I know exactly how this feels…kinda like living in a world where the “Body Snatchers” have actually taken over the world!
~ Blogging ~
Objective: The theme for our final journal entry is “What made you think”. This prompted me to look through the list of forum topics and then my educational resources until at last I hit on the article, ‘Blogging in the Classroom: A 4-Step guide’ (Dunn, 2012). With further reflection I noticed that there is some aspect of blogging in almost all of the course objectives. Not only that, but it also seems to me that it ‘makes the grade’ as a Student Engagement Technique (I don’t understand why it isn’t mentioned in our text?).
Some of the benefits of blogging that Jeff Dunn list are:
- can be collaborative
- helps teachers and students to articulate learning goals and objectives
- provides an authentic learning opportunity
- promotes computer literacy skills
- An excellent way to start ‘networking’; by linking together, writing and reading to researching and learning.
Some of the connections I found between blogging to course objectives and forum topics are:
- Establishes a climate and environment for learning
- enhances motivation
- increases student participation
- uses direct and indirect instructional practices and methods
- uses active and self-directed learning
As a teacher or a student, what’s not to like? No wonder the creation of a blog was a major assignment for this course! I would like to use this entry to delve a little deeper into the heart of blogs and their merits for learning in the classroom.
*poster retrieved from: Edublogs Teacher Challenge
Reflective: I’m pretty excited about blogging and all its benefits, especially for online learners. Having created two blogs now, I am enjoying the further benefits of a sense of achievement and a profound sense of pride. I can tell you (I probably did already!) that there were times in the making of them that I was totally frustrated and overwhelmed and if it wasn’t for a greedy reliance on extrinsic motivation (insider class joke!) I would have thrown it all out the window…but, I persisted and I am glad for it ~ now. As for the frustrating part, that was almost all due to technical/computer stuff, nothing to do with the blogging process itself. Dunn made a statement that I heartily agree with: ‘It’s important not to get distracted by the technology that powers the blogging platform.’ Since there seems to be a wide distribution on the scale of computer skills in a typical class this would be something I would look into before setting it up in my class. A quick survey of blog platform comparisons (see references for site I used) showed WordPress* as having the most desirable features for what I’m looking for (ease and customization capability). From experience I would strongly caution that their ‘themes’ be examined for the capabilities they offer. *Edublogs offers free sites for classroom blogs and is under the WordPress umbrella.
Interpretive: What makes a good ‘student engagement technique?’To answer that it may be helpful to use Elizabeth Barkley’s (Barkley, 2010) definition: ‘Student engagement is a process and a product that is experienced on a continuum and results from the synergistic interaction between motivation and active learning”. Translation: where the magic happens. That interaction just might be working on a blog project that’s of a high interest to the student. You can have a course blog, like the one we did for this class, focused on course topics. There is also the ‘class blog’ that the instructor sets up and monitors, the students check it for updates, and can add posts and comments. There are also learning logs, which are concise, objective and factual in tone, but could be set up like the ‘minute paper’ or ‘muddiest point’.
Decisional: At this point in time I am planning to enter the field of education in ‘Teaching English as a Second Language’ and I will definitely start off my career with a class blog, one that I can use in a career portfolio as well. This will be a blog set up as a newsletter/resource center. There are so many helpful articles out there; I have listed under ‘references’ the ones I used to write this journal. There are also a lot of ESL blogs in use that will be good examples for setting up my own. Something I read or heard someone say regarding technology and teaching was along the lines of: ‘If you’re not up to date with what’s going on in the world and in particular your student’s life ~ then how do you expect to be relevant and authentic in your teaching.’ I think blogging is definitely in the realm of top skills required in the 21st. century. Thanks to PIDP 3250 I have discovered the world of blogging and now ~ nothing will ever be the same again!
*Poster retrieved from: Blogging in the Classroom: A 4-Step guide
Barkley, Elizabeth F., (2010). Student Engagement Techniques, A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Blogging in the Classroom: A 4-Step guide. Retrieved from:
Blogging in the classroom: why your students should write online. Retrieved from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/2012/jul/17/students-should-be-blogging
Blogging Platforms Cross Comparison. Retrieved from:
Check out Class Blogs. Retrieved from:
Edublogs Teacher Challenge. Retrieved from:
Instructional Strategies Online. Retrieved from:
Pros and cons of social media in education. Retrieved from:
June 21, 2013
Often faculty who teach large classes (and some who don’t) fantasize about sitting down and working individually with students. For many of us that’s the ideal teaching scenario, but for most of us teaching realities are far removed from this ideal. You can’t tutor individual students when faced with 100 of them. Or can you?
Biologists Wood and Tanner undertook an interesting project. They decided to look at the research on tutoring to see if the characteristics of effective tutors had been identified. Then they explored whether any of the techniques used by effective tutors could be used by teachers in large courses. In their paper (reference below), “we present specific approaches for adapting effective tutoring strategies and applying them to large biology lecture classes.” (p. 3) Using a set of effective tutor characteristics identified by Lepper and Wolverton (a reference to their research is in the article), Wood and Tanner explore how these seven characteristics can be adapted and used in large lecture courses (and what they propose isn’t applicable just in biology courses). Here are some of the suggestions offered for each tutor characteristic.
