I noticed that Dave Cormier is using a single course blog for his ed366 class, with students as authors. Back in November, I was working on this issue with Brandon Davis-Shannon, whether it is better to have students run their own blogs or work on one big blog, and I’m thinking about it again as I plan my History 103 for fall.
I have done one big blog before, but never many student blogs (except for the POT Certificate Class). Dave has done both and notes:
It is interesting to me that engagement would be lost when students run their own blogs, versus posting on one big blog. It brings up questions about where students perceive the course is located, as well as the usual issues about motivation and self-motivation.
In addition, it may be about the changing world of online courses in the past year or so.
The typical online course offered by an institution is one kind, and for this model students translate their classroom thinking to the online class. The thinking is that on-site the class is held in Room 601, and online it’s held in Blackboard (or another LMS) or at a particular URL or website (though that’s more rare).
It’s hard for students to really see a course that’s held “on the web”, or one where their work is based in their own space, and aggregated somehow for all to see. That involves a mental shift much greater than just on-site to online.
That mental shift is encouraged by MOOCs, at least in their Couros/Siemens/Downes/Cormier/Groom model. Self-direction and/or connectivism are engrained in the format of the classes. (I’m gonna call it the CSDCG model, because no one can stop me.)
But there is another pseudo-MOOC model now, subdivided into two categories which sometimes overlap: institutional (think Stanford, MIT) and commercial (think Curtis Bonk’s class in Coursesites). These are beloved by the New York Times and the Chronicle, who are seeking to reframe educational trends. They are becoming the mental-shifting model instead of the original MOOC design.
That may be because they are held in Learning Management Systems or sites that act like LMSs (I’m afraid I have to count WordPress here, because of its use in this context). This model perpetuates the idea that “class is here“. Yes, you can run your own blog, but it’s preferred that you blog “inside the classrom”. It’s just easier for people to get their head around the idea that the class is at the instructor’s website. It fits with their current thinking, but expands it into the world of blogging. It also fits for instructors who need the two things LMSs are best at: enrollment management and grade tracking.
That seems to be the middle ground, and pedagogically it may be better not to push the envelope too much with students (at least if you want them to stay enrolled). Despite my own learning preferences, which are open and aggregated, most students aren’t conceptually ready for this kind of learning, and the cognitive dissonance overcomes their willingness to engage (which, for some, wasn’t that high to start with).
We can argue for years whether their lack of readiness is apathy, behavioral training in K-12, or cultural ennui, but most of us “practitioners” are interested in what works: what keeps them enrolled, encourages engagement, allows some independence, but doesn’t cause panic. Plus there are increasing concerns about asking students to create their own space at third-party sites, which collect and use student information and content in ways we may not consider ethical.
The WordPress Multi-User site, or the LMS that’s open to all, or the main blog where all blog within it but can have their content exported to save (which is what Dave is doing) may then be the preferred models for balancing these issues with those of exploration and innovation. They are being chosen because they take into account concerns of pedagogy and comfort, not because they can handle 1,000 students and use their content and personal information for other ends, but because they work.
NB: The only obvious exception to this balanced model is Jim Groom’s (plus) ds106, with its student-run blogs aggregated to a main WP site, and where clearly something magical happens. And possibly my own POT Certificate Class, where I have no idea why it (sort of) works, but I dare not apply it to a standard college class.