At the Community this week, I saw a really interesting discussion going on about... discussions! Here it is:
I chimed in about blogs as an alternative to discussion boards, and I wanted to say something about that now since I have my students' blog network up and running. Using a blog network allows for all kinds of interaction, but it is very different from discussion board interaction, so I wanted to explain something about the difference from my perspective as the instructor, and why I far prefer blogs to discussion boards. And for general blogging propaganda, I will share the same image from Langwitches that I shared at the soapbox discussions board:
Discussion boards, like in Canvas, are built around topics that people reply to. You can interact with other people by replying to their replies, but the main organizing idea is the different topics under discussion.
With blogs, the organizing idea is the people themselves. Each person has a blog of their own, and they publish their course work at the blog. In my classes, for example, students usually publish around 3 posts per week, although they might choose to do more. The interaction comes from people visiting other people's blogs and leaving comments.
On the first day of class (that was Tuesday this week), all the students are getting their blogs up and running, and writing their first post, which is about a favorite place (or places). Here is how those assignments work:
Online Course Wiki / Design Your Course - Start Your Blog - Favorite Place
The students send me an email with their blog address: that allows me to subscribe to their blogs in Inoreader. After that, I see all their blog posts automatically; I don't need the email! I've written here about how I use Inoreader to run the blog network.
Subscribing to the 90 blogs takes a few hours, but it's fun: I reply to the students' emails (that's the time-consuming part) to thank them for getting started and offering encouragement about blogging (which is new to the large majority of students, even now in 2018). That email is the first person-to-person contact that I have with the students, and I like that it is based on a moment of success. For many students, it is a actually a big success moment; they are proud of having made a blog of their own. As they should be!
Then, after the blog network is up and running, I start reading and replying to the favorite places posts; with 90 posts, even though the posts are very short, the comments take me a couple of days, but it is time well spent: I get to model for the students a style of commenting that is based on making connections — person to person connections, and also connections to the class content.
I really like the "favorite places" post as the first post to comment on. The goal is for students to learn how to find images on the Internet that are good for re-use, but it's also a way for me to start to learn something about them as a person, without it being as personal as an introduction (that comes later in the week — today, in fact, Thursday). The favorite places post might be just a sentence or two in a picture, but some people write long and elaborate posts. It's all good: either way works, as long as they learn how to create a post with an image and a link. Here's a stream of those posts:
For me, it is so much fun finding connections between the course content and their favorite places. There is not always a connection I can make, but often there is... and I often learn something as a result myself. For example, there is a student in my Indian epics class today who was born in Manila in the Philippines, and she wrote about Manila as her favorite place. So, I know that the Ramayana is famous throughout many Asian and South Asian countries... but I did not know about the Philippines... so I Googled it, and I was amazed to find out that there is a complete Ramayana known for hundreds of years in the Philippines, and there is even an article about it at Wikipedia: Maharadia Lawana. That was a big wow moment for me, and it is also something that could turn into a really exciting project for the student to learn about too. Of course, she may go in totally different direction with her project... but just selfishly, I am really hoping she will want to learn more about the Ramayana tradition in the Philippines and share that with the whole class.
That's just one example of course... and the way it happened was through the very one-on-one interaction between someone with a passion for the Philippines (my student) and someone with a passion for the international Ramayana (me). Multiply that by 90, and you can guess that I have had a very stimulating week so far!
Tomorrow, I start responding to the Introductions. Those are longer posts, and there are always lots of connections to make there... I will be replying to all of those over the course of next week. Then, when we reach Week 3 of the semester, I will have the students' project brainstorming assignments coming in, so I will be shifting my interactions to the projects, while the students will have already taken over our blogosphere and be doing most of the commenting there, with just occasional comments from me.
This system works so well for me, and it has for years. I abandoned discussion boards for blogs over 10 years ago; at first I used Bloglines, then Ning, and now I just let the students choose their own blogging platform. The students' sense of pride and ownership about their blogs brings out really good work, and they are also so curious to read and explore each other's blogs because it is so much more like interacting with an actual person than a discussion board interaction, where you have the person's words, yes, and maybe a little avatar image... but you don't have a real sense of their personality overall, of their general participation in class, their other interests beyond the class, all of which come through in people's blogs.
If people are interested in learning more about blogging and trying it for themselves (before asking students to blog, it's good to have found your own voice as a blogger), you might want to give the Reflective Writing Club a try. This is something the CCC-One network is organizing, and it is not just for California community colleges... anyone can participate! I am really excited about it, since it is a chance for me to share my blogging enthusiasm with others. Here's more info about how it is set up, starting January 26:
And you can see our live feed here in our Canvas space... when things get going on January 26, the feed should be really lively! Since I am going to take this post with CCCWrite (because I think it might be of interest to other bloggers in the Club), that means this post will show up automatically in the feed. Whoo-hoo!