I was pleased to read a recent article that creates a framework for use and adoption of blogs in higher education.The article is Kerawalla, L., Minocha, S., Kirkup, G., & Conole, G. (2009). An empirically grounded framework to guide blogging in higher education. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25(1). I normally wouldn’t link to or blog about the article as it is walled in a proprietary garden, but the special issue on Social Software and learning in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning is available (at least today) as a free sample.
The Framework consists of general considerations related to the functionality of the blog, its use relationship with other course tools and its role in pedagogy. The Framework then presents a raft of question to guide planning and implementation. The Framework is a good start and asks many of the detailed questions that will lead to much better, or at least more thoughtful implementation of blogs in formal courses.
I like a framework or a model to be simple enough to serve as an easily remembered mnemonic to guide practice, rather than a never quite complete, but often too many, list of questions. So brainstorming a way to talk about the complexity of implementing a blog innovation, takes me back to Durkheim’s (suicide theory) and the use by Tinto and many other educators to talk about the need for academic and social integration to explain healthy living and persistence in formal courses. The integration factors also resonate with Everett Rogers characteristics of successful interventions – one of the main factors of which is Compatibility or how easily the innovation meshes with or integrates with other salient features of the learning context.
My implementation model includes:
Technical Integration: generally technical integration speaks to the ease of use and functionality of the blog system. It also relates specifically to the ease with which the blog interacts with other tools of an LMS, student registration system, e-portfolio etc. It includes single signon, tracking use, use on multiple browsers, good import and embedding of external data (blogs, photos, video etc.) and of course dependents upon reliable service and technical support when needed.
Social integration: Social integration implies a reasonable expectation that my post will be read and responded to by others. To be effective I must control who these others are and have power to share (or not share) my individual postings with specific individual friends, groups, networks and to the whole world. Social integration also implies a minimal set of common language skills and cultural awareness to make effective communication possible.
Pedagogical Integration. Blogs (unlike threaded discussions) are the personal space of each learner. This, ownership factor should be acknowledged and celebrated through learning activities that focus on reflection, process and meta-learning awareness. They are likely not the best tool to force discussion of course concepts, but rather an ideal place for students to reflect upon what this content means to them in their everyday lives. Pedagogical integration is also needed to insure that the blog activities are linked to the learning objectives and are not perceived as busy work assignments by instrumental learners.
Administrative Integration: Unlike their more common use in informal learning contexts, formal learning requires that blog activity be linked in some way to credit and reward systems of higher education. This is most often done through teacher evaluation of the blog and though their are evaluation rubrics to help in this process, I’ve always found it challenging. I find it better to have students create a final blog documenting the way the blog has (or has not) been used to assist their learning. Administrative integration also insures the system links seamlessly with registrar offices, LMS, gradebooks and the services of formal education bureaucracy.
Personal Integration: Personal integration takes up the call for Personal Learning Environments. The blog software should connect to and ideally be the same tool used by the learner in their everyday world. The learning applications must also make personal sense and be perceived as having value to the individual learner.
Using my primitive graphic skills and help from clipart, the blog implementation model could look like this: