Which assignment is better, writing a paper or posting a blog?

In my assigned role as devil's advocate, I'd like to see the reasons why a teacher would want to have students write a blog to illustrate what they have learned on a topic (large or small) vs writing the traditional paper with sources cited, artwork on the cover, and eraser marks as needed. What would be the advantages of assigning a blog be created? What would be the pitfalls? What would be necessary in order for all participants to be able to post a blog equally with their peers (if, for example they don't have a computer at home!)? Then, when you have considered the advantages, the superintendent tells you they won't let you do it unless you can supply research information that these advantages exist and are beneficial to students!

Tags: advantages, blogging, commons, creative, instruction, of, technology, use

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One important 21st century skill that we can teach students is the ability to filter through information. There's so much out there; learning how to quickly to through a list of blogs to find the most relevant ones is a definite skill.

In Indigo's defense, here's the last posting date for each of the blogs he provided. With the possible exception of Future Banking, they all seem to be currently used and updated; this is a great list of current business blogs.

9/15/09: http://forums.amd.com/devblog/
10/6/09: http://aws.typepad.com/
3/13/09: http://futurebanking.bankofamerica.com/
10/8/09: http://www.cbs.com/blog/
10/8/09: http://blog.delta.com/
10/9/09: http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/
10/9/09: http://1000words.kodak.com/
10/9/09: http://www.emc.com/community/index.htm
9/24/09: http://citizenshipblog.fedex.designcdt.com/
10/8/09: http://www.gereports.com/page/25/ (note that the link is to a past post; here's the current page: http://www.gereports.com/)
10/9/09: http://blogs.intel.com/
10/7/09 (at least): http://www.ibm.com/blogs/zz/en/ (this is multiple blogs; the second one listed posted 2 days ago)
10/8/09: http://www.microsoft.com/communities/blogs/portalhome.mspx
10/8/09: http://www.symantec.com/business/security_response/weblog/index.jsp

Anne, you said "a number" of these blogs were discontinued, but I only see one. Maybe we're having a difficulty with terminology. Can you clarify what you mean by "discontinued"? Do you mean that they weren't updated today? Blogs don't have to be updated every day to be current; a few times a week is fairly common, but even once a week or less would still be current.

By the way, let's actually look at the full context of the quote about 99% of the blogs not being relevant so everyone can decide collectively whether your statement is an accurate depiction of the source.

You said: "On one of the links you posted earlier, it said that 99% of the blogs are of no interest."

Which is true...sort of. Here's the source:
"First, a few numbers. There are some 9 million blogs out there, with 40,000 new ones popping up each day. Some discuss poetry, others constitutional law. And, yes, many are plain silly. "Mommy tells me it may rain today. Oh Yucky Dee Doo," reads one April Posting. Let's assume that 99.9% are equally off point. So what? That leaves some 40 new ones every day that could be talking about your business, engaging your employees, or leaking those merger discussions you thought were hush-hush."

If you were a teacher grading a student research paper and an argument was supported like that, what feedback would you give that student?
Christy, I like you--you are so level headed. What do you teach? Where are you?
Thank you very much!

I started my career as a music and band teacher in Illinois, but I'm not in the classroom anymore. I work behind the scenes now as an instructional designer developing online graduate courses for teachers. I have a long-ish bio on my blog if you're interested. I work from home in North Carolina now; winter is much nicer here than in Illinois!
How interesting, I teach gifted kids and have for 25 years. I'm retiring this year but don't think I'll do more than travel, read and eat! You look young, do you have kiddos of your own?
I'm 32, so not the youngest person on this site, but hardly as experienced as people like you. I've had the opportunity to work with some really terrific people to develop courses though, so I've been able to learn from some of the greats.

No kids of my own--maybe someday!
Since Indigo's already responded to the issue of computers at home (which is a serious issue), I'm going to focus on the improvements to learning and the arguments to bring to the superintendent.

If all you're going to do is give exactly the same assignment but use a different technology, the difference would be about the difference between assigning an essay hand written in pencil versus pen. In other words, you won't see any difference.

