Classroom blogging in the service of student-centered pedagogy: Two high school teachers’ use of blogs
Classroom blogs (chronologically-organized series of web-based entries orchestrated by a teacher for his/her classroom) provide a unique vehicle to elicit and hear student voices, yet we know little about how teachers and students actually use this new tool. In this study, two classroom blogs were systematically examined to identify specific ways in which the teacher used it to support, strengthen and transform classroom instruction, and the learning affordances associated with each of these uses. The two classroom blogs examined were set up and maintained by 1) a first-year high school science teacher and 2) a veteran high school mathematics teacher, who chose to use their classroom blog in quite different ways. Six distinct "classroom blogging practices" are identified: (a) sharing resources; (b) responding to teacher prompts; (c) recording lessons' highlights; (c) posting learning challenges; (e) reflecting on what was learned; and (f) engaging in on-line conversations. Based on a content analysis of the two classroom blogs and interviews with the two teachers, considerations are offered about how each of these six complementary uses can offer different sets of learning opportunities for students, and furthermore how realizing these learning opportunities depends on how the blog is structured. These findings suggest that the manner and extent to which blogs can contribute to more engaged and in-depth student participation depends greatly on how a classroom blog is structured and used.
Though calls for reform emphasize the importance of student-centered pedagogy that engages students in constructing their own understanding through active participation in a learning community (e.g. National Research Council, 1996; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000), implementing these recommendations is very challenging even for classroom teachers committed to this pedagogical approach. The increased burdens of standards-based accountability initiatives such as those resulting from the "No Child Left Behind" legislation have further exacerbated these challenges (Settlage & Meadows, 2002). Reform-minded teachers committed to student-centered instruction need support in accomplishing their pedagogical goals. New media literacies and tools such as blogging may offer classroom teachers this type of support as well as new vehicles for student voices to become a more integral part of classroom instruction.
New forms of media literacies have been argued to offer unique and potentially rich learning opportunities as they are the result of a dramatic shift in how we are beginning to interact with one another and what we are coming to value (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006) - as articulated in more detail in the Theoretical Framework section. Blogging can be an avenue for participation aligned with this new mindset, and, as such, it can provide students with new forms of participation, new and broader learning resources and, therefore, a new form of engagement that offers the potential of unique learning opportunities.
A blog is a frequently-updated personal online space (a type of web page) where an author publishes a series of posts, engages others in discussion about her posts, and collects and shares resources. These posts are searchable by categories and archived sometimes over a long period of time, usually in reverse chronological order thus presenting the most recent work first (Nardi, Schiano, & Gumbrecht, 2004). Specifically, in this paper we define "classroom blogs" as blogs that are managed by a teacher for her/his students to post their work, ideas and questions, while allowing peers, parents, experts and/or others outside the classroom walls to engage with this work.
A number of authors have written about the educational value of blogging in general, and classroom blogs more specifically, although with little empirical support (as documented in the Literature Review section). This article contributes to this literature by providing an in-depth descriptive study of two classroom blogs - one managed by a first-year biology teacher and another by a veteran math teacher - based on a systematic content analysis of these blogs, complemented by interview data with each teacher, and informed by the following research questions:
1) How did the teacher structure and use their classroom blog, and why?
2) How did the students actually use the classroom blog?
3) What benefits did the teacher attribute to using the classroom blog?
The ultimate goal of this study is to identify the learning opportunities (or "affordances") associated with specific uses of classroom blogs (rather than blogging more generally), so as to help teachers not only decide whether or not it is worthwhile for them to maintain a classroom blog, but more importantly how such a blog needs to be structured and used in order to achieve the instructional goals they desire. More specifically, this study led us to identify the following six complementary "blogging practices" that were enacted in at least one of the two blogs examined (links to examples of each from Mr. K.'s public blog are provided when available):
a) Sharing resources, i.e., teacher or students posting information and resources related to the course (including links connecting to such resources) on the blog.
b) Eliciting and publishing students' responses to teacher prompts, i.e., teacher posting questions the students are expected to respond to using blog posts or comments.
c) Recording lesson highlights, i.e., students providing summaries of what took place in class as well as explanations of the concepts explored.
d) Posting learning challenges, i.e., teacher posting "extra" problems or questions students may choose to engage in if they want a challenge and inviting students to share their answers/solutions, reasoning, and experiences with the challenge.
e) Reflecting on what was learned, i.e., students posting their reflections on what was learned across a unit as well as how these leaning opportunities were experienced (metacognitive reflections).
f) Engaging in online conversations, i.e., students and teacher engaging in synchronous online informal conversations on-line using chat boxes and often using instant messaging language (Not available for viewing).
Learning affordances specific to each of these blogging practices will be identified and discussed based on the analysis of two classroom blogs. This journal's capability to embed hyperlinks will enable us to provide multiple opportunities for readers to directly access several of the students' blog entries, thus providing a way to personally evaluate the richness and impact of the students' blogging through unique access to students' voices.
It is important to note that, since the six blogging practices identified above emerged from the analysis of only two specific classroom blogs, they do not by any means represent an exhaustive list of all the possible uses of classroom blogs. Rather, we offer them as a starting point for teachers to consider why and how they may want to employ blogs in their classroom and the investment required to reap the benefits documented here. Even more importantly, these findings illustrate the extreme flexibility of classroom blogs as an instructional tool and, thus, suggest that their potential benefits will depend in great measure on how each teacher decides to structure and use her classroom blog.
Reform-based math and science goals. When studying the transformational power of blogging to impact classroom learning, we are grounding our notions of learning in a social constructivist epistemology in which learners bring their prior experiences and understandings to bear on new information through socially-mediated participation in a discourse. In light of this understanding of learning, professional academic organizations are calling for experiences that engage learners centrally in their own learning: experiences that elicit and explicitly build on learners' individual prior understandings, skills and creative expressions; experiences that capitalize on social networks to support interpretation and meaning-making; and experiences that engage learners centrally in the authentic and core practices of the discourse. Specifically, national reform movements in both mathematics and science advocate for student-centered instructional design that results in the following (NRC, 1996; NCTM, 2000):
1. Providing students with opportunities to deepen their understanding of math/science concepts and processes, and the nature of math/science.
2. Engaging students in authentic math/science inquiries.
3. Engaging students in mathematical/scientific discourse.
4. Developing learning communities that can support students' inquiries and learning, as well as their confidence and interest as learners of mathematics/science.
These priorities clearly represent a paradigm shift when compared to the traditional, transmission model of math and science learning most have experienced as learners. New media literacies align well with these priorities and thus provide potential resources for classroom participants to engage in this new form of disciplinary learning and teaching.
Shift in Mindset. New forms of media literacies have been argued to offer classroom stakeholders unique learning opportunities, as these new literacies are the result of a dramatic shift in how we are beginning to interact with one another and what we are coming to value. Specifically this new shift in thinking emphasizes tools for mediating and relating as opposed to tools for producing; focuses on collective intelligence as opposed to individual intelligence; and realizes and values expertise and authority that are distributed as opposed to expertise that is "located" in the individual (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006). These new ways of interacting and valuing foreground and prioritize the social interaction occurring in literacy meaning-making practices, and they do so by capitalizing on the affordances of new technologies (Lankshear & Knobel, 2007).
