As indicated on my About page, I attend a small Midwestern liberal arts university. After I had the idea to start this teaching-related blog, it occurred to me that it would be something useful for education teachers to consider using. Since the education program I am in has a relatively new block program (see here) that I went through in the fall semester, I decided to direct my suggestion to the professors in charge of that program, one of whom has already commented (thanks, Dr. Hoffman). Even though I have already sent some of my suggestions to the three professors indicated, I wanted to flesh out more of my proposal of how blogs could be used quite effectively in a program such as the junior block.
First, a note: I am purposefully aligning the uses of blogging technology with the four “organizing themes” that our education program is based on. These are general, and I suspect that other education programs have something similar in place, but I think these four themes cover basically everything that educational professionals need to consider. As such, the supporting points should have a fair amount of relevance to any program.
The use of blogs in the proposed context would cover the content from three courses: an educational philosophy course, a general methods course, and a literacy course. This is the structure for the ed program indicated.
Each student enrolled in this concurrent courses would be advised to set up a blog on any of a number of free sites (blogger.com, wordpress.com, edublogs.com, etc.). The teachers involved would then keep a blogroll (i.e. a list of students’ blogs) on a primary blog. Students would be given guidelines about how often content should be updated (e.g. weekly) and what constitutes an appropriate entry. Because of the range of possible benefits, this need not be stringent; students can be creative in finding ways to utilize this technology to their advantage, even though boundaries and suggestions should be provided. (Example: Reflecting on an educational experience such as teaching a lesson would be useful, as would reflecting on the material of one or more of the courses in the block).
One final note: Even though blog usage would be mandatory under this plan, instructors should emphasize that it will help the students develop the candidate assessments (hereafter CAs) that are required for each course. The benefits, therefore, will be tangible in more than one sense; they will receive credit for using the blog, but the work itself will contribute to their course studies.
Benefits to Specific Course Material
As previously mentioned, the use of blogging technology will directly interact with the content of each course indicated in the preface. Here is a more detailed breakdown of possible benefits:
- Text interaction: Students can reflect on the course reading and help determine their own opinions on classroom management, discipline, and educational philosophy.
- Classroom management & disciple plan (CA): Students can start to develop (in sections) the various aspects of the management plan: classroom arrangement, disciplinary procedures, rules/expectations, etc.
- Philosophy of teaching & learning (CA): Through interactions with the text, students will have already started to develop opinions about which educational philosophy/ies they prefer (behaviorism, constructivism, humanism, etc.).
- Utilizing Bloom’s taxonomy: Students can brainstorm the kinds of activities needed to cover the main areas of Bloom’s taxonomy.
- Developing performance objectives: In coordination with working out Bloom’s taxonomy, students can develop specific performance objectives specific to their content area that fulfill the necessary requirements (observable performance, criteria, conditions). Students can also receive direct feedback from the instructor.
- Creating useful classroom methods: Students can think of creative ways to deal with their subject matter, which other students can in turn respond to (especially among common majors, e.g. physical education candidates).
- Developing microteaching lesson: Students can start to put together the parts of a lesson taught to fellow classmates and reflect on it after giving the lesson.
- Unit plan (CA): Like the previous CAs, this plan contains multiple parts, including a long-range plan (year- or semester-long), a unit descriptor, and multiple lesson plans. Development can happen on the blog, in addition to the collection of resources gathered through a blogroll.
- Technology requirement: Blogs are a great example of integrating technology into the classroom, and more teachers are utilizing this technology for use in middle and high school classrooms.
- Technology unit plan (CA): Developing a content area-specific unit integrating literacy and technology will be significantly easier with the use of step-by-step work on blogs.
- Interaction with text: Students can reflect on the ways literacy is used in the secondary classroom and with specific context areas to see how literacy affects the way they teach their individual subjects.
Besides the previous benefits, here are some general benefits:
- Increased communication with instructors: In addition to a requirement for frequent entries, instructors will also be obligated to respond to students’ entries (however detailed or summary they might be). Besides feedback, students can also inform instructors of additional things such as times/dates of teaching for observation.
- Increased communication with peers: As educators, planning does not generally happen in a vacuum. By utilizing this technology, students will help their peers with constructive criticism and additional ideas.
- More opportunities for reflection: Teaching candidates need to know how to reflect on their experiences and grow from them. Blogging is particularly useful for metacognitive writing, and by using it, students can work out their own ideas, think about problems, and find useful solutions (along with the help of their peers).
Aligning with Organizing Themes
Here are some ways in which the use of blogs will satisfy the requirements of the four organizing themes referenced earlier:*
- Students will reflect on the principles behind sound teaching pedagogy.
- Students will develop the knowledge of their specific content areas to become more competent.
- Students will determine what methods make for a productive classroom.
- Student will participate in active dialogue to improve the quality of their instruction.
Creating Communities of Learners
- Students will reflect on the ways that individuals learn in developing their own educational philosophy.
- Students will develop guidelines and expectations that will create an atmosphere conducive to learning.
- Students will reflect on how different students learn best and how to appeal to those needs.
- Students will design activities and resources that will help their pupils to comprehend the material in meaningful ways.
- Students will work together (as teaching candidates) to become more knowledgeable and competent teachers.
- Students will provide guidance and input into the work of their peers.
The idea of using a blog has many advantages, so many more that any potential drawbacks (such as extra effort expended by students) would either be minimized or could be downplayed altogether. Blogging has virtually no expense, given the prevalence of free blogging resources available online, and most (if not all) students are required to have some form of Internet access for their other coursework. The primary problem with using blogs as just described is the time and effort to implement them, including working out solid guidelines for student use. However, the potential benefits seem to suggest that integration of this technology deserves at least a trial run in any education program that is relevantly similar to the one described previously.
*I am not referencing specific teaching standards, although they could be aligned more specifically. This is meant only to be a broad outline of the proposal, which could developed in much greater detail.