[This is the text of the Toronto Star article from a couple weeks back. They never posted it on their web site, so I thought I’d put it here. Typos are, I think, theirs.]
Blog is effective teaching tool — Education Q&A
The Toronto Star
Thu 21 Dec 2006
Is blogging the new way to help students learn? How can teachers incorporate blogging into their lessons? The Star spoke with Jason Nolan, an assistant professor at the School of Early Childhood Education at Ryerson University, about educational blogging and learning with technology. If you have a question for Nolan, submit it to www.thestar.blogs/education….
Q Could you start by telling us a bit about your research?
A I’ve been exploring the use of blogging tools in higher education since 2001. After completing a pilot project, and developing an open- source blogging platform called Edublog, the project was put aside because we felt that there wasn’t yet the interest in higher education for the wide-scale use of blogs in teaching and learning.
Q How can technology like chat boards and blogging be used by teachers/students?
A In the past we have used bulletin boards and courseware to allow students to discuss topics. The dialogue was always situated around the classroom and the course content. And usually, when the course is over, the content was erased. As with essays and tests, students sometimes ended up with the impression that learning was about performing for the teacher and the class, and not part of a personal exploration of growth and development.
Blogging looks at communication in a different manner. Blogging is all about me. The location of the discussion is on the individual, not the class. As a student blogger, I would write about my personal experiences within the learning moment; how the lectures, discussions in class, readings intertwine with my own reflections and thoughts on the topic. The result is that a blog post can become a unique document of the learning process; one that is particular to each learner.
Blogging in university can become the start of a lifelong learning experience, as the student’s blog can follow her from class to class, year to year, and then follow off into the world of work.
When the blog is an academic, personal and social tool for communication, students learn about the variety of ways they can express themselves, and they learn to negotiate between personal, private and public forms of communication. They also get experience, in a safe environment, in controlling the information that is made public about them, which can help keep them safe, but can also help them in their careers.
I use blogs as to learn what my students think is important in the reading, and what I need to focus on in my lectures. In one scenario, I have students write a 350-word blog post on the readings before class. I can skim these posts and pick out any insights or omissions that I would like to take up. I can, at a glance, know that 120 students have done the readings, and, unlike other instructors, I don’t have to hope that a significant percentage of students are prepared for class. I can use their blogs as raw material for developing quizzes and exam questions. I can use them as the starting point for research papers. And the blogs become invaluable in identifying potential problems with plagiarism. When you have 12 weeks of writing by a student it is very easy to see if something that appears anomalous in an essay is a problem or not.
Q As a professor of early childhood education, do you believe these technologies can be used with preschoolers?
A Children are keen observers and have a sense of what is important to them; though it can be hard for adults to know what’s going on. Digital photography is a great opportunity for them to creatively interact with the world around them, even before they can describe what is interesting to them orally or in writing. Children, even under the age of 3, are able to understand what is worthy of capturing on camera, though their attitudes are somewhat different from adults.
Research suggests that they are less interested in photographing people, framing the shot or even focus, but they are interested in documenting their world; taking pictures of what’s important to them. This is often possessions and pets.
Of course, there is the issue of protecting children’s information online. However, that does not mean that children cannot express themselves and share that information publicly. In fact, it’s very good for children and parents to know from an early age what’s appropriate to share online.
© 2006 Torstar Corporation