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From learner to blogger

Blogs, blogs, blogs! The term has been getting a lot of attention lately. Everywhere you go people try to get you to look at their blog. I must confess I loved the recent TV advert where an “internetless” person misunderstands her suitor’s intentions when he asks her to take a peep at his blog. Slaps ensue.

Blogs are supposedly very hip, very in, very Web 2.0 at the moment and if you want to be where it’s happening on the internet you have to have one or at least subscribe to someone else’s.

Maybe, as educators, we should consider if this technology can support teaching and learning. We teachers have been harnessing hip and cool things for decades to try to make our subjects relevant and engaging to a younger audience.

We teach some of the history syllabus as if they are part of a film studies course, maths now embraces the calculator, once considered the tool of lazy youth, and so on. So can we harness blogs as part of our teaching arsenal?

Well, yes, is the easy answer. A blog is no more than an online interactive journal where a blogger’s public thoughts are put on display with an invitation for others to comment.

The more interesting the blogger, the more web traffic it attracts. When film director Peter Jackson was working on the remake of King Kong he kept a daily blog. Film buffs and fans flocked to it for the low-down on the daily frustrations of making a blockbuster – as well as for a good dose of skinner about the film’s stars.

But let’s face it, neither you nor I are a Peter Jackson or a busty starlet. No kid is going to flock to a blog on the finer points of teaching English grammar. We need to reinvent the use of the technology if we want it to work for us.

Outcomes-based education posits the responsibility for learning with the learners. They are supposed to acquire self-reflective skills that help them understand what it is they still need to learn to gain proficiency. As facilitators of this learning process we try to make them keep journals for assignments, always unpopular with the learners, and even allocate marks for this activity to motivate them.

One criticism is that learners write up their journal entries but do not spend the time to interrogate the content of their entries.

This might be a good time to bring on the blogs. Blogs are online public journals where others have an opportunity to comment. Let’s make learners the bloggers and their critical classmates can help them to focus on what they write by offering suggestions and solutions.

The teacher can be the moderator, but most of the discussion will be between peers. This means that bloggers will be a bit more vigilant in making themselves clear if they know others will read the entries. It will still be necessary for the teacher to devise a set of open questions for the bloggers to respond to so that learning issues will be tackled by the class.

It might also be necessary to divide the class up into “critical friend” groups to ensure that everyone gets some comments on his or her blog.

The bottom line, of course, is that what was a tedious exercise in journal writing will be transformed into a fun learning-about-learning experience using blogs.

Thutong, the national education portal at www.thutong.org.za, also uses blogs within its subject learning spaces. It is identifying educators who have some insight to share on teaching each subject to be featured bloggers. It’s worth taking a look at how it is deploying blogging technology.

Happy blogging.

Andrew Moore is a former teacher. He also has an MEd degree in ­computer-assisted education from the University of Pretoria. At present he works for Neil Butcher and Associates (NBA), an education technology consulting company that offers services in the areas of capacity building, database design, education materials development and research into education and technology.

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