Introducing this new mindset to the classroom culture, however, has its challenges, as Mary Kalantzis pointed out in her dialogue with Cope and Lankshear (Cope, Kalantzis & Lankshear, 2005). She argued that overcoming the typical channeling of classroom discourse to support students in being both knowledge agents as well as knowledge recipients means challenging the traditional classroom culture in which there is one teacher and thirty students, and most communication is question-answer directed by a teacher or written response for an audience of one - the "teacher-assessor." Capitalizing on new media literacies, therefore, is first about the teacher changing mindsets - conceptualizing a new classroom culture in which interactions and relationships are prioritized. Cope, et al. (2005) say it even stronger: where "knowing each other matters above all other things" (p.202).
Blogging as a New Media Literacy. Blogging can offer new avenues for academic engagement aligned with this new mindset, and, as such, it can provide students with new forms of participation and, therefore, a tool offering unique learning opportunities. First, blogging affords the ability to easily connect ones thoughts to others, to use multiple modalities to share and comment on specific ideas, and to embed the work of others inside the post that is being created facilitate certain practices (Davies & Merchant, 2007). These practices can significantly impact the meaning being made. Another affordance is the unique forms of discourse typically legitimized through blogging; blogs tend to blur the personal with the public and the serious with the frivolous, thus naturally allowing, even encouraging, connection-making between the author's multiple identities (Davies & Merchant, 2007).
Though these affordances appear to be rich in potential to support learning, Cope, et al. (2005) warn us to remember that it is not the tool that affords these new forms of participation; instead it is how this tool is employed by specific users in a specific context.
The thing about all these technologies is that any device which gives human beings another capacity to communicate increases their capacity to do good things and to do bad and silly things. Technology doesn't drive it. It just opens new possibilities, new depths and new shallowness... Like all technology, it just opens up human capacity to do things better and to do things worse" (p. 203).
In the case of classroom blogging, it is clear that, for the classroom to benefit from the affordances, the person who must first shift in mindset must be the teacher. The specific ways in which a teacher designs the instructional use of a classroom blog and the various ways her students respond by engaging with these activity structures will determine the actual learning benefits realized by the students through their engagement in the new media literacy. It is little about the tool; it is all about its use.
The activity of blogging, due to its context and features, has been argued to offer bloggers (the owners/writers of the blogs) access to a number of potentially valuable learning resources (as summarized, for example, in Author, in press). While not all of these benefits may occur for students participating in a classroom blog (as, in this case, each student is not the primary "author" of the blog and thus lacks the control and central positioning identified as one of the most salient affordances of blogging), a number of authors have written specifically about the educational value of using classroom blogs, suggesting the following teaching and learning affordances:
- Facilitating reflection and/or revisions of one's work. The long-term and ongoing access of blog posts makes materials available for subsequent reflection and analysis, allowing for students to revise their work, thus enriching the learning experience (Downes, 2004; Ferdig & Trammell, 2004, Hernandez-Ramos, 2004).
- Extending conversations and interactions outside of the classroom. Blogs offer a venue (an activity and a tool) to extend classroom discussions outside the classroom which has led to increased interaction between students (Weiler, 2003). One teacher blogger argued that his students' understanding of the material and "their personal relationship with it occurred outside of the classroom in the Web log" (Richardson, 2003, p.40). Classroom blogs which encourage (perhaps require) students to read and critique each other's posts have been argued to lead to "deeper and more meaningful interaction than previously afforded during individual journaling" (Poling, 2005, p.14).
- Increasing exposure, accountability and recognition of one's work. Classroom blogs, especially when publicly accessible through the Internet, make student work available for comment and critique by a much broader audience than the teacher. Awareness of an audience larger than the teacher can lead to increased student motivation to produce quality work with respect to content, clarity, and editorial components of their compositions (Carlson, 2003; Downes, 2004: Martindale & Wiley, 2004). When made public, classroom blogs can also allow students to target and craft their writing for different audiences (Carlson, 2003). One teacher writes that interactions with "outside voices" that shared in class discussions led to a more in-depth understanding of the content (Richardson, 2003b).
- Facilitating access to resources. The structure of blogging encourages and enables the integration of other resources (often web-based) that complexifies, in potentially valuable ways, the task of reflection. Hyperlinks stretch outward into the web and bring news stories, comments, research studies, pictures and other content to a student's own composition (Ferdig & Trammell, 2004).
- Participating in professional discourse. Because of the combination of the affordances identified in the previous two points, through their classroom blog students can be involved in reading, critiquing, comparing and contrasting their own as well as other people's work and, thus, situating their own work within a larger discussion (Downes, 2004). Though these arguments suggest the potential of classroom blogs to support student-centered pedagogy on the basis of the features offered by this new technology, with the exception of an empirical study conducted by Hernandez-Ramos (2004), we have found little empirical evidence to support these claims. More systematic studies of classroom blogs are thus called for to further explore and support (or dispute) each of the above claims.
Even more importantly, we should recognize that classroom blogs can take on very different forms depending on how the teacher structures and manages the blogs, as well as on the age of the participating students and the content of the course with which the blog is associated. Therefore it seems important to critically examine examples of classroom blogs, so as to identify the possible features and uses that teachers could capitalize on, as well as to determine the benefits realized by blogging in these specific instances. Indeed, given the extreme flexibility of blogging as an instructional tool and the previously mentioned point made by Cope, et al. (2005) about the importance of looking at the choice made by blogging users, it may be more useful for teachers to know about the learning affordances of specific uses of classroom blogs - what we will be referring to in this study as "blogging practices" - rather than trying to evaluate the potential of classroom blogs in general to support student-centered learning instruction. Our study was designed to respond to this gap in the literature.
Research questions and methodology chosen
Our primary goal of identifying affordances of specific classroom blogging practices to support student-centered instruction called for the in-depth study of at least two different classroom blogs providing rich and varied examples of student participation, informed by the following research questions:
1) How did the teacher structure and use their classroom blog, and why?
2) How did the students actually use the classroom blog?
3) What benefits did the teacher attribute to using the classroom blog?
Furthermore, addressing these questions called for a systematic content analysis of the selected classroom blogs, complemented by an in-depth interview with each teacher (Mr. K published a podcast of his interview with us on his personal professional blog which can be accessed here [links removed temporarily to reserve the anonymity of the author] along with links to resources he referred to in the interview). Given the large amount of materials posted on each classroom blog, we chose to limit our content analysis to the posts and comments posted in the classroom blog throughout an entire curricular unit (which in each case lasted about one month); we believed that doing so would allow us to capture how a teacher incorporated blogs into instruction at different stages of an instructional unit, while at the same time making the amount of data to be analyzed more manageable. During his interview, Mr. K. also directed us to his students' responses to a question he had posted later in the year to elicit students' perceptions of the value of blogging; since Mr. K.'s own perception of the benefits of his classroom blog were clearly influenced by these responses, we chose to include all the students' responses to this question in our analysis as well.
Both the excerpts from the classroom blogs and the teacher interview data were systematically analyzed through a process of coding and looking for patterns and trends, following the basic tenets of grounded theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Using the three research questions as organizers for emergent codes, we considered "teacher use" (after grouping and renaming to best capture emergent themes, sample codes included scribe, probe, resource-sharing, and reminders), "student use" (after grouping and renaming to best capture emergent themes, sample codes included length of post, addressee of post, post vs. comment, and individualized variations in discourse), and "perceived benefits" (after grouping and renaming to best capture emergent themes, sample codes included performance, understanding, community, ownership, and recognition). These categories will be used to organize the findings presented below.
