Wednesday, July 24, 2013

One Man's Use of Blogs as a Teaching Tool

A few years past...

I first decided to use a blog to teach my general chemistry course.  Prior, I had used my own website created using Dreamweaver and the university address given to me for a web presence.  One of our IT people asked if I had thought about using a virtual world in my classes or a wiki.  Being somewhat open minded, I looked into those methods as information management tools.  Neither gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling, but the idea of a blog did.  After searching and finding other education blogs, I gave a course blog a try.

Read on to find out how I used blogging for that first class and why there's a picture from Friends in this post :)

My Method (the first time)

  • Each student had to make a comment on an instructional post (it said, "Post something here")
    • the comment had to use their university supplied email address
    • every student earned 1pt for completing the task within 3 days
  • Students were required to make two posts during the semester that either asked a question, answered a question, or brought something interesting into the conversation
    • completing the two posts earned the students 9 points
    • if the student only had one post, they earned 4 points
  • After each class, I would write a short review (a paragraph or two) of the class
    • each of these was given a creative title that followed the naming system used by the TV show friends..."The One Where..."
    • For example, "The One Where We Passed Gas" was used after I introduced the experiments that gave way to the Ideal Gas Law (PV = nRT for you chemistry/physics fans).
  • I posted assignments called daily problems on the blog as they became available
  • I posted notes/activities as they became available or necessary
  • I posted announcement about lecture and lab such as "Don't meet in the lab this week, we're learning to use computational chemistry software in the computer center."
  • Finally, I tried to find interesting connections on the web to enhance the students connection of chemistry to the real world
    • sometimes they were YouTube videos
    • often they were animations that gave life to what we discussed in class
  • At the beginning of the next semester, I deleted all the content created in the blog and started over with a fresh class, a fresh theme for the blog, and new ideas on managing the blog.
    • I wish I had kept that first attempt in tacts, just to be nostalgic

First Attempt Outcomes

The students in that first class really enjoyed the blog.  Most posted over half a dozen times in the comment section because they found the collaboration very useful and novel.  Every student succeeded in earning the full 10 points for the blog aspect of the course (out of 750 pts, the 10 pts mattered very little, but students love process oriented points over content or knowledge based points).

I found the communication in the comments quite rich and diverse.  Truly a benefit to the course and the learning environment.  The students were very positive about using the blog as an information management tool over the universities learning management system.  They also appeared to enjoy the class more that the few previous classes had, which was reflected in the student evaluations at the end of the semester.

Go Ahead...Try It!

There are more ways than you can imagine to employ a blog in your course.  Since the above initial course blog, I've played around with other modes.  Most of the time, I simply use the blog as a information management tool and less as a course management tool (using the comments as an interactive component).  It's an efficient mode of communication and the students like it.

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