Applying characteristics of tutors in a large classroom setting
Intelligent—The best tutors know their content. They are experts in the true sense of the word, but they also know a lot about how students learn and the best ways to teach certain kinds of content. Faculty have that same kind of content expertise, but many don’t know a lot about how students learn and how they should teach, given what is known about how students learn. That knowledge can be acquired (whether you teach large or small classes), and it can be used to successfully implement the strategies about to be described.
Research on effective tutors suggests they talk less and rely more on student talk and explanation. Wood and Tanner discuss the theory of cognitive apprenticeship, in which instructors describe how an expert may have misunderstood or how an expert approached a given problem. This can be helpful to student learning, but only after students have explored their own thinking. So, in those large courses, teachers can use an effective tutoring technique by letting students work on a problem, explaining how an expert might approach the problem, and then letting students work on it some more.
Nurturant—Good tutors establish rapport with students and empathize with students’ struggles to learn. In large classes this means teachers must work to see (or remember) how the content looks to novices. Wood and Tanner call this cultural competence, and describe it as “a commitment to seeing the learning situation from a student perspective.” (p. 7) Class size does not preclude developing this commitment.
Socratic—Any number of studies cited in the article document that the best tutors are typically the ones who tell those they are tutoring almost nothing. In one study, an analysis of transcripts between the tutor and the learner revealed that about 90 percent of the remarks made by the best tutors were questions. In the large lecture, Wood and Tanner defer to technology that makes possible “asking” all sorts of questions, and the technology makes possible a benefit not available to tutors. Possible answers can be discussed with other learners.
Even in large classes, student should have the opportunity to practice. They need time to learn “by actively thinking and doing activities related to the concepts under discussion.” Clicker technology can encourage that kind of thinking and dialogue. It’s hard for teachers to accept, but much research confirms the conclusion of these authors: “Students talking, whether to the instructor or to each other promotes learning.” (p. 7)
Progressive—Expert tutors start out by gaining an accurate picture of students’ understanding or misunderstanding. With that knowledge they proceed progressively to more challenging work in a predictable routine. It’s called “deliberate practice” in the research and involves repetition of problem-solving processes multiple times during the period of instruction.
Too often teachers in large (and not so large) classes assume certain levels of prior knowledge—what they think students should know. Often it’s a recipe for disaster, since understanding the new material depends on mastery of the old. It’s best to use short quizzes, pretests, concept assessments, and other tools to determine levels of understanding and then proceed with the deliberate practice methods. Again technology, as in online course management systems, can offer students those kinds of practice routines. Wood and Tanner recommend homework even in large classes. Students learn when they are dealing with higher-order, conceptually challenging questions and problems. Let their completion of the homework “count” as participation. Don’t grade every piece. Looking at 30 submissions from a 300-student class will identify areas of confusion and levels of understanding.
Indirect—Effective tutors don’t criticize or praise students directly. They draw “attention to errors by implication and through subsequent questioning, so that tutees themselves [have] to reconsider and change their ideas.” (p. 5) Good solutions are praised, but the person who offered the good solution is not. The goal is to avoid teaching in a judgmental atmosphere.
How might a teacher/coach in the large class handle split responses to clicker questions? “Talk with others. Have those around you make the best case for each option. Then argue with those conclusions and see if you can use the discussion to find your way to the right answer.” This tutoring approach promotes learning more effectively than telling students they are wrong or giving them the right answer.
Reflective—Tutors who help students learn are constantly asking them questions about what they are doing and why they are doing it. They’re trying to develop “metacognitive awareness.” Students learn when they have to explain their reasoning.
Can students do this in large classes? Yes. Teachers can ask the question and give students a brief time to reflect. Will they all reflect? Probably not, but some will, and repeatedly asking the question reinforces its importance. Students can also be asked to write online about changes in their thinking. Again, this writing is not for grading or thorough reading. The learning results from the writing. True, students probably need some reward for doing it, but students are motivated to do a lot for a small number of points.
Encouraging—Teachers, whether they’re working with one or 100, encourage students by “being inspiring, enthusiastic, caring, supportive and liberal with positive feedback.” (p. 8) Even in large classes, teachers can present themselves as being committed to students’ success in the course and their mastery of the material it contains. This is about believing in students and expecting the best from them because you are willingly giving them your best.
“In many ways, what promotes student learning with an expert is highly similar to practices that have been shown to be effective in a variety of teaching and learning environments and across disciplinary boundaries.” (p.8)
Reference: Wood, W. B. and Tanner, K. D. (2012). “The role of the lecturer as tutor: Doing what effective tutors do in a large lecture class.” Cell Biology Education—Life Sciences Education, 11 (Spring), 3–9.
Students and teachers have a lot to say. They’re learning things every day and gaining knowledge by the boatload. What better way to express themselves than by blogging? It’s important to not get distracted by the technology that powers the blogging platform. As this visualization from the always wonderful langwitches explains, 21st century skills are learned and enhanced by blogging in the classroom.
This simple and straightforward guide should help any teacher, student, or school administrator considering a start down the blog path. It’s worth printing out and keeping by your classroom computer in case anyone needs a quick refresher on why and how to blog!
An interesting learning theory that has far reaching implications and applications.