Lincoln and Guba (1985) outline various ways a researcher can increase the trustworthiness of qualitative research by addressing issues of credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability. We have thoughtfully considered each of these in the design and implementation of this study. Specifically we addressed issues of credibility through the triangulation of data sources using two complementary primary data sources (i.e. content of the blogs and interviews with the teachers ) as well as additional secondary data sources to which we were directed through talking with the teachers (e.g. other blogs managed by the same teacher). We addressed issues of transferability by including detailed descriptions of both use and perceived benefits to allow the reader to determine the applicability of these results to another context. Third, we addressed issues of dependability by making constant comparisons between multiple data sources within and across the two cases as well as with the literature, noting and seeking explanations for discrepancies when they arose. Finally, we addressed issues of confirmability by maintaining an "audit trail" of research documents including fieldnotes, coded transcripts and a research journal throughout the duration of the study.
More details on the selection of the classroom blogs studied, data collection and data analysis follow.
Selection of the classroom blogs to be studied
The decision to focus on classroom blogs maintained by high school science and/or mathematics teachers was motivated in part by the researchers' own area of expertise, but even more importantly by the desire to illuminate potential advantages of blogs for all classrooms by exploring the affordances blogging can offer in learning environments that do not typically capitalize on written narrative discourse tools. Therefore, our criteria to select the specific blogs that would be the object of our study were articulated as: 1) managed by a high school math or science teacher; 2) posted to frequently (i.e., at least three times a week); 3) representing a dominant student presence (i.e., more text authored by students than the teacher), and 4) having the teacher blogger willing to participate in an interview.
At the time of our search (October, 2005), using five popular search engines (google.com, dogpile.com, yahoo.com, altavista.com, and ask.com) in addition to our informal knowledge of teacher bloggers, we were able to identify only 17 mathematics or science classroom blogs. Of these, only four met the second and third selection criteria listed above. Only two of the four teachers who managed these blogs were available to be interviewed, and thus, these two blogs became the focus of this case study. While these two blogs turned out to be different in a number of very interesting dimensions (such as the extent of the two teachers' familiarity with blogs, number of years of teaching experience, extent of student-ownership on the content of the blog, and how the blogs was structured and used), it is important to note that the two blogs were not selected a-priori based on these differences.
The first blog we selected was a Biology blog managed by a first-year classroom teacher (Ms. T.) who used this classroom blog with her four different mixed ability Living Environment classes. The second blog was a pre-Calculus blog, managed by a veteran teacher (Mr. K.) who had taught pre-calculus for 12 years and had introduced blogging in his classes the previous year for the first time. Mr. K. used this blog with his eleventh grade Pre-Calculus class, but he also had separate blogs for his two other classes, Pre-Calculus (10th grade) and AP Calculus as well as one he used to reflect more generally on his math teaching.
As mentioned earlier, the two main sources of data used in this study were (a) an in-depth interview conducted with each teacher, and (b) the posts and comments posted in the classroom blog throughout an entire curricular unit. More information about each of these data sources is provided below.
(a) Teachers' interviews. Each teacher was asked about their blogging practices and key decisions in a semi-structured interview informed by the following key questions:
o How does blogging support your work as a teacher?
o Can you describe for me your blogging practices?
o Are there other ways other than blogging to accomplish the same results with your students? Please explain.
o Please describe the instructional ways you use blogs.
o Please describe the logistics of blogging with your students.
o Who do you feel this blog is intended for?
o Which month/unit do you think best showcases the ways you use your blog?
The interview with Ms. T. was conducted in person. The interview with Mr. K. was conducted using audio conferencing capabilities through a computer program called Skype (www.skype.com), which allowed Mr. K. to direct the interviewer to specific pages on his blogs to see concrete examples to back up his thoughts and ideas. Both interviews were transcribed verbatim. As mentioned earlier, as part of this interview Mr. K. directed us to his students' responses to the question, "What if your blog was gone?" which resulting in 18 student comments (for a total of 324 lines); we printed all these responses and included them in the data to be systematically examined.
(b) Posts and comments posted in one curricular unit. Based on the teachers' responses to the last interview question, we selected for our in-depth analysis the Reproduction unit in Ms. T. class (which lasted about a month and included 626 lines of text) and the Analytic Geometry unit in Mr. K.'s class (which also lasted about a month and included 1,292 lines of text). The blog components corresponding to each of these units were "transcribed," copied and pasted into a Word document including a screen shot of the homepage for the given time period, to ensure that the data would not change during the time of analysis.
Both the interview data and selected blog excerpts were systematically analyzed by the two researchers to address each of the three research questions, as described below.
1) How did the teacher structure and use their classroom blog, and why?
After reading through the blog excerpts and interview transcripts for each teacher, we identified the following key blogging practices employed in each blog:
- Ms. T.:
- Posting information and (links to) resources relevant for the course;
- Students' responses to teacher's prompts.
- Mr. K.:
- Posting information and (links to) resources relevant for the course;
- Students' responses to teacher's prompts;
- Posting daily lessons highlights ("Scribe posts"), each prepared by a student assigned as the "Scribe of the day;"
- Posting weekly learning challenges ("Sunday Game Post");
- Posting students' reflections on what they learned before each test ("Post before the test");
- Engaging in on-line conversations supported by a Chat Box feature.
- Publicly recognizing the value and impact of students work
For each of these blogging practices we (a) identified all instances in the interview transcripts where the teacher provided details about and/or explained the rationale for his/her decisions, and (b) identified all the blog segments in the selected unit illustrating this specific use. For each teacher, the interview and blog segments related to each blogging practice were further reviewed, and an in-depth description of this specific use of the classroom blog and its rationale prepared (as reported in the Findings).
We also identified all segments of the interview where the teacher expressed their reasons and goals for setting up and maintaining a classroom blog for their classes more generally. In addition, our initial reading of the data suggested the importance of looking at the decisions each teacher made with respect to (1) whether students could or not maintain anonymity, and (2) whether the blog should remain private or be publicly accessible on the Internet. Interview data addressing each of these issues for each teacher was also identified, and further reviewed so as to be able to articulate each teacher's rationale with respect to these important decisions.
2) How did the students actually use the classroom blog?
First, some descriptive statistics were generated with respect to patterns of use in terms of number of posts, comments, and lines of texts contributed by students and teacher, respectively, within each of the selected units. In addition, the selected unit on each blog was examined to identify instances of the use of each of the key blogging practices employed by that teacher (as identified earlier). For each blogging practice, the instances thus collected were then examined to describe the students' use of that feature. When appropriate, students' work was examined in more depth by developing and using codes relevant to that particular example (note: these codes and their rationale will be introduced "in context" when reporting these results in the Findings section). This information was also complemented by any explicit references the teacher made in his/her interview to how students used a specific blogging practice.
3) What benefits did the teacher attribute to using the classroom blog?
First, any interview segment where a teacher reported on what s/he perceived as benefits derived from using the blog was identified. For each teacher, these excerpts were then coded independently by the two researchers, using an initial set of codes informed by a first reading of the data and the literature (i.e., enrichment; integration of technology; reflection; student choice; learning community; collaborative learning; students positively reinforcing each others' work; students learning from each others; teacher-student interaction; motivating students to complete high quality work; relation of science to real world; incorporating prior knowledge; links to websites), keeping open the possibility of refining and adding to this first list. Based on the results of this first coding, the following broader categories of "perceived benefits" were identified and used to organize and report on key findings:
o Developing classroom community
o Encouraging students' voice
o Providing students with opportunities to better understand and learn the material
o Providing students with opportunities for ownership and recognition of their learning
o Learning to operate judiciously in online environments
o Providing the teacher with a window into student thinking
Since Mr. K. referred us to his students' responses to the post "What if your blog was gone?" as he shared what he perceived were the main benefits derived from his classroom blog, these students' responses were also coded. In this case, the initial set of codes included multiple dimensions - as in addition to various categories of learning outcomes emerging from the data (as listed along the columns of Figure 2), students' posts were also coded with respect to whether they referred to the classroom blog in general, or to specific blogging practices within it. Key findings will again be reported using the broader categories of "perceived benefits" identified from the analysis of the teachers' interviews as well as a few additional ones suggested by the students' themselves.
