I have requested and received feedback from approximately 65 students on their experiences serving as guinea pigs for my first attempts to use 2.0 technology in writing classrooms.
Here's a quick summary of their feedback:
Students reported feeling more connected to the material, their peers, the teacher and the school becuase they were participating in a virtual network.
Many mentioned that they used my "central" blog to re-orient themselves when they felt lost, to search for extra support materials, to explore ideas and links and to find course documents. Many weaker students or ESL students volunteered that the blog allowed them to more slowly refresh the main ideas and concepts covered in class.
Discipline-Specific (Writing) Benefits
It was evident students saw the intrinsic value of writing on the blogs because a) they are public/social; b) they are 'fun'; c)we wrote about a social/health topic (food and politics)they felt was 'important' and d)blogging is a technological-capacity they want to have and feel they will use. This was never my experience with students writing soley in private paper journals and high-stakes formal papers.
Students enjoyed reading other students' writing, and felt the blogs gave them a deeper sense of everyone's opinions on the topics. A handful made it explicit that they were modelling their work after that of peer writers they felt showed stronger skills.
Students intuitively valued the blog for their writing.
They started with and maintained a more positive orientation towards writing using digital media then I have ever seen in classes where "paper" writing was used.
Techno-Access and Techno-Instruction
The most common complaints - indeed the ONLY complaints - had to do with students' lack of consistant access to technology on a daily basis (especially over the weekends)and their inability to use technology as well as they wanted (or even at all) without hands-on instruction.
While some have computers at home, this is by no means something we can take for granted. Many reported riding subways over the weekends multiple times to libraries or jobs for computer access. Since my students often had assignments with 2 distinct parts to do over the weekend, my assumption that they had easy access placed an enormously unfair burden on students without home access.
Many students also reported having frustrations early in the semester with being expected to complete tasks - from setting up a Google account to posting a Blog - without a me or a tutor there to guide them. They had printed stage by stage instructions, but these were not effective. While many students struggled initially, it was an almost universal issue for our non Net-gen students (those in their 30s and beyond)for at least half of the course. In addition, ambitious students wanted help personalizing their blogs and integrating other media (video) into their posts.
Solution: Students universally asked that this kind of class be at least partially taught in a computer lab. I agree 100%.