Student blogging, a new form of literacy?

Student Blogging. Sometimes I feel like I am living in a real life Star Trek episode, going where “no ONE has gone before”. Setting up individual blogs for students, is not new, however, allowing access to the outside world is. And it tends to scare people at the thought that someone, somewhere just might read a student blog and might comment. As a result, many schools (maybe yours?) and districts block access to blogs or moderate using a login/username. But the real question that we grapple with is whether or not blogs are improving student learning and if so, how?

First, we need have a clear understanding of blogging and why we are using it for our students.  I am constantly reflecting on the following questions:

  • Is the purpose to improve spelling and grammar?
  • Are we trying to get students to feel more comfortable about writing ‘their’ connections about a topic or issue?
  • Do we want students to read, reflect and comment on a variety of perspectives and point of views?
  • Are we trying to encourage student collaboration?
  • Are we trying to get students to view the world with a more open mind?
  • How about teaching children that blogging is a way to teach others, and thus, also learn from others?
  • Are we encouraging students to share their work and participate in an “open-source” culture?
  • Can blogging help students synthesize their understanding in a written, visual or audio form?

When I review the above questions, I tend to think that the first bullet – to improve spelling and grammar – is a given, but it is not the purpose for blogging. Students blog to get their voices heard and as a result, they edit, then re-edit, then edit again (just like most adults). They are quite aware of the world wide web and they take pride that their work will be added to it. So, no – it is not about the spelling and grammar. It is about the engagement in writing, reading, sharing, collaborating and commenting. It is about the engagement and motivation in sharing your ideas and that what you say might just possibly be read by others.

Think back when you were a kid – you completed an assignment that either went home (up on the fridge), on a bulletin board or back in your desk. You repeated this all year until you took your work home at the end of the school year, it disappeared into some box. For some, this was fine – they would write and read and change the world without any  prompting from anyone, not even a teacher. But for other students, and we all know them, they did not care. They had no reason to care. They struggled. Words did not come easy – and why put all that effort into something when no one would read it anyway? They didn’t see the big picture  (that it was for practice, for learning, that they would need it someday).

Those are the students that we need to focus are attention. Those are the students that will benefit MOST from blogging.

Student motivation and desire to write and read needs purpose and authenticity. When they write for a global audience, they are giving their voice meaning.  I recently asked my students if they would blog as frequently and as passionately as they do if they did not have a global audience, if their blogs were secured to ‘classroom only’. I was surprised by the response (and a little proud) – they replied that they would just copy and paste their blog to a ‘new – personal’ blog, one that can’t be  blocked – one that can’t be moderated (they are aware that I moderate what is posted and I approve comments). I asked my students what I we should do in June when school is over. Should the blog be deleted? They laughed. They didn’t really even understand my question. Why would I delete their blog?

Please share your experiences with student blogging. Why are you blogging with your students? Are their blogs accessible by a wider audience? Is this a new form of literacy or is this simply a new tool?

A few example student blogs:

  • (student talking creative commons)
  • (student talking about creative commons)
  • (student talking about Olympics – concerns)

Consider getting your students involved and commenting these Sixth Grader Blogs as well as sharing your blogs with us.

The video below is by two of my students presenting to teachers about blogging.

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The Cleversheep talks “Creative Commons”

Should students be putting Creative Commons attributes on their work?

According to a leading educator in the Ontario community, the answer is YES. Rodd Lucier is a teacher – consultant in the Komoka region and is most definately considered an expert in the area of Creative Commons Licenses as it relates to education. That is why I asked him to join my class in a discussion about not only how students can obtain content ethically but also about putting license agreements on their own work – and why.
We had a great discussion, which I captured on audio to summarize the student reflections about Creative Commons:

A few links that Rodd provided for us:
The Cleversheep Blog
Creative Commons Presentation – for educators
Flickr Photos Creative Commons
Creative Commons

Students will create a collaborative digital book using Google Docs to teacher other students about Copyright rules and the Creative Commons. Anyone care to join us, in this endeavor?

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