The Findings section is organized into two primary sub-sections, one for each classroom blog, beginning with the one maintained by the first-year science teacher, Ms. T. For each blog, we will first describe how the teacher structured its use, why, and how students used the opportunities thus offered (thus combining our findings about research questions #1 and #2); we then report on the teacher's perceptions about the benefits of using their blog (research question #3). By doing so, we hope to provide a rich image of each blog in its entirety. In the Discussion section that follows, we will focus instead on the set of learning affordances corresponding to each specific "classroom blogging practices" illustrated in these examples.
Since Ms. T.'s blog was not publicly shared on the Internet, we have reproduced excerpts of her students' blogging entries in the text of the article; as Mr. K.'s blog is instead publicly accessible through the Internet, we have been able to direct the reader to specific illustrations through hyperlinks.
Ms. T.'s Classroom Blog
1) How did the teacher structure and use their classroom blog, and why? ? How did the students actually use the classroom blog?
Ms. T. reported in her interview that the main motivation in starting a classroom blog was her desire to "extend and enrich" classroom conversations outside the four walls and 50-minute period of class meetings. She also explained that her intention was for the students to use her blogging assignments as opportunities to express themselves in a variety of ways:
So they are not constricted to what is appropriate to the classroom and they can really speak their mind. I like classroom activities the same as any other classroom teacher, but I know that sometimes they feel they are limited in their speech and this is a much more open forum for them (interview, January 23, 2006).
As she set up her classroom blog, Ms. T. made the following critical decisions:
o Anonymity option: To make it simpler for the students, the blog was set up to allow students to respond to teachers' prompts through the comments feature without logging in with a pre-determined personalized account; therefore, any comment was posted to the class blog as "anonymous" unless they chose to add their name. Ms. T. described this feature in the post of the first assignment, with a follow up request: "So please type in your first name and last initial to receive total credit for the assignment." If students chose not to (or forgot to) follow this direction, Ms. T. had no way of knowing who the author of a given comment was.
o Public vs. private: Ms. T. chose not to make her blog public (i.e., the only people who could read and contribute to the classroom blog were herself, her students and specific individuals she gave access to). She explained that she did so mainly because it was her first time using blogs in her classroom and she felt that was "safer;" however, she also shared that she was considering making a different decision in the future.
In the Reproduction unit analyzed for this study, as well as throughout the year, Ms. T. essentially used the blog in two ways as described below.
i) Sharing resources. Ms. T. used her blog as a consistent place where students could access vocabulary lists and review sheets for each unit in the course. In Ms. T.'s own language, she used her blog as a "way to remind them of things." At the end of the Reproduction unit, for example, Ms. T. posted a blog entry to help students prepare for their midterm exam that listed the "Key ideas you should know well!" For this unit, she listed asexual versus sexual reproduction, types of asexual reproduction, mitosis versus meiosis, sex organs, the path of sperm and eggs, embryonic development, fetal development, prenatal testing, and cancer. "Make sure you cover all of this when you study!" Ms. T. developed these routines (posting reviews, vocabularies and reminders for each unit) to offer students predictable ways to access these different aides when she was not available at the time they may need it most.
In addition to unit specific resources, like most blogs, Ms. T.'s blog contained a collection of links to more general science education resources such as "Giant Microbes" (stuffed animals that look like tiny microbes), "How stuff works" (website targeted to young people that tells how a wide range of "stuff works"), and "I was wondering" (web resource for middle schoolers highlighting contemporary women scientists). These links gave students access to other venues to explore as an extension to their science learning.
ii) Student responses to teacher's prompts. During this unit, Ms. T. posted three key questions that students were expected to respond to using the comments feature:
1) Why should we continue to do research on cloning when so many people are against the idea?
2) What is the importance / significance of sexual reproduction? & How is meiosis different from mitosis?
3) Should we harvest stem cells for research on diseases or organ transplants?
The first two questions were required work for students, and were titled "Reproduction Unit Assignment 1" and "Reproduction Unit Assignment 2" respectively. The last question (titled "Stem Cell Issues") was instead added in response to an opportunity the teacher recognized in-class and decided to act on, without the expectation that all students would respond to it:
The stem cell thing, we were talking about it in class one day, and my students started firing back and forth to each other and I said, "Great, let's make this a debate on the blog." So that was really them, and they got to choose that topic. It was totally student-driven (Ms. T., interview).
Almost all students responded to the first two questions (which were required), while only 11 (representing about 15% of the students in the three classes sharing this blog) responded to the third prompt, which was not required. In the case of all questions, almost all the responses were "on task" (144 out of 149); it is worth noting that all the 5 off-task comments were anonymous. In all cases, students' responses were very short (with an average of about 3 lines, and more than half of the students' comments being 1-2 lines), although most students did more than just stating an opinion, as illustrated by the following example:
i dont think that we should do clonning, because our scientist will probly discover a way to corectly clone humans and mamals, meaning make them have the same of a chance to surive as their "parent". And if we had the power to clone the "perfect" human o mamal or plant or anything.. then they will over power the rest of the world. And clonning gets ride of the variation within a species.
Student responses varied in a number of important ways with respect to format, thus showing that they could indeed capitalize on the opportunities offered by blog to "express themselves" as identified by Ms. T. in her interview. For example, the student comment reproduced below was published in the student's native language, Spanish; because the communication was digital, Ms. T. was able to copy and paste the student's writing into a translation software program and continue the discussion with her. Translated, the student's response to the cloning question was the following:
I think it's a great scientific discovery but that many people are forgetting the meaning of being human beings. We are destroying feelings, ethics, morals. I don't think the idea of cloning a person who has died much less one who is alive is fair/correct/just (original Spanish term used by the student: "justo").
Students also sometimes used less formal "student-expressions" such as instant messaging (IM) acronyms (e.g., IDC for "I don't care"), which are familiar to and therefore comfortable for many teens, although not usually considered an accepted form of expression in traditional classroom exchanges (such as submitted written homework).
Students primarily directed their answers to their teacher, and there was little interaction or comments across students.
3) What benefits did the teacher attribute to using the classroom blog?
Overall, Ms. T. was pleased with the amount of student participation on the blog during this unit and what it accomplished. Her interview suggests that she identified two primary benefits from using her classroom blog: 1) developing community, and 2) encouraging students' voice - as discussed in more detail below. While she implicitly identified the capacity of blogging to extend interaction beyond class time as one of the main motivations behind her decision to establish a classroom blog, Ms. T. did not explicitly discuss this as one of her perceived benefits.
Developing Community. Ms. T. identified an increase in student interaction both in-class and online due to students' interactions on the blog and saw this as a significant benefit of classroom blogging:
I see students talking outside of class that may not normally talk outside of class with each other so they broaden their social horizons a bit. I see students who do not normally talk together in class conversing a little bit more together. (interview, January 17, 2006).
