Digital natives and the class blogging blues

Book and Computer

It’s been quite a week and a bit getting a new class of students signed up and into blogging on a group project. I’ve written before on the apparent e-learning challenges to students, and on some of the roadblocks I’ve encountered with their digiphobia. This time round, very few found the process of signing up with edublogs … the platform I’d chosen for the class blog … to be anything other than a trial. It seemed that following the instructions and getting themselves signed in with user names was just too complicated to bother persisting. Keep the approach simple, but no simpler (thanks Einstein).

Is reading online more of a problem than we thought?

However, I’m wondering after the past 10 days whether, rather than the unfamiliar navigation in a new environment being the stumbling block, that it’s not the actual process of reading online that is the real problem. Could it be reading … the kind of careful, logical reading required to follow instructions that’s at issue? Certainly, reading online is a different sensory experience to reading on paper. A student mentioned this to me during the week, and it started me thinking. I don’t have any answer to this, but I am aware that most of my students are not readers of the kind we academics might class as consumers of print material for pleasure or profit. Reading is not a habit. Half the battle is getting many of them to open the covers of a text book. So the first part of the process … bringing the horses to the water … needs careful attention. I got it wrong this week.

Now I’m using edublogs here not in any sense as a criticism … it’s a very well organised and supported platform built on WordPress. It has a great user community with walk-you-through help every step of the way. I recommend it thoroughly. The point I’m making is that getting started on such a platform shouldn’t have been a problem for smart, willing students … if you follow the instructions. And this is the rub; it was the having to read instructions on line that caused the glitches. I should add that I gave more than enough information and encouragement: I provided instructions on two separate sites (one on the class blog itself, and the other on the course homepage on Moodle complete with a hotlink). I threw in an edublogs 5 minute video tutorial, and talked the class through the whole process a couple of times. Despite all of this, the problem persisted well into the second week of work. Online access is also not a problem. Shirkers? I don’t think so … not all certainly. There are always going to be a couple of resisters in any group, just as there are the few keen ones at the other end, but by and large the whole class appeared ready and willing.

So what have I learned from this odd experience? A couple of things: I’m going back to presenting using a hands-on approach for any future ‘how-to’ task; it’s quick and direct. I’ll use the online instructions (whether verbal or visual) as back-up, not primary instruction, but I am going to keep mulling over the issue of students’ reading online. I’ll remember to add plenty of time to let them get into the groove of this new environment, shake a bit and keep stirring (motivate), and keep modelling (mentoring) for them.

A Doh! Moment

Now it just so happened that in the same week I’d done the ground work of setting up the class project blog, complete with individual pages for each student, edublogs itself introduced a much easier way of getting a batch of students signed up for blogging. I’d suggest you adopt this if you wish to avoid the pained looks on student faces if you go the way I did.

Using the edublogs batch approach, a teacher assigns user names, can create email addresses, and get the whole thing up and running in quick time! Next time I’ll do a batch job. I trust however that my students’ having to learn all about user names, logging in and setting up their own pages … if they can remember it all … will eventually prove useful. Baby steps, baby steps! That’s me too. Important though to keep stepping out.

PS And a bit more in the heady world of class blogging, please drop by Al Upton’s site and read about some bureaucratic sticky fingering of an innovative class blog project run by a visionary teacher. Al’s class are 9 year olds or thereabout; mine are 19 or so. Food for thought. Anyhow, Al’s blog has been closed down due to what seems like fear of the unknown. You might like to add whatever support you can. It will certainly be a learning … and a tough one … for the class.


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