GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Blogs in higher education – some ideas about their benefits and downsides

In Anamaria's Posts on 2010/06/07 at 09:00

Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden.

I have recently been awarded a small course development grant meant to use blogs in the teaching of European studies. I already had an idea about what I wanted to do: help students create and administer a web space where information about European politics, media, culture, and student life is presented in bilingual fashion (with posts in Swedish or English and in the foreign language of choice or in the mother tongue of students in the Bachelor and Master respectively). The blog entries will be structured along several themes, and the students will be grouped according to their preference in theme groups. The blog is planned to become a permanent feature of the programs, with different generations of students writing and commenting on each other’s posts.

When writing the course development proposal I had clearly in mind the advantages of using a blog. In discussions with one other interested colleague, we came up with a list, which I will share with you below:

  1. Allows web-savvy students to legitimately use their favorite source of information, the Internet, and makes use of their skills for the purposes of the program
  2. Increases the students’ motivation to take an active part in the learning process, since blogging is fun and interesting
  3. Develops the communication skills of students that are less internet-savvy through peer-to-peer learning
  4. Keeps students informed with the most up-to-date information about of their object of study
  5. Through the use of comments and other forms of feedback, it develops critical thinking (and the appropriate ways to put it into writing)
  6. It is a portal for creativity and personal initiative where good ideas are rewarded not only with good grades but also with direct responses from colleagues and,  hopefully, from readers across the web
  7. It increases the visibility of our programs on the web and has the effect of giving it a more clearly defined positive image, which in turn may result in higher commitment of the students to the program and a sense of pride in their work
  8. It makes learning flat, not hierarchical, with the teacher as control point rather than unique source of information and interpretation

Of course, the list is not complete, and several other points could be added (if you have any suggestions, they are welcome). The last point is for me the most important: the fabrication and distribution of knowledge is no longer in the hands of one person, the teacher, supposed to be in control of the information flow and in the possession of the “truth”. On the contrary, students and teacher are nodes in a knowledge network, where information is communicated and, most importantly, interpreted and contextualized.

Despite the great enthusiasm with which I embarked on this project, I could not help but worry about all sorts of possible downsides. I will enumerate these points as well:

  1. Students may in fact be less web-savvy than I assume – harder to teach them the tools of web communication and publication
  2. Students may be less interested in participating in the knowledge network and may prefer the one-way teaching system with the teacher as the unique source – too costly to engage in knowledge production
  3. Students  may lack self-criticism or may air controversial, politically and factually incorrect information
  4. Students that do possess relevant and important information may be reluctant to share it because this would take away their advantage in the classroom

So, after having considered these negative sides of the project, I am now in the phase of thinking of preventive measures against them. If any of you has any ideas or direct experience of using blogs in your teaching, I would really appreciate your feedback. After all, this blog is also about sharing knowledge, is it not?

Anamaria Dutceac Segesten

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  1. I believe the answers to all of your concerns is to provide some good(as in encouraging to contribute) content to start off with. This initial content will provide the framework of the community. Once it hits of in the right direction, you’ll just need to moderate the forum in the right direction by small pushes of facts, critical questions and tantalizing challenges.

  2. I’m trying to work out those same problems for an intro to women’s studies course I am teaching in the fall. I want to have the students create an entire project (hopefully including a blog) around a selected international women’s issue. I want them to use the blog to share any information they find that might not make it into the final project, but they would like to share. I want to engage them in the learning process, and to get them actively learning throughout the semester, not just cramming at the end or doing the whole assignment over the last weekend before it is due. I’ll be following this discussion closely.

  3. I used blogs with all my second year design students this year. The point about assuming web-savvyness is a good one. It turned out few of my students knew what a blog was!
    We wanted them to blog as a way of developing writing skills, to build up an open culture of discussion and peer learning/support, because it’s a useful way of building up networks (especially in the design field), and as a way of reducing our assessment load (no more piles of essays!)

    It takes time to get them to see “the point” but I tied to blog to assessment – so they had to post entries on each of their assignments. Most students simply used the blogs for that purpose, and the level of writing was often low. “We had to do x, y and z” rather than “Recently I’ve been looking at x, y, and z”.

