Peter Ford, who has been blogging in schools longer than most of us, reposts an essay from his “early” days on the effects of Weblogs in schools that is certainly must reading for any educator users. He highlights the effects of serendipitous collaboration, the evolution of online community, and the effects of audience, among many other topics. I’ll just pull out a few lines that I find particularly interesting, but it doesn’t give the entire work justice.
Critics often slate the simplicity of weblogs, and dismiss them as ‘merely vanity’. Yet it is precisely these two factors that are the keys to their potential. Children are vain, just like adults. They desire and require an audience for their thoughts and achievements. Every teaching college in the world extols the virtues of providing students with an audience.
The simple, intuitive nature of weblogs is precisely what is required to allow students to express themselves on their own terms. Children’s involvement with websites has to add up to more than a posting of a few pieces of their work on a third person’s static web-site for a virtually non-existent world to see. There is little ownership in that.
An awareness of audience is one of the underlying principles across the whole curriculum, yet so often students have to make do with an imaginary audience, or one limited to the teacher and any random individuals who might peruse a classroom display. With weblogs the audience is real and is, in most cases, large. The average Year Six weblog was read between four and ten thousand times in the first year. The class weblog accumulated almost treble that number of reads over the same period. Even if the amount of reads by the student himself is subtracted from this total, the size of the audience remains impressive, and motivating.
Equipping students with this sense of responsibility to research and report accurately has always been a priority in schools. It is, however, fast becoming a life skill and not just a purely academic one. Children are becoming much more than just handlers of other people’s information. They are active researchers and providers of information that could affect the knowledge base of others
Similarly, I would add, in using Weblogs they become editors and decision makers about information as well. The power of the technology is the way in which it allows students (and adults) to be active participants in the process, not just passive readers or writers without reach.
Other weblogs such as our Tudor Exploration weblog are set up as news-sites and students can post their own stories and interesting links to material they have found during their own research. This has proved genuinely helpful to me as the teacher. Not only does it provide my student with a sense of ownership of a topic, but points me to some excellent source material that I can use in subsequent sessions.
This process of students teaching students is commonplace in the weblogging environment. When a child discovers a new blogging skill, inserting a background or creating an online survey, then there are always peers who want to share and apply those skills themselves. I have seen this process in action dozens of times
The simple nature of weblogging means that it can immediately make an impact. Teachers start to think about how they can use weblog to complement their own subject expertise and start to explore ways of using the internet for themselves. Skills that are often hidden behind a closed classroom door become visible online for others to benefit from. It helps foster a climate of collaboration.
There is much more here, and from the “blogvangelism” standpoint, Peter’s essay is
a wonderful resource.