Blogging with Graduate Students

By Buffington, Melanie L. | Distance Learning, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Blogging with Graduate Students


Buffington, Melanie L., Distance Learning


INTRODUCTION

Blogs are mainstream, with 39% of American adults reading blogs and 8% keeping a blog (Lenhart & Fox, 2006). An increasing number of educators use blogs with their students in different ways. Two semesters in a row, I used a blog with art education graduate students with vastly different results. In this article, I describe blogs, my introduction to them, and their increasing popularity. Following that, I explore the ways I used blogs with two groups of graduate students, discuss the experiences, and offer my thoughts about the reasons for the experiences. I conclude with my thoughts as to why the experiences were different and offer suggestions for others who wish to use blogs with their students.

DEVELOPMENT OF BLOGS

The exact origin of blogs, also known as weblogs, is not entirely clear. Barger (1997) is often credited with the first use of the term "web log" which was shortened to "blog" in 1999 by Merholz (2002). Writing in a blog is termed "blogging" and the word "blogosphere" refers to all of the blogs on the Internet (Ferdig & Trammell, 2004). Though blogs exist on virtually every topic, they exhibit similar characteristics including:

* Automatic formatting of content in the form of "headlines," followed by "entries," or "stories";

* Time- and date-stamp of entries;

* Archiving of past entries;

* A search function to search through all entries;

* A "blogroll" - a list of other blogs read by the author(s) of the current blog;

* A section associated with each entry where readers can post comments on the entry; and

* Simple syndication of the site content via RSS (Really Simple Syndication) (Martindale & Wiley, 2005, p. 56.)

According to Technorati.com, the blogosphere doubles approximately every 5 to 7 months (Sifry, 2006).

Like many others, my introduction to blogs occurred in March of 2003 during the early days of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. A story on National Public Radio described a blog kept by a young Iraqi architect that intrigued me enough to start reading. Titled Salam Pax, a combination of the Latin and Arabic words for peace, his blog quickly became popular around the world. Through this blog, he chronicled many events in his life; one touching entry dealt with his sadness when he saw that one of his favorite buildings in Baghdad had been destroyed by bombs.

As I grew more interested in blogs, I investigated how others educators used them and found blogs that involved K-12 students (Downes, 2004; Poling, 2006), college students (Kapur, 2003; Williams & Jacobs, 2004), academics (Glenn, 2003), and a brief discussion of blogs as part of research (blogsperiment, n.d.). The uses of blogs as a research tool intrigued me because there seemed to be much potential but little information. As Mortensen and Walker (2001) noted, "Traditionally, research and publication have been kept separate. Research blogs are not a final product but an indexical sign of the research process itself." As a qualitative researcher with theoretical groundings in postmodern thought, the idea that the research process, the researcher's thoughts, and the publication process could be combined through a blog was quite appealing.

BLOGGING AND RESEARCH

In the winter of 2005, I worked with two graduate students as their thesis advisor and introduced them to blogs (on the blog our usernames were our first initials only, thus, I use them in this article to identify the different posts and responses). We met face-to-face every 2 weeks and communicated through the blog. The blog we used was created with Moveable Type and was accessible to anyone who could locate it online. However, we were the only ones with the permission to make posts or comments. Blogging was voluntary for both students and it had no impact on their grades. Our blog started slowly, with a few test posts and discussions of passwords and the functionality of the blog. …

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