But if you revise the assignment to take advantage of the collaboration possible with blogs, you might see an advantage. For example, consider the study Collaborative Blogging as a Means to Develop Elementary Expository .... In this study of third graders, the quality of writing was improved, as well as the students' attitude towards writing.

If you consider the major 12-year meta-analysis on online education published by the Department of Ed recently, you'll see that online learning generally produced better results than face-to-face learning, and blended learning produced better learning than either.

In the other thread, you said this:
"If those who are today's pioneers would sit down with those teachers and show them how to replace activities and projects the teachers are already using with a technology version of same, and then show a justification for the change, such as the fact that all students in that teacher's classroom have access to the technology."

The reason today's pioneers won't do that is because it would be a waste of time--not because of a lack of skill in those teachers, but because it wouldn't make a difference for student learning. If teachers just create a "technology version of the same" assignments they've always done, they'll just spend a lot of money on technology and a lot of time learning new tools for no good reason.

Going back to the meta-analysis, the authors advise against assuming it's only the online medium causing the improvement in learning:
"Rather, it is the combination of elements in the treatment conditions, which are likely to include additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration, that has proven effective. The meta-analysis findings do not support simply putting an existing course online, but they do support redesigning instruction to incorporate additional learning opportunities online."

The whole point of the Web 2.0 technology is that it allows students to learn and collaborate in ways they've never been able to before. That's what will change learning. If it's the same pedagogy and techniques you've always used, the technology will be irrelevant.
Well said Christy, one of the points I forgot to mention in my comment is the enthusiasm of the students. We only see our kids one day a week and they come in the door yammering about who's blogging what to who--lots of engagement between kids, in our case from different grades and different schools.
Christy,

Thank you for the links to the two studies. I d/l the DOE one to study in more depth. I became apparent as I was reading these studies that I had chosen an incorrect technology to replace the usual "paper" or "report". The blogs in the Sunshine State were used as part of the pre-writing experience rather than as the final expression of the learning.

Seems to me that a similar outcome could have been obtained by just a simple email exchange between the students and their pre-teaching partners. The blogs were not necessary. The requirement to examine the blogs and approve them for posting seems a bit of a heavy burden on the teacher. Were the results worth the extra work on the teacher's part? Would the project have been better if the children had communicated with a member of the tribes they were studying rather than the pre-service teachers?

Next question. Is the collaboration provided by blogging superior to having children work in pairs or with a parent as a partner (instead of the pre-service teacher). The pre-service teachers were not experts on the tribes the students were studying, and could do little more than any other adult with facility in finding links, including the students' own teacher. What controls were applied to keep the pre-service teacher from conveying his/her own opinion on the tribes instead of concrete factual information to the students?

I question this for a very serious reason. I am a member of a Ning called Inter-Tribal Music, and a piece that was posted on there recently was about a museum display in a Michigan college. The displays that caused offense were dioramas of the Indian culture at the time of European contact, and some depicted scenes before that contact. The dioramas were not inaccurate, and they were a favorite visit of elementary students from nearby school. So why did the depicted tribes ask the University to take down the displays from public view? Because members of the tribe felt bad being depicted by "dolls" when they are really living people. Members of the tribe also reported that when their children attended these displays with classmates, their classmates noted the lack of modern clothing and used it as a reason to poke fun at these children of another culture.

So, my question is, did this collaboration lead to a deeper understanding of the tribes than could have occured without it, or did it carry the potential to deepen prejudices from one generation to another.

I will look further at the comments tomorrow. I am please with the number of responses and the depth that some have gone to with this question.
Unfortunately, I think the questions you're asking, especially about the content, are beyond the scope of that research. It's simply not possible to measure every possible variable and every possible comparison in a single study. In reading the results, they were really focused on the quality of the writing and not as much on the subject matter. The control condition in this study was

But that sounds like a great topic for future study. Why don't you conduct one yourself comparing the collaboration possible with blogs versus email? Or compare one with parents providing research assistance rather than preservice teachers; parents might have more subject matter knowledge, but you may find a much wider variation in their ability to provide research and writing support.

