Week 10: Course Blogs

Ah, blogs.  Something I’ve put a lot of thought into, even if I’m not . . . rigidly scheduled in my use of a blog.  And I loved Crisimpassioned defense of blog ownership.  Lisa posted the table she’s been working on (and I’ve minimally helped with) comparing different discussion board and blog uses, pros and cons.  Reading over her comments and the post that gave birth to the chart, I couldn’t help going back to my own inclinations.

I love blogs.  I think they are great for individual expression.  Regardless of my own personal ability to use them effectively (I think this is my fourth, fifth?, attempt at a blog), I can see the possibilities.  But that doesn’t mean they’re great for everything.  As Lisa’s chart shows, some forums (excuse the term) of discussion are better than others for some things.  One of the biggest problems a blog has for course use is that it is typically “newest-post first.”  In other words, it is in reverse chronological order.  And the first post tends to be emphasized by it being at the top.  This means that older content disappears quickly.  On a site aiming at regular readers, this is not a problem.  But when you have students attempting to follow different discussions on different posts, this “backsliding” nature gets in the natural flow of the student’s interaction with the course.

This means for a blog to be useful in a course that will have multiple discussions going on over any significant length of time, the basic structure of a blog will need to be fundamentally changed.

One might, at this point, ask why anyone should bother, just use a form better suited to the format of the class!  However, I think this is missing the point.  What I want to say is that the blog format, at least in the flexible form that is WordPress, is better than other formats, but to maximize the potential of the blog form we need to alter some basic features of the form to better fit the way the course will be run.

For instance, most of us need to an Announcements section in the course.  In Bb, this is build in.  But in Bb there are bigger pedagogical issues.  So, take the more open solution (for me: WordPress) and figure out if there is an easy way to alter the basic structure of the blog.

[At this point I was going to talk about plugins, but I wasn’t happy with the results, so I started messing around with php.  Sorry all.  It’s much quicker this way.  Regardless, it completely derailed this part of the post.  That’s why this is so choppy.]

Go here and take a look at the post by mores.  Using a page template, I was able to create a page called Announcements and call up all the posts under the category announcements to display on the page.  Setting that page as the front page, I created an automatic announcements page.  Ta da!

The point being that you can alter the way a blog organizes information.  The best way is by breaking up information into pages.  If you can break the posts up by pages, all the better!

Still, I think that Lisa’s method is the best (now represented by the beginning of her sabbatical project here!): start with how you already teach and what your pedagogical goals are and choose your tools from there.  Wordpress works for me, but in some cases it takes a lot more work than might be worth it for others.

On that note, I think Google sites is . . . problematic.  For me.  It’s just too constrained, so I wouldn’t want it greeting my students.  On the other hand, I can see the benefits of using it for students run projects: it’s easy to use, so the learning curve of creating a site doesn’t get in the way.

Comments 2

  1. avatar Lisa M Lane wrote:

    You know everyone’s question is going to be “have you tried Buddypress”, right? I couldn’t get it to do what I wanted.

    I understand not wanting to give up the blog – I also love WordPress. BUT even if you can change the direction, how do you get away from the basic post-reply format?

    I realize this is an issue in any forum, not just blogs. I guess the question is about whether “discussion” is a post-reply process. And whether you want a blog where all the students are authors, so they can start their own conversations, and how organized you want it to be, and what the goals of the conversation are and….oh yeah, that’s why we were playing with the chart, huh? 🙂

    Posted 02 Dec 2011 at 2:14 pm
  2. avatar Brandon wrote:

    @Lisa: Haha . . .yes, I actually have an install of Buddypress sitting on my server. Maybe . . . .

    As to the post-reply process . . . I think that’s just the point. Yes, I can reformat and change the direction of the blog, but are their inherent problems in that post-reply process and the control students have on starting a discussion.

    You rightly point out that forums have the post-reply problem (and so the question of just what discussion involves), but not necessarily the “control” issues (i.e. who starts discussions). Although that’s not inherent in the forum format or the blog format (although how much it’s encouraged might be).

    Oh dear, the chart is calling again, isn’t it?

    Posted 02 Dec 2011 at 4:15 pm

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