When asked if she noticed any difference in the participation of the "quieter" students, her response was, "much, much more." Ms. T. credited the classroom blog for "breaking the ice" and thus freeing these students from their fear of "speaking up" in class. She identified two groups of students who especially benefited in this way: students who recently transferred into her school and class, and students whose primary language was not English. In addition to the Spanish-speaking student that participated on the blog in her native tongue, as mentioned earlier, Ms. T. reported that another student (Korean), who was studying English concurrently with Biology, felt more comfortable participating online than other forms of academic dialogue. As Ms. T. recognized these students' competence with the thinking involved in her class, she also noticed the lack of success they were experiencing in class because of the language barrier. She clearly valued the options the digital forum gave these students that resulted in them being able to have their thoughtful work recognized.
Encouraging Students' Voice. Ms. T. had identified using a classroom blog as a way to offer an extension to classroom discussions that allowed students to participate in ways that were more natural to them - in language that was "freer" and through a medium (technology) that was more familiar - as one of her primary motivations, and she felt that her expectations in this regard had been met. She described her students as "really getting into it [blogging] and having fun with it" and the classroom blog as "a good place for them to articulate what they think" and "a good way to draw them into other areas of science and other issues in contemporary science."
Mr. K.'s Classroom Blog
1) How did the teacher structure and use the classroom blog, and why? How did the students actually use the blog?
Teaching an eleventh grade pre-calculus class for the 13th year, Mr. K. introduced his students to classroom blogging as a way primarily to support their mathematical learning. Concerned about the fast pace of a semester course, Mr. K. hoped that the blog would give his students additional opportunities to engage with the course concepts by giving them more time and different modes of participation. He also hoped that through the classroom blog students would begin to use each other as learning resources and would engage in reflections, as he stated, "I also wanted to encourage students to think about what they are learning."
In setting up his classroom blog, Mr. K. made the following decisions:
o Anonymity option. Mr. K. set up his classroom blog in such a way that students could log in and participate in a way that identifies them (and their participation) by name (first name and last initial) or students could choose to log in and comment anonymously. As one of the initial reasons Mr. K. began blogging with his students was to give the "quieter" students a voice through a different form of participation, he thought some of those students may prefer anonymity especially if they were asking questions they had not felt comfortable raising in class.
o Making the blog public. Mr. K. chose to post his classroom blog on the Internet, so that it would be publicly accessible. Despite the inevitable risks involved in doing so, he felt it was critical for his students to experience this global participation. To emphasize the existence of a wider audience, at some point in the year he added a "visitor's map" to his blog which visually pin-pointed the origins of the last 20 people who have looked at their blog. On a few occasions, Mr. K. also publicly recognized the impact of students' collective blogging work by sharing news of others using their blog. This public presence also brought about the opportunity - and the necessity - for Mr. K. to address issues of responsibility and safety in an Internet-based public forum. At the beginning of the course, he had very explicit conversations with his students, both online and in class about appropriate participation on the Internet. For example, at the very beginning of the year he posted the following warning to the class blog including four guidelines and links to guidelines other teachers had posted for their student bloggers:
Blogging is a very public activity. Anything that gets posted on the internet stays there. Forever. Deleting a post simply removes it from the blog it was posted to. Copies of the post may exist scattered all over the internet. I have come across posts from my students on blogs as far away as Sweden! That is why we are being so careful to respect your privacy and using first names only. We do not use pictures of ourselves. If you really want a graphic image associated with your posting use an avatar -- a picture of something that represents you but IS NOT of you (teacher post, emphasis his).
The unit we analyzed focused on Analytical Geometry, and it lasted 27 days (from the end of October to the end of November). In this time period there were 1,292 lines of text written on the blog; 30 posts by students; 11 posts by Mr. K.; 26 comments from students; and 3 comments from Mr. K. Assuming the comments posted as "anonymous" were written by a student (which seems likely from the content), 10 of the 26 comments written by a student were anonymous; 5 of these 10 anonymous comments were directed toward other students (two offered praise, one was teasing in nature, and two asked for clarification) and the other five were directed to the teacher.
Mr. K. structured his blog to support his students' mathematical learning to include six complementary uses, as described in detail below:
(i) Sharing resources. Like Ms. T., Mr. K. wanted to use the classroom blog as a repository of resources and information the class could easily access (See this post for example - note both the hyperlinked resources as well as the resource provided through comments). Indeed, within the month-long Analytic Geometry unit we examined, 3 of the 13 posts authored by Mr. K. consisted of collections of math-specific resources such as reviews or tutorials. For example, in a post published one week before the unit test, Mr. K. posted a collection of 14 web links to various Internet-based resources such as quizzes and tutorials with short one-sentence, narrative descriptions of what each resource offered.
Unlike Ms. T., however, Mr. K. envisioned his students as well as himself contributing these resources, and provided them with some tools to do so effectively. In his interview, Mr. K. reported how he saw many students sharing links to online math resources in the blog, but then finding it difficult to go back and find those links. To solve this problem, he decided to introduce his class to the "social bookmarking" program called Del.ic.ious - a tool and practice in which people (in this case, members of the class) can share personal collections of favorite websites by using a common keyword called a "tag" to search; in this case the tag was the name of their course - prec (for pre-calculus).
While the data we collected did not allow us to directly measure the extent to which students used the resources posted on the classroom blog, their comments about the value of blogs (as summarized later) and the teacher's comments in the interview suggest that both students and teachers valued this feature of their classroom blog.
(ii) Responding to teacher's prompts. Although Mr. K. did not use this practice often or systematically, occasionally he posted questions or prompts for his students on the blog. While there were no instances of "responding to teacher's prompts" in the specific unit we examined, the students' responses to the question, "What if your blog was gone?" (to which Mr. K. directed us in his interview) is also an example of this blogging practice.
(iii) Recording lessons' highlights ("Scribe posts"). Mr. K. required one student each day to document the lesson's highlights on the class blog. He described the assignment of daily scribing as a way to co-construct a pre-calculus textbook in student language, which will benefit more than their own class - as other people all around the world would be able to access their work. The student in charge was given complete freedom as to how to design this post and what to include, although Mr. K. introduced his students to a number of on-line software tools (such as TI Graphlink and Paint) that facilitated the creation of graphs and formula. At the end of each scribe post, the student was expected to identify a classmate to be the scribe for the next day; Mr. K. structured the assignment in this way was so as to require students to check the classroom blog everyday, if only to find out who was in charge of this classroom responsibility the following day, thus developing a habit for the students of reading the blog daily.
Mr. K. also encouraged scribe posts to be edited by other students, as he offered students the option to go back and read all the relevant scribe posts before a test, and point out any mistakes or shortcoming, for extra credits or as an alternative way to fulfill the Post before the test' assignment described below. When corrections were suggested, those would have to be discussed with Mr. K. and the original author before the editing was finalized and posted.
The following posts provide some typical examples; student scribe posts for the Analytic Geometry unit range in length from 14 to138 lines, with an average of 47.23 lines, 3.46 embedded images per post, 0.15 embedded links in each post, and 0.85 student comments per post.
As illustrated by this example, students made good use of the formatting tools introduced by Mr. K as well as interspersed their own commentary and voices among their mathematical summaries. A sense of the class as audience was standard, as almost all the scribe posts in this unit evidenced a sense of communal responsibility and accountability both for quality and timeliness for these posts. Indirect evidence of this sense of accountability can be seen in the consistent high quality of the work (length of posts, thoroughness of descriptions, sophistication of embedded images such as equations and graphs). In addition to this compelling yet indirect evidence are the direct comments students made to one another about their work or lack thereof - as shown in the previous illustrations. Two more scribe post examples can be seen here or here.
