Back to the future: how blogs can revolutionise your classroom
From assisting reflective learning to increasing engagement, do not overlook the humble blog amid the rush for the shiniest new online thing, says Dennis Relojo-Howell
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It’s easy to underestimate how much the humble blog has woven its way into our lives and collective consciousness. Google anything from a recipe for vegan chicken wings to potential colours to paint your living room, and most of the search results will be from blogs.
As a PhD researcher and full-time blogger (and vlogger), the utility of blogs has been hoisted to the fore of my daily life. Blogging can be anonymous or public, it can be no-holds-barred or tentative. And yes, in a world where people can be too impatient to get to the end of a tweet, writing an online journal may seem counter-intuitive. But what you may lose in number of interactions, you gain in quality.
From fashion to politics and parenting to DIY, there are currently more than 500 million active blogs online. They have been firm fixtures of internet life for well over a decade, but it has taken some time for the higher education sector to recognise the unique value that blogs can bring to an academic environment.
We know that most contemporary university students spend a lot of time online, so starting a classroom blog, or individual blogs for each student, can tap into this natural enthusiasm for the internet and motivate students to take a more active role in their learning.
The functionality of a blog lends itself well to coursework, reflective learning and collaborative work. They have even been shown to augment support for distance learning in higher education. The nature of the technology also offers many avenues for creative expressions beyond the written word: images and videos are often key parts of a blogpost; learning about coding can help university students customise their sites; and the judicious use of social media platforms has the potential to connect university teaching to the world for myriad research opportunities.
Creativity is key when it comes to figuring out how blogs can work for higher education, but however you decide to use them, myriad benefits present themselves: engagement is likely to increase once blogging becomes embedded in university teaching; working in an online world is attractive to most university students; and the social nature of blogging acts as a further draw.
Once an expectation has been established that students will contribute to a class blog or even write on their own page, the writing can be integrated into other coursework. “New literacies” such as good digital citizenship, critical evaluation and cultural awareness become natural areas of focus.
The variety in tone and register among blogs − and between blogs and other forms of writing − is a fantastic topic to investigate in literature courses. Plus, as blogging is usually a more informal type of writing, it can remove some of the pressures on international students who feel too self-conscious about their English skills to share their brilliant ideas.
If each individual in the class has their own personal blog, it can also act as a useful repository for all their content. While other platforms may change in nature, or simply be shut down, a personal blog is a relatively secure way to hold and showcase students’ educational pursuits and knowledge. It can also mould a positive digital footprint into the future and be harnessed to transform the research landscape in higher education.
I have contributed a chapter on incorporating blogs into higher education to a book of research around the application of Web 2.0 technologies in universities and businesses. I explain how to set up and effectively use a classroom blog, explore the role that blog psychology can play in teaching and outline further advantages to classroom blogging.
Despite the low barrier to entry into the world of blogging, many universities may still be reluctant to explore these tools. However, the pace of change – for teaching and society in general – is only going to accelerate, so to meet the evolving needs of university students, higher education needs to evolve, too. Staying on top of online learning is not just keeping up with the latest gimmicks, it means always having an up-to-date toolkit with which to motivate and engage with university students.
Spending time integrating blogging into teaching in higher education is sure to reap rewards. There are issues to bear in mind to ensure the effective execution of teaching strategy, but embracing divergent forms of communication in a thoughtful way can only make university teaching more relevant, more engaging and more digital savvy.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is a PhD researcher at the University of Edinburgh.