Thursday, June 09, 2005

Blogging for Credit

I see informal communication with others as being the biggest advantage of putting weblogs to use for language learning purposes. Weblogs can bring people together for sharing and discussing their ideas, allowing learners to actually put the language they are studying to use in authentic ways. However, when we assign 'blogging' for homework and give students grades on how often they post or comment, are we not shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot? If students come to see weblogs as the latest homework delivery method, then are we not directly encouraging them to take a surface approach to the whole process?

If we are to have any success with turning our students on to blogging, then we must implement methods of evaluation in which the quality of communicative interaction resulting from student webpublishing is identified, reflected upon, and improved. Teachers should stop placing placing such a high value on quantity of posting and commenting and start honing in on the quality of social interaction. Ongoing self, peer, and tutor reflective evaluations can play an integral role in helping everyone focus on the process of trying to communicate in the weblog medium, rather than looking to the quantity of textual interaction as a measure of success. It is conceivable for a student to have blogged very little, yet to have undergone a tremendous learning experience from ongoing reflections on their experience of reading, posting, commenting, and meeting new people. In this way, student might actually have a chance to see personal webpublishing for what it really is - a self-empowering method of communication and learning - and continue putting it into practice after the semester is finished.


Blogger JH said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:44 AM  
Blogger JH said...

You have made a great point which has made me reflect on how I evaluate my students’ blogs. As I wrote in my comment to the following entry on your blog, students participating in my EFL teacher training class blog get credit for writing in their blogs or making comments on another blog and not for the quality of their work. I guess you could call my system a quantity not quality one. I realize that this threatens to sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity as some students will inevitably write in their blogs because they HAVE TO rather than to publish a thought-provoking piece of work or to communicate with a fellow blogger. Also, just because a student writes in her blog every week does not necessarily mean that the class has been successful; quantity does not mean quality. Furthermore, it remains to be seen how many students will continue to write in their blogs after the class is finished. Lastly, many students in my class title their blog entries “Assignment 1, 2 etc.” which means that I have not done a good enough job in helping them realize that their blogs not only are a means of doing homework but are made for an audience (their classmates or the larger TEFL/TESL community).
Students write things in their blogs what they would not say in class. Blogs have also proved to be a very effective means for students to critique other students’ practice teaching. Students also enthusiastically comment on other students’ blogs. So, my quantity not quality evaluation style has not been a complete failure.
What exactly is high-quality social interaction and how do we evaluate it? Can social interaction be evaluated? Does Student A who made more on-line buddies than Student B get a higher grade? Does Student C who found his cyber soul-mate get a higher grade than Student D who was very superficial in his on-line relationships? Does Student E who seemed to attract the most people to her blog get a higher grade than Student F who only had a few comments? One of the benefits about students getting credit for the mere writing of a blog entry and for a commenting on a classmate’s blog is that they are free to write in any style they want or make any kind of comment they feel like. Also, since my students are taking 10 other classes this semester and pretty busy, they will only do things that they required to do and refrain from doing anything that is optional. When I was in graduate school, some of my classes had optional reading assignments that looked interesting but usually I was too busy to do them. This week, I have given my students an optional question to answer on their blogs. It will be interesting to see how many of them answer the question.
Thanks again Aaron for your thought-provoking post. You have helped me realize some of the shortcomings of my own project. I think for me to consider the question as to how we can evaluate quality, I will need to do some more homework and look at some successful blogging projects that other teacher have done.

6:18 AM  
Blogger JH said...

For some reason I could not get the hyperlinks for Aaron's entry and my EFL teacher training class blog to work (I used standard html language), here they are respectively in their plain form:



6:23 AM  
Blogger Dennis said...

Although I think adding to a blog (or completing any class activity or project) should have a value attached (if it doesn't, the signal is that it doesn't matter), I don't think assigning an assessment measure has to be based on an either/or measure such as quality vs quantity. There are certainly alternatives.

One would be to grant a fixed number of points for different levels of participation—for example, a low number for doing the assignment, a higher number for grammaticality and clarity, a still higher number for adding something new / something to generate further thinking or investigation into the topic.