(iv) Reflecting on what was learned ("Post before the Test'). Another formal blogging requirement involved every student posting a reflection the day before each test. Mr. K. gave students a list of six issues as suggested topics for writing this post: a reflection on a particular class, a reflection on progress in the course, a comment on something the student learned that she thought was "cool," a comment about something the student found difficult, a description of a connection to real life, and/or responses to a specific prompt posted by Mr. K. Students were allowed to address any or all of these six "topics." Students also had the option to substitute this reflective post with reviewing and possibly editing the "scribe posts" related to the materials covered in the test.
In these posts (for which Mr. K. reported close to 100% participation), students typically listed topics of the unit they felt they had a strong command of, topics they continued to wrestle with, advice and reminders for their peers about solving certain types of problems, and "Good Luck" wishes to everyone to do well on the test - as illustrated by the 11 final reflection posts for this unit of study. These posts all include aspects of metacognition and self-reflection, recognition of personal accomplishments, failures, and understandings, and awareness of and encouragement for a known audience (namely, their classmates and teacher). These posts have a strong social component as each and every post included either reminders or encouragement for the class or both.
(v) Posting learning challenges ("Sunday Game Post') Each Sunday night, Mr. K. posted a new problem solving game for students to try. Though not a requirement of the class, students could give the online game a try and if they chose leave a comment about their impressions and success with the experience. During this month-long unit, Mr. K. faithfully posted a different game each of the four weeks. Three of the four games included a brief introduction written by Mr. K., while the fourth consisted of just the game.
Given students' few comments on these games, it is difficult to assess the extent to which Mr. K.'s students took advantage of this learning opportunity. It's interesting to note, though, that one student did not post a scribe post this unit, yet he posted comments to two of the four games.
(vi) Engaging in on-line conversations ("chat" feature). When Mr. K. first instituted a classroom blog, he was receiving 60 or more emails a night in the form of blog comments that needed to be moderated - many of which were short and conversational in nature such as "LOL" (laugh out loud). As he noticed that some students were using the blog like a chat room, he researched and installed a Chat Box that allowed synchronous communication on the class blog. This new featured was intended to encourage students to use this space to help each other with nightly homework or even for more informal communication - without the need of the teacher to intervene.
The majority of the on-line conversations took place on the Chat Box, although occasionally we found some conversations taking place on the blog between Mr. K. and a student regarding questions on the homework – as illustrated by this exchange of comments. While Chat Box data were not available for our analysis, Mr. K. commented that students primarily and regularly used the Chat Box to solicit and offer each other individualized help. He said that he would sometimes offer assistance through this medium, but the majority of the time students helped their peers.
Change over time. It is also worth noting that Mr. K.'s structure and use of his classroom blog, as described in this study, was the result of significant modifications compared to the previous year, when Mr. K. used classroom blogs for the first time. Interestingly, Mr. K.'s first attempt at using a classroom blog presented some similarities with Ms. T.'s blog, as it focused more on responses to teacher prompts and resource sharing, as well as reflective posts, and did not have features such as the scribe posts, Sunday Game Posts and use of the Chat Box and Del.ic.ious:
if you look at Pre-Cal 40S, my first blog, you will see that the dominant voice is mine and most of the posts are written by me. While students do participate, its mostly in the comments. They do write their pre-test reflective post but they don't really totally buy into it. If you read any of my current blogs, you will see that the students have really taken ownership of the space. If you start reading through the posts there you will not see my voice as the dominant voice. As a matter of fact, you will see that the student's voices predominate.
Mr. K. also shared that the evolution of his classroom blog was the result of seeing how his students used the blog and trying to respond to that: "...(the variety of ways the blog is used now has) really exploded now ... mostly because the kids push me..." (interview).
3) What benefits did the teacher attribute to using the classroom blog?
Since Mr. K. initially deferred to the comments of his students when asked about what he perceived as the main benefits of his classroom blog, we will begin this section by reporting on the analysis of the students' responses to the questions "Is our classroom blog valuable to you? If yes, how so?" and "How would you feel if our blog suddenly went offline and couldn't be recovered?"
Eighteen students published responses to the above teacher-posed questions, for a total of 87 comments, revealing a thoughtful consideration of both the benefits of blogging and the reasons their classroom blogging led to these benefits. These comments are all still publicly accessible. Though 7 of the 18 students shared they found blogging initially difficult or unappealing, they also reported developing an appreciation for its existence. In a student's own words, "At first, the blog was really confusing for me, because I had never learned like that before. It took some getting used to, but I am glad I stuck with it, because now, I can't live without it."
Quantitative results of the coding of the students' comments (based on codes that emerged from a first reading of these data) are summarized in Figure 1 below.
The following qualitative considerations are organized around the same themes used for reporting the teachers' perceived benefits.
Deepening understanding of course content. All but one student described how participation in classroom blogging supported their performance in math class (12 students), their learning and understanding of specific math concepts (13 students), or both (9 students). Comments coded as "performance" included things such as staying up-to-date with class work and homework, effectively studying for and performing on tests, and earning high marks. Students felt strongly that the classroom blog was vital to their success in their math class. One student went so far to say he would drop the class if the blog went offline!
Beyond performance, many student comments focused more explicitly on how the blog contributed to their learning or understanding of mathematics concepts. Students most often connected support for their understanding with increased access to resources and access to students' perspectives and support.
Beyond referring to the blog in general as supportive to student learning (7 comments) specific uses of the classroom blog that students identified as explicitly supporting their learning and understanding were the scribe posts written by their peers on particular topics (5 comments), access to resources such as the class's list of hyperlinked resources (2 comments), and the chat box in which students answered other students' questions, often pertaining to certain homework problems (2 comments).
Developing community. 11 students also mentioned their participation in a community of learners through the blog as an important benefit of their classroom blog.
Providing opportunities for ownership and recognition of one's learning. Half of the students who responded to the questions (9 students) described their classroom blog as a product of their entire class's effort and energy. Consistently using language such as "we" and "our" to describe both the investment and the ownership of this ever-evolving "final product," students emphasized its value and potential value for its own core class members as well as a more global community.
In addition, three students commented on the opportunity the blog offers to demonstrate and be recognized for their understanding. As an example, one student wrote, "being the scribe is a big opportunity to me to show how i understand the lesson for that day." It is worth noting that the 'scribe post' feature figures prominently in all of these comments, whether explicitly or implicitly.
In addition to the three categories of benefits identified by his students, Mr. K. discussed additional ones, as discussed below.
Deepening understanding of course content. Though not the primary focus of many of his comments during the interview (perhaps because students' comments addressed them), increasing students' learning and understanding were clearly important outcomes for Mr. K., as for example he described the value of the links to the web-based animations he provided through the blog as ways to provide demonstrations not available in the classroom, and he also pointed out that "Kids are reflecting about their work." Most importantly, he identified the "scribe posts' as the feature that allowed students to provide their own interpretation and meaning for complex concepts and procedures using their own language.
Developing community and providing opportunities for student ownership and recognition of learning. Mr. K. identified affordances to support interaction and community-building among class members as especially valuable. First, Mr. K. believed that participation on the class blog led to a quicker bond among students and between students and him in class:
I've got much more class participation. Kids buy into the class and I'm able to build a rapport and create a group from a bunch of individuals much more quickly that ever in the past. My first blog, the Pre-Cal 40S blog, by day three the kids were interacting with me and asking me questions and really, really engaging me because of a post that I had written on the blog about asking questions, that that's what I would really like them to do. Typically that can take weeks before kids reach that comfort level but the kids respond instantaneously to the stuff I post on the blog.
