Friday, June 8, 2012

Community 2.0 - A Look Back

I have really learned a lot, experimented some, and gotten many ideas for future courses from collaboration and connecting with colleagues in the Community 2.0 seminar.

As I look back at the blog work I have done with classes, I see interesting transformations and distinct "blog identities" for each class and semester.  I was interested in the work presented by Ximena and Jason last year and became affiliated with the Community 2.0 group then, unofficially, and thus began my experimentation.

In the beginning...

My first attempt at using blogs was in both of my ESL 098 classes last spring, in which the students were reading the common reading "Fast Food Nation."  (See the blog here ).  I had all the students make their own blog accounts and they responded to posts that students in the other class made, as well as connecting to videos and information Ximena and Jason were using and cross-course interactions with Jason's class allowed my students to interact beyond our own class.  I learned what problems students have creating blogs and I learned much more about making them, myself.  We did not post so many times on these blogs, but we explored interesting topics.  It felt fresh, interesting, and full of possibility.

Branching out

Then in the Fall I, 2011 semester (coinciding with the start of this Community 2.0 seminar), I took the class blog idea much further.  In my paired course - ESL 099 with Intro to Art - the class blog was a place to share information, do research on various art topics, and for both instructors to post assignments and see student responses to the other instructors' posts.  (See the blog here ).  It was a great place (a "third space" - see this article for a definition) to continue the work and ideas from both classes and to "meet" outside of class for both the students and instructors.  From this experience, I truly believe that any two courses can work together, as long as there is some type of shared space (using any online platform).  Collaborating with other instructors suddenly seemed more feasible and with access to the blog from anywhere (work, home, smartphone), it was uber convenient.

I also began to use the blog as a place to post links to relevant sites, post homework assignment and test information, and to alert students to various other important information.  This works better than sending out emails through Blackboard, if students are used to checking the blog frequently.  And, in fact, this makes them check the blog frequently, so they read the posts and link to one anothers' blogs more often.

I also used a blog for my other course, Introduction to Language (aka Linguistics 101) in Fall I, 2011, and it was here that I realized the vast possibilities for posting interesting, thought-provoking assignments for students, as the ELL 101 class is a higher level than the ESL courses I had been using it with.  (See the blog here ).  I had fun designing the activities on the blog but yet was a little timid in creating them.  In the future, I will do a lot more with the ELL 101 class and blogs (or perhaps try another online platform).  I am very intrigued by the idea of the "reverse classroom" (article: "Flip your classroom through reverse instruction") and want to do more of this type of writing, researching, thinking, and discussing outside of class in order to do further activities and discussions on the topics inside of class.  I would like to put the lecture Power Point slides online and have students go through them before class so that we can discuss them and do follow-up linguistic activities during class, rather than spend far too much class time on the lecture.

Now I just need to determine how to create the slides with a voice over (what software) and where online to post them.  Any suggestions for this are welcome!

Moving along

Then in the Fall II, 2011-12 semester, I created what I consider the most successful class blog and set of activities, related to both this year's common reading, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" and our other course text, "The Urban Reader." (See the blog here).  I feel that the variety of activities done on the blog or linked to from the blog were more interesting than some I had done in classes in the past, but it also got a little unwieldy and seemed a little disjointed, hopping from the HeLa topics to the Urban Reader NYC social issue topics (health, local government, debt management, obesity, social work, etc.)  I think that unifying future courses in a better way around themes that are more closely related would be better.

This semester - going backwards?  Plateauing?  Or still evolving as a blogging instructor?

Now, I feel that the class blog I have had my ESL 097 class do has not been as successful, because the assignments were less ambitious or less interesting, and I felt a little mechanical creating blog assignments, at times.  I don't know if I am now experiencing "blogging burnout" or if the lower level of my students and, thus, the limitations to what they can do make the assignments less diverse or interesting. (See the blog  here.)  I have also been busier than ever with other administrative duties and felt I didn't spend enough time developing the blog activities enough.

One other reason it wasn't as dynamic was that I used one blog for everything, where students all posted on the same blog page, rather than creating their own blogs that linked to the main class blog, as I had always done in the past.  I was inspired to try this by our own, shared Community 2.0 blog, but I felt it was a little less interesting for students.

On the other hand, I systematically had students read each others' posts and comment on them, which relieved me of the responsibility of commenting on each one and also made students regularly read each others' posts and "get to know" each other that way.

At the end of the semester, the students reflected on the blogs and their comments were the most positive out of all students using blogs in my classes over the past year (as examples, see one student's reflection and another student's reflection.  Was it because blogging and technology, in general, were more novel to students at this lowest level?  Or was it because we were all on the one blog and everyone's work was there and readily accessible?  Or was it because I had students do more blog post assignments than ever before, so that it was a regular part of the class?  Or was it because they also read and commented on one another's blogs more than in past classes?

I also did not connect to other classes or to outside people until the very end, and my students did enjoy reading and commenting on Dr. Jerskey's class posts (see her student responses to my students here).  I think that had these classes connected earlier and multiple times, the students could have all enjoyed "outside" connections more.  I will strive to plan further ahead and plan better for such connections in the future.

Final thoughts...

I have really tried a lot and learned a lot over this past year and a half of using blogs in all of my courses, and I will certainly use blogs or some other type of online third space for classes in the future.  I need to figure out how to keep it interesting for me and to maximize the learning and usefulness for the students, and not just have it become a routine activity.

I really do want to figure out how to do the "flip classroom" and post more lectures online and have more discussions in class.... and I would love to talk to any of you about such ideas!!!

Thank you all so much for such an interesting collaborative professional development experience!



  1. I'm right with you, Rebekah. We were more or less developing our blog teaching techniques at the same time last semester. I understand the "Blog burnout" sentiment, and the only real solution may be to mix up the way that you deliver content and ask students to respond. In future sections, I may increase the proportion of physical content to blog content and see if that affects the quality and engagement of work.

  2. The dilemma of each student creating their own blog or using one blog for the class was also an issue I wrestle with during the past year. Your statement about lower interest generation becuase of one blog is good selling point for individaul blog as opposed one joint one. Thanks for sharing this thought.

  3. Thank you for sharing your stories. Your classes sound very successful. I imagine blogging is especially difficult for ESL students because they probably need to spend more time reading instructions even before they actually start typing the content. Thank you for reminding me of the flip classroom concept, too. I also want to use it in the near future.