June 12, 2006

Academic blogs at Penn

Writing about web page http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/06/09/blog

Fascinating article from InsideHigherEd.com about a plan at the University of Pennsylvania College of Arts and Science to give every student a blog – not just give, in fact, but require them to use. The system seems to include some similar features to our own suggestions about ways of using blogs, with students asked to use their blog as a way to introduce themselves even before they arrive at university, and faculty posting questions to students' blogs to prompt them to write on certain topics at certain times (like our own "blog prompts" idea).

What makes this system strikingly different from any others that I'm aware of is that:–

  1. The blogs are exclusively private, viewable only by the student, an academic advisor and some administrators. Students can't change that.
  2. What the students write on their blog is part of their academic record. They can't go back and change entries after they've published them.

As the comments to the article suggest, a private, uneditable record isn't really a blog at all – it's more like an e–portfolio or a transcript document. But it's an interesting idea nonetheless.

- 6 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

[Skip to the latest comment]
  1. It sounds a bit scary to me.

    13 Jun 2006, 02:11

  2. Robert O'Toole

    Which part of "private, uneditable record" disqualifies it from being a blog? (I haven't yet read the article as their server seems to be down).

    I would argue strongly that a blog can be entirely private. In fact there are many that are just so, and still valuable all the same. I think that there is an increasingly prevalent assumption that blogging is a publicly oriented activity. I suspect that this may well limit the scope of its usefulness.

    'Uneditable' – that is a bit harsh. It would force bloggers to get their entries right first time. I suppose they think that it forces the students to represent their thoughts much more carefully. But who is ever able to give clarity and verisimilitude in such a way? So a student makes a mistake, and then must post a comment or a follow up entry to correct the mistake. OK, that forces them to reflect upon the mistake and the reasons for making the mistake. That's a pretty extreme form of reflective thinking. Is anyone that disciplined? Is anyone comfortable with behaving in that way? Would we want all of our mistakes to be recorded permanently? Would anyone then ever take risks with what they write? Would anyone ever write anything? Blogging as panopticon?

    My conjecture is that they will find that this approach makes their students very uncomfortable about the technology. They certainly will not get good quality, engaged and involved blogging.

    My vote for 'best approach to a university blogging system' still goes to Warwick Blogs. Even though we do not have much of a direct connection with academic work, we have encouraged a very large number of people to become comfortable with the technology and with writing for the web, to become both more digitally native and better writers. That I think is a major success, and will in the long term lead to blogging becoming a ubiquitously accepted activity.

    13 Jun 2006, 16:50

  3. Robert O'Toole

    I should add that all of the leading Virtual Learning Environments now include so called 'blogging tools'. They are in fact closer to the Penn State approach: depersonalised, institutionalised and unpopular.

    13 Jun 2006, 16:52

  4. naz

    I know many blogs that are private purely due to lack of audience (there's a lot of stuff demanding attention out there). A few that are deliberately kept so are because of the cathartic effect of writing on the authors.
    Uneditable is definitely harsh. My writing/spelling often suffers on my blog because of
    1. the need for me to type a thought out quickly, and
    2. the small text entry box I have.
    Fortunately once I've published, I read it thoroughly and edit it to remove mistakes/improve clarity of point.

    14 Jun 2006, 13:03

  5. naz

    Point in case. I forgot to question: Should a blog (web log) really be editable though?

    14 Jun 2006, 13:06

  6. Simon Croom

    I sat in on a webcast last week from the guy who runs the e–portfolio/blogs for Penn. The key thing was not the technology – they were essentially just web sites – but the integration of the sites into the course curriculum in certain classes.
    As with all this e–learning stuff the real advances are when the starting point is educational design and pedagogy and then technology is used as appropriate. Sadly too many 'innovations' are just a case of throwing some neat technology at students and faculty rather than a desire to improve learning.

    25 Aug 2006, 11:17

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