    Some of the lessons I learnt were:

    do a video with an accompanying hand-out to show how to set up a blog and, importantly, how to use an RSS service to read other people’s blogs. Also show them how to use links and embed video.
    Get people from outside to read the blogs and comment, supportively.
    Offer examples of good blogs and set “response assignments” to posts at, say, a leading newspaper or magazine blog.
    Have a course blog that you keep, that the students must read, that provokes responses on their own blogs. Feature “best of” student entries on the course blog.
    Consider group blogs rather than individual ones. Dissuade entries on trivia such as nights out, but don’t keep it purely about the course or subject.
    Emphasise the role of the reader – who are they writing for? Why? (If they think no one is reading, or just their friends, the standards slip. If they think potential employers are reading, they freeze – so aim for an informed, non-specialist audience)
    Maintain “journalistic standards” – facts not opinion, unless the opinion is grounded in fact. Refer to other sites, reports etc.
    Consider moderating for unsuitable posts, spelling etc – that would require a course blog that all students can contribute to as a sort of “online magazine” for the course which would require some administration, but maybe the students could run it? (I have 150 students so it’s not feasible but a smaller group could do it)
    Give regular writing/response assignments with short deadlines. e.g. if a story breaks on an issue related to your topic, say election results in Country A suggest a rise in hostility to new entrants to the EU, ask for responses in a 600-word blog post by the end of the day.
    Assess the blogs. Very important.
    Get a guest speaker or three in who will talk about their use of blogging – eg the editor or a contributor to a newspaper. The European correspondent for The Guardian might be a start.
    What about joining up with a university elsewhere in Europe or further afield for a joint blogging project?
    Introduce them to Twitter for sharing links (microblogging) and networking.
    Let them know it’s an experiment to help them get an edge over students elsewhere. Get them to identify the benefits rather than you telling them.
    Expect a huge range of responses and achievements.

    I have lots more thoughts on this! Some colleagues at another university were talking to me yesterday and they think student blogs should be private but I value the public face of blogs. I expect early attempts will be quite naive but at the end of the year I advise the students to start a new one. However, starting privately, maybe using a wiki, could be a good starting point with public-facing blogs coming later when they’re more confident and have more to say.

    Here at Dundee we started a thing called “Studio Unbound” and it’s spun off into a workshop where a former student goes to different universities to talk about the value of social networking/blogging etc. They even do it remotely (google “studio unbound” for more info). What we’ve found is that getting a graduate in to talk about how useful they’ve found blogging etc in making contacts, thinking about their work etc, is much more valuable than a lecturer going on and on about it!

    I’m planning to write a case study on my experience doing this and we’re extending the project next year. Good luck! Let me know if I can help with anything🙂

  4. Thank you for all your comments and very useful ideas. I will return with feedback from my own attempt at using blogs – sometime in the fall.

  5. I mustagree with you on the importance of incorporating the use of blogs into a classroom assignment. privaacy may be an issue but of course with the use of all the online chat sites this shoyld not be a probblem, students these days must work to realize as many types of communication avenues as possible. practice will help students who do not already work with blogs to get up to speed. the younger studnets probbably will pick it up faster but that is the way with all the new technological advances we are seeing these days. good luck


    this appeared today on Didn’t knownif you saw it. Wanted to share.

  7. Great link,Lee,thanks! It does seem that everyone who is interested in teaching with blogs fights the same problems.

    It also appears, fortunately, that in the process of experimenting with the blogging idea, many solutions to these problems become apparent. I am definitely wiser after having read this on Inside Higher Ed’s blog: “The commenting, more than any other activity the instructor engages in, demonstrates the instructor’s commitment to the course and to the students. In turn the students, learning to appreciate the value of the comments, start to push themselves in the writing. Their learning is encouraged this way. Further, since the blogging is not a competition between the students and their classmates, those who like getting comments begin to comment on the posts of other students. The elements of the community that the class can become are found in this activity.”

  8. […] favorite subjects, blogging in the academia, but this time with a focus not on the students, as in my previous post, but on the scholar herself. I believe that blogging may be a useful tool for those of us involved […]

  9. […] thinking about a research blog of my own for some time. I have been writing about blogging both for students and for scholars. I have helped my students to start their program blogs. I have admired others who […]

  10. […] have written elsewhere about the up- and downsides of academic blogs, so I intend to focus here less on the practical […]

  11. Hello Anamaria

    Happy to see this post.
    Here in India, I have been using blogs as a regular resource in my engineering teaching.
    In addition to above, I have used blog a build a transparent evaluation system, wherein a blog is used to post each student’s work so that rest of class can see and comments. http://

    Thanks again for a thoughtful post

  12. […] favorite subjects, blogging in the academia, but this time with a focus not on the students, as in my previous post, but on the scholar herself. I believe that blogging may be a useful tool for those of us involved […]

  13. […] favorite subjects, blogging in the academia, but this time with a focus not on the students, as in my previous post, but on the scholar herself. I believe that blogging may be a useful tool for those of us involved […]

  14. […] favorite subjects, blogging in the academia, but this time with a focus not on the students, as in my previous post, but on the scholar herself. I believe that blogging may be a useful tool for those of us involved […]

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