things are going to get boring pretty fast for everyone and the great enthusiasm at the start is going to wither quickly, perhaps on the vine. So even if the instructor only has a handful of posts, that is a start. The students should then have to comment on the posts of the instructor, who can then post about those comments and bring in new information. Students can also link out to other blogs that are talking about similar material in comments. This way they can get the idea of what blogging can be about. But wait, you say that this is nothing but a glorified message board? You say that it is in-authentic to the ethos of blogging? To that I say… well yes it is. Having every student start their own blog and post on a predetermined topic is basically creating a non structured discussion board anyway. So what is the problem with at least making the thing manageable?

I’ve talked with many profs who are convinced that blogging is going to change everything, and that the students are all already avid bloggers. It only changes things if used appropriately. And the **vast** majority of students have never posted a blog entry on their own (but may have been cajoled into posting one in a course before) and don’t manage their own blogs.

The mantra I keep chanting when talking to faculty members is **what problem are you trying to solve?** and then (and only then) do we get into options of technologies (or not) that support their goals. Blogging may or may not be a solution that’s appropriate for a given situation.

irrational objection to the wild, wide open?

[Stephen responds](http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=52960) to my previous [post on classblogs](http://www.darcynorman.net/2010/07/22/on-private-classblogs-vs-the-wild-wide-open/):

> My first reaction (as I’m sure it is for many) is that we shouldn’t compel them to do anything. But when you ask the question in the context of formal education, you begin to see how ridiculous it is. Is there anything in education that isn’t compelled? Participation is enforced to the age of 18, college and university courses typically have requirements for graduation. So why should public performance be any different? And – it isn’t! We require singers and actors to perform in public in order to graduate. Lawyers stand in moot court. Interns perform in actual hospitals, apprentices in real garages. Graduate students are frequently reminded that they should have some journal publications to their name. So why the objection to publishing on the web? It’s an irrational objection, when compared with the practices we see everywhere else in education.

My point was not that students should not be expected to perform (of *course* they should), to practice what they’re learning, but rather that public posting of content may not be the most effective or appropriate way to do that. Also, I’m not arguing against Open Content or Open Courseware. They are important, and may serve as a mechanism to help transform education.

A student studying law would perform by preparing and arguing cases. An engineering student might design and build a bridge. A geologist might survey a plot and identify strata and formations. They may all perform, enhance, and extend their learning via discourse with their fellow students.

What I was trying to point out is that these forms of performance aren’t public, and are not permanently archived by third parties. They are also not primarily exercises in content production. How does using public publishing of content fit in? How does moving discussion between and amongst participants in a class into a public venue, with public and permanent archives and no sense of privacy or control serve the educational needs of the class? It may provide opportunities for others to follow along and contribute to the discussion, but we need to think about how the public nature of a wide open discussion platform changes the nature of that discussion, and how it’s used educationally.

And, finally, I was not trying to suggest that students shouldn’t be compelled to do things. Teachers do that every time they assign a grade to an activity. But, when the activities are *public*, and *archived*, etc… (as they are in an open online discussion or blog site) we need to think about what right we have as educators to compel students to perform in such a venue.

Running a “massively open online course” is not a mainstream, normal activity. The participants are automatically self selected and biased – only those students who are predisposed to that kind of course would sign up, and they know the expectations beforehand. How would the experience change if it was a large enrolment introductory chemistry class, where students are told that their laboratory assignments will be submitted and graded publicly on the internet? Or a K12 education class, where student teachers are told their post-class reflections must be public?

I don’t believe my “objection” is irrational. I believe that glossing over the issues of control and power, and of publicity and permanence, is naïve and dangerous, and counter to what we are trying to do as teachers.

on private “classblogs” vs. the wild, wide open

This post has been percolating for a while, but was finally pulled out by a post from [Stephen Downes](http://www.downes.ca/post/52942), linking to [a post from Lisa Nielsen](http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2010/07/just-say-yes-to-publishing-exposing-man.html).

Most of the blogs set up on UCalgaryBlogs aren’t fully public – many allow anyone to see the content, but block search engines. But, many others are restricted to only allowing members of that site to access the content.

Initially, this bothered me. People weren’t seeing the Power of Being Open. I tried arguing the whole “information wants to be free” and “going public with network effects” etc… yaddayadda.

But faculty and students just didn’t see it that way. They weren’t comfortable posting their work in the open. And instead of trying to convince them that they were wrong, I took the radical approach of actually listening them. Their points were pretty consistent, and boiled down to a few issues:

1. discomfort with publishing on the open web (identity issues, work being archived/indexed forever, etc…)
* the fact that this is mitigated through pseudonymous posting doesn’t negate this one entirely.
2. not wanting to use a blog-like environment for discussion/conversation
* some people are just uncomfortable with blogging platforms when they’re used to writing in discussion boards.
* they’re worried about politeness and civility and trolling and various other issues with various levels of validity
* yes, the software is essentially the same in the back end. yes, they can be convinced to use it. but it’s yet another hurdle to convince them to step over
3. fear of someone stealing their awesome content/idea
* initially, I shrugged this one off. *really? you’re so awesome that you’ve already come up with your first Big Idea?* but then, after hearing this from several different students (from undergrad to PhD), it started to make more sense. many students are working in fields where they are building frameworks to kickstart their working careers. they see it as a huge risk to publicize these frameworks before they’ve had a chance to do something with them. Is it entirely rational? maybe. maybe not.
* I tried outlining how posting your early work on a Big Idea could be used to combat anyone stealing the idea (you’d have documentation of when/what you were working on, so you’d be clearly staking a claim to intellectual property, etc…) but that didn’t get very far.

All of the points boil down further to a single core issue.

**What *right* do we, as educators, have to *compel* students to publish on the open web?**

As educators, we compel students to do things all the time. In the “safety” of the classroom. As assignments. But, not In The Open™, with permanent and public archives of their work. Yes, there are cases where we do this, too (drama classes may have public performances – but those aren’t often archived permanently and publicly).

The open web is an incredible force multiplier. Students (and faculty) can say something, and have it spread around the world and accessed by anyone. Which is great, unless that short circuits the kinds of risk taking behaviours that make for really meaningful learning experiences.

It comes down to what we’re really trying to do with our students. Is the goal to have them publish their content, or is it to take risks and learn from mistakes? I’d argue that it’s far more important to be taking risks as part of an educational experience than to be publishing content. As such, it’s far more important that students are engaging in productive discourse, than to be posting their term papers.

The concept of “[training wheels](http://andremalan.net/blog/2009/07/10/social-media-classroom-training-wheels-that-dont-come-off/)” – that having private sites is shortsighted because it treats students with kid gloves, telling them that they’re not worthy of publishing on the open web – isn’t completely capturing what happens in an effective classroom. A class isn’t an exercise in content production, it’s an active and engaged learning community. Some of the activities that occur with a class may involve content production, but that’s not the primary goal. Whether or not those content production activities are on the public and open web is an entirely different discussion.

As a result, I have absolutely no problem with faculty and students wanting to have private “classblogs” – if it gets them to a place where they’re able to use the blogging platform in a way that amplifies the effectiveness of their discourse, even (or especially) if the site isn’t public, then it’s absolutely worth doing. And I don’t see this practice as simply replicating the closed model of the LMS in yet another platform. It’s different because faculty and students are largely in control of the environment used for the classblog. They can configure it together. They can customize it. They can shape it to meet their needs. That’s the important reason for moving outside of an institutional LMS.