“A Learning Blogosphere”

A recurring theme here and elsewhere is that decentralized Web 2.0 technologies are better than older, centralized technologies (e.g. LMS & LCMS) in enabling learning on the Web. Here is an interesting story about a University of Michigan class that implemented blogs for learning, beginning about a year ago. The first installment from the Community Engine Blog is now posted:

Milestone 4 – Why blog instead of using technology X?

This question came mainly from academics who had invested in some previous computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) system. Nonetheless, it also came from students and is a reasonable question. Should we adopt new technologies because they are new? As I hope this tale illustrates, adopting new technologies is costly.

My answer is this. By design, blogging allows individuals to raise topics of interest and create threads of conversation without having to ask anyone’s permission. That was an explicit design consideration for this course; I wanted to know what was going on with students. Bulletin boards tend to be top-down and are owned by one person. Wikis force you to go through a social filter. Others can edit your pages or even delete them.

Second, because blogging also produces XML-based feeds, it is very easy to aggregate all of the individual contributions in one place while still maintaining individual attribution. Third, the XML-based feeds in blogs allow me to join people and resources to my group vs. having to get them to join me. Note, I did ask permission of everyone whose feed I aggregated into our site, but they did not have to go through a sign-on process and explicitly produce content for the site. By localizing content creation, blogs make it possible to ask permission and get a coherent stream of content.

The lessons learnt in this case provide some guidance to anyone implementing blogs for education today. Some of the obstacles were due to the fact that this class was just slightly ahead of the technology adoption curve, but their experiences can now inform many others embarking on similar trips. The numerous trackbacks & comments attest to the value of these experiences being posted.

In the space of a year, blogs for learning have moved from the bleeding edge to the leading edge.


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