You could also do your own study and review the student blogs and final student projects for prejudice. Even if you don't have access to a classroom yourself where you could conduct this research, you could use these existing projects and conduct a follow-up study. Wendy Drexler, the teacher from that study, is a member of this group (although not currently active); it would be easy to contact her for permission to do a follow up to answer your content-specific questions.

There's certainly a need for more research in this area. I can see that you're very motivated to see the evidence. Why not take matters into your own hands and do the studies yourself?
Christy,

I like your respectful and concrete ideas. I will consider doing some research. I am not a researcher, but have access to a retired one who would enjoy doing it as well.It is interesting to learn that you prepare courses for teachers. You seem to have a better handle on how to answer the questions of teachers.

I looked over the comments by the 3rd graders on why they should continue their blogs over the summer. Only one that I read mentioning getting comments and having a "real audience". At least two stated they they didn't like commenting on other blogs. A why comes to mind. One worried about his spelling, and also about forgetting how to spell over the summer. This indicates that the blogs are working much the same as email did for my students - to make them conscious of their writing and then improving it.

I have learned much about the use and disuse of blogs from this exchange, far more than reading a definition on wiki ever produced. I am now able to see how they are useful in developing reading and writing skills in students who have in the past had very shallow writing experiences and very structured reading experiences.

As for collaboration, I would love to see how blogs accomplish that, but it hasn't been evident from those blogs I have sampled. The work I do on my website is basically a solo performance, and I feel the need to see others participating. My attempts to enlist collaborators have not been successful.Twitter was a big disappointment.
How have you tried to enlist collaborators on your site in the past? I will say that when I go there I don't see anyplace to contribute or comment, at least from the landing page.

I've also discovered that often to receive help from others, I have to contribute to the community first. If I leave valuable comments on other people's blogs, some of those people may come back to help me. What have you contributed to the people you want to collaborate with?

The concern from a third grader about spelling is consistent with some of the other research on blogging with elementary students. There's a case study with fifth graders that found that blogging improved the students writing skills (rich content and author's craft) but not the writing conventions (grammar and skills).

I'm surprised you only saw one student talking about comments. Are you sure you really looked at them all, or did you mean that none of these 3rd graders used the actual word "audience"?

Here's the quotes from them I found related to audience and comments; half the class specifically mentioned comments.

"I should keep my blog because I love my blog and I like to see who comments me so I can comment them back." --Ryan

"On my blog I send comments to my friends. Also I get to see what other people are up to." --Kody

"Well one thing that is good about blogs is that you could write a lot of stories and then put them on your blog and other people from other states could read the stories that you write, also you could get comments too. I like to get comments a lot. Well other people from different states have blogs to; I give them comments but not that much. I give people comments." --Maribeth

"Comments are great! That is a reason you should keep your blog. That is if you like to get comments. A lot of people in my class love comments. That is a good reason." --Casey

"Comment me and tell me if you agree or not." --Lindsey (Not strictly saying she likes comments, but certainly actively soliciting them. She's clearly writing for a public audience if she asks for comments.)

"I think that it is good to have a blog because you can write and people will comment you on your writing. That way you get encouraged to write more. You can get comments from places like Australia, places around America, China, and etc. Also if people comment you they might have links to their blog so you can read their blogs." --Riley

"I like to write on my blog and get comments." --Keean
Christy,

I did a sampling of the blogs. Some I could not read because of the choice of colors. Saying I found only one, means exactly that "I found" only one, not that there was only one in the batch. You do seem to have found more than I did. There are a lot of comments about comments. I must have sampled the ones without, or didn't notice them.

Christy, Duh! I have always thought of the front page of the site as a front room, and, you are right. Nowhere do I ask for people to help except in a bottom line on some pages asking for suggestions to be sent to my email address. I guess I need to add that to the drupal front page before you get to all the sparklies.

A good amount of the content was developed in reponse to specific needs beginning with the Famous Americans, predator and prey, life cycles, and the math worksheets I used myself when I was still in the classroom.

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