When blogging becomes a teacher-centered activity

Recently, teachers have come up to me at conferences and say they had turned off the GenYES or Generation TECH blog tools because “the kids write too much.” At first I was surprised that student writing would be a problem!

But in thinking about it, it dawned on me that the the problem wasn’t student writing, it was teacher reading. The teacher was a bottleneck, and the teacher-centric view of how the blog worked (students write, teacher reads) was clearly causing this problem. What’s worse, could our tool design be reinforcing this?

When we first introduced the GenYES blog, we decided to roll it out in a limited way. We know people don’t like change. We said to our long-time teachers, “it’s just like the old journal tool.” Maybe that was a good way to ease it in, or maybe that was a mistake.

What we did notice is that the student use of the blog over the journal immediately went up, jumping significantly in just a few days. The first year saw ten times the posts of the previous year in the journal tool. We saw more writing, longer passages, and more reflection. It was obvious that the students saw the blog as a “real world” tool and knew exactly how it was supposed to be used. So much for media literacy training — students knew what to do because they had seen it outside of school. And they used the blog as intended, for appropriate, on-task writing about how they were collaborating with teachers to use technology in their school.

That all seems like good news–but is the blog tool really working to create a student-centered experience or is it reinforcing a teacher-centric approach?

Do we need to revisit it to make it more peer editable, so that students can act as blog-leaders? Do we need to add more features? Do the introductory lessons and activities need to change? What can we do to make it more student-centered and less teacher-centered?

Our goal is to facillitate the student-centered collaboration that goes on in Generation YES classes with the best tools available. The floor is yours.

2 Replies to “When blogging becomes a teacher-centered activity”

  1. Sounds like the tool did what it was supposed to do.

    Sounds like “reinforcing a teacher-centric approach” is when the teachers turn it off.

    My initial reaction on reading this is, if you wanna make this less teacher-centric, don’t let them turn it off. But I realize that’s too simplistic.

    I don’t know how these are organized, but would an aggregator help to cut down on the amount of time a teacher needs to spend moving from blog to blog? It’s the basic rule of teaching that if you give out homework every day you have to be willing to grade it every day. If the grading is killing you, you need to find another assessment. Just common sense.

    This is a tough one because it’s at the core. The students are doing — perhaps and arguably — the most valuable activity they can to improve their learning. They obviously get it and the avalanche of output from them is overwhelming the teachers. Figure out how to channel the avalanche without reducing it and you’ve got a winner. Shutting it off means shutting off learning — or at least throttling it back.

    One solution might be to give the students room to develop their thoughts onine and in collaboration with each other but have them submit the “500 word essay of the week” (pulling number out of my armchair.. you know the number and assignment you need) as a kind of “final draft.” That way they get to keep the use of the learning tool and the teachers get a break on assessment and only have to read the Post of The Week for grading purposes. They can spot check the lead in work, reference it as “source material”, whatever. Seems like there’d be some additional “writing value” there, too, to teach them to think critically and edit ruthlessly (something I’m not doing here!) 🙂

    I insist that my (long winded graduate) students blog. They generally produce 60 to 100 things to read from the whole group in a week across the 15-20 student blogs. It’s their primary assessment week-to-week, so I don’t have them turn in a lot of other stuff. So my work as teacher is (a) providing them with about 4 hrs of engagement with me and (b) reading their blogs and grading. I don’t know how that translates down to the grade level you’re talking about but I plan on reading 50-100,000 words a week from my students. And writing 15-20,000 back to them. Along with grading, IM, chats, etc.

    Again, teaching is a part time gig for me. I have a “day job” and my 20 students are a long way from the 100+ that teachers have to deal with in a day, so I’m not sure how valuable my insight is.

  2. Just a couple of thoughts:

    I like your idea about training a couple of students to be blog leaders. Why not? A step further would be to let the leaders switch off from week to week. Of course the question then becomes what do they do? Will students then not comment when it is not their week?

    Perhaps a better solution is to just train students when to write and what to write. At the beginning of the year take some time to teach the students that a blog is not a place to just vomit information, but rather a place for well thought out ideas and comments. That is the beauty of a blog, they can take a much time as they need to formulate their thoughts.

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