Another would be to set up a rubric showing how grades would be assigned. This could show the interplay between quality, quantity, length, focus, relevance, creativity, critical thinking, and any number of other measures.

D. O.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Marco Polo said...

Great post, Aaron, and provocative comments from all. JH (and Dennis), Aaron (and me, and JH, I think) are in Japan, a country whose education system is almost entirely given over to quantity vs quality. To a large extent, students don't really care what system of evaluation you use; they are already convinced (by years of experience) that this class is just like all the others: another hoop to jump through. It is a "given" that what counts is getting the credits, passing the course. Japan in many ways (and not just in education) is a giant conveyor belt. Dennis suggests a rubric showing "the interplay between quality, critical thinking..." etc. But for most students, such things are irrelevant: "what has critical thinking got to do with anything? How will that help me get a job? Or keep it?" The environment is very different here. My hope is that my students will actually learn something, will rediscover the fun of discovery, and of learning for themselves (not because the system requires it), but in practice it is very hard not to succumb to the culture, and just end up doing what everyone else does (and what the students themselves expect), i.e. grading based on attendance and other measurables like how many assignments done (not the quality or content). Try to change to something more qualitative and you run up against student (and administration) incomprehension, and in some cases outright resistance. Have nice day!

2:40 AM  
Blogger Marco Polo said...

followup: Lest I sound too depressing, let me add a suggestion: as I've blogged elsewhere, I've found that setting communicative tasks as the goal of the course (and the criterion for passing) cuts to the chase, without a lot of explanation or talk: it is immediately clear to students that they are expected to actually DO (produce) something, and to do that they must put in some work; just showing up won't cut it. I wonder if something similar could be set up for blogging? I.e. not just "create a blog, post 20 times, and leave 40 comments on other blogs", but "create an online project (in English) that all your classmates can join in; you will get extra credits if you can get people from outside your class to join in as well". I can't think of any great projects at the moment, but something like the Mugshots project, that combines pictures/photos and some writing.

2:49 AM  
Blogger aaron said...

Wow, I thought I would be notified by email if comments were posted here and since none arrived, I had assumed nobody responded. You can imagine my surprise when I saw what was here just now.

There is so much to think about here when it comes to how to structure a course that incorporates the use of weblogs and how to evaluate it. Part of my reason for creating the post above is because I think it is the area in which I have been struggling the most. After having my students blog for a whole year (in 2004), all but one of the forty students stopped their blogging activities at the end of the semester. Like Marc said, Japanese students are so used to jumping through hoops to get a grade that the idea of stepping out of that and into a focus on process is so foreign. So basically none of them saw the value of continuing to blog. I guess the feeling of meaningful community was still missing.

I am really working hard this semester to get them to see firsthand what is possible for them to do on their own power and volition by using the social networking tools of Flickr and Livejournal to interact with all kinds of people. I am hoping to instill the habits that make community building possible. I ask them just to participate fully and to self-evaluate their experience at several intervals. Even still, most of the work in the course is task based, which is really not much different than the very behaviourist approach which I criticize. I am trying to model the tasks, though, on the what the behaviour of a self-directed blogger would be while encouraging as much choice as possible about topics and themes and social contacts.

I think it is possible in Japan to take a qualitative appproach by setting these learner centered tasks and saying that their grade depends upon completing them along with reflective exercises. Students who participate fully will receive the grade they wish, as long as I am in agreement with it. We negotiate it as the term progresses. Receiving a grade in my class is never a surprise because it is an open issue all semester. I have yet to run into a problem with this.

8:24 AM  
Blogger JH said...

Aaron, sometimes I think the act of making a weblog part of a class guarantees that students will only use the blog for class work. In my blogging project, students are good about using their blogs to complete their assignments. We have not used our blogs much to interact with other people outside the class, which I would really like to do.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Jean-Claude Bradley said...

What a great discussion you have started. The more educators and students talk about their experiences the better we can use these tools. I think that the important thing is to understand what to realistically expect from giving a blogging experiment. Then educators can decide how to use the tools to reach their objectives.
I ran a blogging experiment for organic chemistry students last term and reported the results here:

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