As mentioned earlier, one of Mr. K.'s articulated goals for his classroom blog was to help students see and use each other as learning resources. He perceived this to have happened through the blog in a number of ways: first, through the chat box, students helped one another on coursework related to scribe posts: "I think this was a success for the kids when on a Saturday night, kids are talking in the chat box and they're talking about math." He also reported that a student who understood the programming language of the blogging tool realized his peers were struggling with it, and so he voluntarily constructed and published a tutorial for his classmates to help them: "He did not do this for marks; he saw that there was a need in the community and he responded to it." Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Mr. K. pointed to the opportunities provided by the scribe posts to publicly support, encourage and praise each other for their development as math learners. Mr. K. described student blogging this way: "They love it! This is their grammar, this is how they talk to each other and this is how they relate to each other. This is how they build their communities."
Learning to communicate on line. As previously stated, high school students are being called Generation M, the group of young people between 8 and 18 who are deeply steeped in a technology media-rich world. Mr. K. hoped to capitalize on these interests and literacies to support their math learning; however, through this work, he identified a problem that is of serious concern, his students' uninformed (and therefore dangerous) out-of-school participation in online practices such as blogs and instant messaging:
So the kids are doing this and they're doing it anyways. They're doing it out of school and unsupervised, they're doing some really stupid things because no one is giving them an example or a model. Like when you write sometime on the internet, that goes out there forever. If you put your name on it and ten years down the road you get Googled as an employer is looking you up as a perspective employee and they see sometime stupid you have written, they may ignore the date. Kids don't think about stuff like that and they need to be told about that.
In response, Mr. K. used classroom blogging as an opportunity to explicitly address issues of responsibility, appropriateness, potential impact, and safety with respect to online participation. Mr. K. felt that these conversations and opportunities opened students' eyes to important issues related to participating in an online, public forum such as the blog.
Providing a window on student thinking for the teacher. Finally, Mr. K. argued that the blog helped him in his professional work: "It certainly has improved my teaching." Besides allowing him a venue to make a wide variety of activities, resources, and thus ways of participating available to his students, he most valued the insight he gained through reading his students' math writing:
Having the scribe post has allowed me really deep insight into one kids head every day. Usually when you have a struggling student, you ask them if they understand what is going on and their first response is no I don't understand anything. But when the kids have to scribe what happened in class today, they're forced to wrestle with the material and try to present the best they can what they do understand.
The blog offered an unusual and insightful window into students' thinking as they put their best foot forward with respect to their conceptual understanding for the benefit of peers as well as a broader public audience.
As a part of another study we conducted to gain Mr. K's perspectives on classroom blogging, he responded to interview questions using a relatively new technology called a voicethread which collects multiple people's oral perspectives on a given concept that is illustrated by an image in the center of the screen. We encourage our readers to view, listen and contribute to the conversation begun here.
The two examples we have examined illustrate how classroom blogs can be set up and used to effectively support student-centered and reform-based pedagogy in math and science classrooms, even by first year teachers (and bloggers). Yet the two blogs featured in this study differed considerably in terms of the extent of students' participation and "transformative nature" of classroom interactions, as a result of different structures and choices made by each teacher in terms of how the blogs was set-up, used, and made available to students.
To make these differences and their implications more evident, in Figure 2 we have summarized our key findings in terms of the learning and teaching affordances associated with specific blogging practices observed within Ms. T.'s and Mr. K.'s classroom blogs, respectively. The list of affordances used for this analysis was derived from the combination of (a) affordances associated with the four key goals of reform-based math and science instruction, as identified earlier in the Theoretical Framework section (i.e., deepening students' understanding of math/science concepts and processes, as well as the nature of the discipline; engaging in math/science inquiry; engaging in math/science conversations; developing learning communities that can support students' learning and inquiry), (b) affordances of classroom blogs hypothesized in the literature, as also identified in the Literature Review section (i.e., extending interaction beyond class time; providing access to resources; providing opportunities for reflection and revision of one's work; providing opportunities for ownership and recognition of one's work; providing opportunities for participation in professional discourse), and (c) other affordances identified explicitly by at least one of the two teachers (i.e., encouraging student voice - identified by Ms. T., and enabling the teacher to gain a unique window into student thinking - identified by Mr. K.).
In what follows, we complement the information reported in Figure 2 with a more in-depth discussion of what we learned about the potential and limitations of each of the six blogging practices identified in this study, as well as the affordances offered by classroom blogs more generally. As a reminder, illustrations of the first two blogging practices were found in both blogs (although implemented in quite different ways), while the other four blogging practices were present in Mr. K.'s classroom blog only. This finding, combined with Mr. K.'s own disclosure about how he structured his classroom blog the first time, suggests that sharing resources and posting students' responses to teacher's prompts may be the most intuitive blogging practices for teachers to implement, especially when starting to use classroom blogs for the first time.
To avoid repetition, we also would like to point out that extending class time and encouraging student voice can be considered as two affordances offered (at least to some extent) by any blogging practice, as the act of maintaining a classroom blog in which students are expected to participate by itself will provide students and teachers with some new opportunities to extend their interaction beyond the constraints of what may take place in class, as well as to express themselves more freely - especially when the option of posting some of their comments anonymously is offered. Similarly, the opportunity to help students learn to operate in an online environment, which Mr. K. considered a very important benefit of his classroom blog, could only occur when the classroom blog is publicly posted on the Internet (like Mr. K. and unlike Ms. T.), and furthermore will depend more on how the teacher decides to deal with this issue with his/her students, rather than specific ways of using and structuring the classroom blog itself.
a) Sharing resources: Both Ms. T. and Mr. K. used their classroom blog to post information and resources related to the course, and found this valuable. However, the teacher was the only one posting this information in Ms. T.'s class, while Mr. K.'s students actively contributed links to new resources they found on the Internet; furthermore, Mr. K. provided his students with a valuable tool to organize and more easily retrieve this information (Del.ic.ious). As a result, while through this blogging practice both blogs offered students some valuable opportunities with respect to access to resources and extending class time, and, thus, hopefully also increased understanding of the materials covered in the course, only Mr. K.'s blog provided students with affordances with respect to ownership and recognition.
b) Posting students' responses to prompts: Although this practice was central to Ms. T.'s use of her classroom blog, and more peripheral in Mr. K.'s blog, both cases suggest similar values and limitations for this blogging practice - which is probably one of the first uses of classroom blogging teachers may think of. The specific students' responses analyzed in Ms. T.'s blog, for example, show that students took good advantage of the opportunities her questions offered to engage more deeply with the material, thus increasing their understanding of both specific content and the nature of their discipline while also finding a venue to express their own voice. These responses certainly provided a benefit to the teacher, by providing a window into her students' thinking - something Mr. K., too, benefited from as a result of his students' responses to the questions about the value of blogging, even if not focused on specific "content'. While some of the claims found in the literature on blogging suggest that posting students' responses could have the additional advantage of engaging students in mathematical or scientific discussions, unfortunately we have little evidence that this was indeed the case, as students posted very few comments on each others' responses and it is not even clear how many students in Ms. T.'s class really took the time to read each others' work. This may in part be due to the fact that the original prompt always came from the teacher, rather than some of the students' themselves. Also, since there was little reason or incentive for the students to go back to reflect and revise their responses, this potential benefit of blogging was not realized in the examples we examined.
c) Recording lessons' highlights: This blogging practice was central to Mr. K.'s classroom blog, as reflected by the number of students' comments about the benefits of blogging that specifically mentioned the "scribe posts', as reported earlier in Figure 2. Our analysis of both students' responses and teacher's interview data also suggests that this practice offered all but two of the desirable affordances reported in Figure 3. It is also worth noting that the two exceptions - i.e., participating in professional discourse and engaging in inquiry -- were also the only two affordances in our list we could not associate to any of the blogging practices identified in the two classroom blogs. There were a number of decisions Mr. K. made in structuring the "scribe posts' that seem to have contributed significantly to this result. First of all, he had the students taking turns in providing each lesson's highlight - thus providing each student in the class with a unique opportunity to make sense of the materials and communicate it to others in potentially a simpler way (increasing understanding), as well as to display and have his/her learning publicly recognized (ownership & recognition); it is clear from the data that students indeed took this task seriously and saw the rest of the class - and even the world! - as their primary audience. Mr. K. also created systems that provided incentives to students to read these posts, and even work at improving them - as the fact that each scribe of the day would announce the name of the next person taking on that responsibility, and the option to review and revise scribe posts for extra-credits or in substitution for another assignment - thus providing opportunities for reflecting and revising one's (and others') work and developing community.
d) Posting learning challenges: While this blogging practice could potentially provide opportunities for deepening one's understanding of content and/or the nature of a discipline, and even possible engagement in inquiry, this will depend on the content of the learning challenges posted as well as the activities that could be organized around them. Mr. K.'s "Sunday Game Post,' while offering opportunities for problem solving, did not seem to do much more than that.
e) Reflecting on what was learned: Having students regularly post their reflections on what learned is consistent with recommendations from NCTM and NSTA about encouraging students' reflections as a way to deepen their understanding of the materials they are learning. The content of Mr. K.'s students' reflections furthermore provide evidence that these students did not think of the teacher (or themselves) as the main audience for these reflections, thus offering affordances also for gaining more ownership and recognition of their own learning and developing a learning community. While one may expect that this blogging practice could also invite students to go back and revise their work, we have no evidence that this happened in Mr. K.'s class - and we also could find no incentives or system in place that would encourage this kind of practice.
f) Engaging in on-line conversations: While there was little evidence of students engaging in on-line conversations in Ms. T.'s blog, students in Mr. K.'s class did so regularly, as illustrated in the exchange reported in Figure 1 as well as the many comments posted in response to scribe posts or other postings. It may be worth noting that students occasionally took advantage of the option to remain anonymous (as illustrated for example in the excerpt reproduced in Figure 1), especially when asking the teacher for help - so allowing for anonymity maybe important to facilitate these exchanges, especially at the beginning. It is interesting, though, that Mr. K. found the classroom blog structure as not very conducive per-se to these kinds of conversations, and decided to give his students access to a Chat Box tools to make this process easier and less laborious for him. As he reported that most of the help students gave to each others was in the context of these Chat Room exchanges, it is important to note that this feature allowed for greater affordances in terms of developing a learning community and engaging students in math/science conversations.
To conclude, it is important to note that the two teachers we studied did not realize the same benefits through their classroom blog, and neither teacher realized all of the benefits of classroom blogging identified in the literature. Not surprisingly, the specific affordances of using a classroom blog were connected directly to ways in which the blog was structured and used. The examples examined in this study offer us insight into valuable classroom structures to maximize the transformative power of blogs to nurture student-centered learning.
A look at these two curricular units highlights that the use of blogs to support student-centered learning, like the integration of any learning tool with this purpose in mind, is an emerging and evolutionary process. Ms. T.'s case offered insight into what could be considered a "starting point." Her use of the classroom blog focused on sharing students' response to teacher prompts and providing access to resource. As such, while Ms. T.'s blog did provide students some opportunities to express opinions and perspectives that are missing in traditional classrooms, provided new windows on students' thinking for the teacher, and contributed to the development of a learning community, its affordances and value were somewhat limited. Most importantly, as students were not given authority to publish initial posts, the most visible "voice" on the classroom blog remained the teacher's despite the fact that more lines of texts were contributed by the students.
In contrast, Mr. K.'s use of his classroom blog demonstrates that, if appropriately structured and used, classroom blogs can do much more. The structure of the assigned student scribe posts essentially handed the ownership of this learning space over to the students. Introducing the chat box and stepping back to allow students to support other students also gave them additional opportunities to individualize and own their learning. Making the classroom blog public and reminding students about their larger audience provided incentives for the quality of the work posted, as well as opportunities to be recognized by self and others as a capable learner.
Our study also served to identify at least six complementary blogging practices that teachers could consider when structuring their classroom blog - i.e., (a) sharing resources; (b) student-responding to teacher prompts; (c) recording lessons' highlights; (d) posting learning challenges; (e) reflecting on what was learned; and, (f) engaging in on-line conversations. As summarized in Figure 2, each of these blogging practices is associated with a specific sub-set of affordances which teachers should consider when making decisions about whether and how to use a classroom blog.
Though in part these cases foreground differences in the teachers and their pedagogical decision-making with respect to classroom blogging, they also serve to highlight the flexibility of the tool. These very different uses of blogging by the two teachers demonstrated how the classroom blog can be adapted to the desired objectives and level of confidence of an individual teacher - while still provide a valuable addition to classroom teaching.
Carlson, S. (2003) Weblogs come to the classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 50(14), A33.
Cope, B., Kalantzis, M., & Lankshear, C. (2005). A Contemporary Project: an interview. E-Learning, 2(2), 192-207.
Davies, J., & Merchant, G. (2007). Looking from the inside out: Academic blogging as new literacy. In M. Knobel & C. Lankshear (Eds.), A new literacies sampler. New York: Peter Lang.
Downes, S. (2004). Educational blogging. Educause, Sept/Oct, 14-16, 18, 20-22, 24, 26.
Hernandez-Ramos, P. (2004). Weblogs and online discussion as tools to promote reflective practice. The Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 3 (1), 1-16.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2006). Blogging as participation: The active sociality of a new literacy. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2007). Researching New Literacies: Web 2.0 practices and insider perspectives. E-Learning, 4(3), 224-240.
Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Luehmann, A.L. (2008). Blogging as support for teacher learning and development: A case-study. The Journal of the Learning Sciences 17(3), 287-337.
Martindale, T., & Wiley, D. A. (2004). An introduction to teaching with weblogs. Draft Copy.
Nardi, B., Schiano, D. J., & Gumbrecht, M. (2004). Blogging as social activity, or, Would you let 900 million people read your diary? Conference '04. Found on Scholar Google.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Reston, VA: NCTM, 2000. ISBN 0 87353 480 8
National Research Council. (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Poling, C. (2005). Blog on: Building communication and collaboration among staff and students. Learning & Leading with Technology, 32(6), 12-15.
Richardson, Will (2003). Web logs in the English classroom: More than just chat. English Journal, 93(1), 39-43.
Settlage, J., & Meadows, L. (2002). Standards-based reform and its unintended consequences: Implications for science education within America's urban schools. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39(2), 114-127.
Strauss, A. L., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory (2nd ed.). London: Sage Publication.
Weiler, G. (2003). Using weblogs in the classroom. English Journal, 92(5), 73-75.
Figure 1: student perceptions (image format), 97 K.
Figure 2: blogging affordances (image format), 154 K.
Designed and hosted by Interactive Communications & Simulations, copyright 2008.