Weblogs and the "Middle Space" for Learning

By Deitering, Anne-Marie; Huston, Shaun | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Weblogs and the "Middle Space" for Learning


Deitering, Anne-Marie, Huston, Shaun, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

Advocates suggest that Course Management Systems can transform the higher education classroom into a more student-centered space. However, this has not happened. To achieve this goal more easily, some educators are turning to weblogs ("blogs"). This paper compares the educational potential of blogs and reports on direct experience suggesting that blogs can be a creative and interactive middle space between online and traditional classrooms.

Introduction

During the heady days of the dot corn boom and the rise of e-commerce, many observers thought that information technology would make it possible for universities to deliver active, student-centered learning experiences to students near and far (Schellens and Valcke, 2002; Zemsky and Massy, 2004). E-learning advocates have long argued that the pedagogical impact of technology goes beyond the delivery of information and lies instead in the power to create collaborative, learner-centered educational spaces. Nearly five years into the twenty-first century, the impact that technology has had on the practices of higher education remains uneven. With the widespread adoption of Course Management Systems (CMSs) technology is certainly omnipresent on college campuses, but teaching and learning have not been fundamentally altered by the spread and innovation of these tools. Some writers and researchers have begun to look to blogs, which are flexible and easy to use, as tools for realizing the promise of computerized and computer-assisted education (for example, Godwin-Jones, 2003 and Oravec, 2003).

This paper takes a critical and comparative look at CMS and blogs, paying particular attention to how these technologies can be used to create a "middle space" (Oravec, 2003) between fully online and traditional courses. The "middle space" is a virtual extension of the traditional classroom that encourages student-to-student interaction, provides a dynamic context for dialogue and feedback, and is particularly exciting in its potential for teaching with writing (for example, Brown, 2000, Hardwick, 2000, and Blair, 2003/2004). The authors draw upon their experience with a Writing Intensive geography course at Western Oregon University to examine the potential of weblogs in this context.

E-learning in Higher Education

A recurring theme in the literature on computer mediated communication is that these technologies offer opportunities for treating teaching and learning as truly social activities where knowledge is built through interaction and dialogue rather than lectures and recitation (Brown, 2000, Hardwick, 2000, Rice, 2003). An extension of this theme is the notion that these tools can reshape student perceptions about who "owns" their classes. More specifically, in online environments, students may feel more confident about contributing (Brown, 2000, Blair, 2003/2004), establish stronger relationships with other students (Brown, 2000, Hardwick, 2000, Godwin-Jones, 2003, Blair, 2003/04), and, as a result, develop their understanding of class material collaboratively and collectively.

Still, for most faculty members, day-to-day teaching remains fundamentally the same as it ever was. When asked if higher education has become more learner-centered, longtime technology advocate Carol Twigg answered simply, "No, it hasn't. I wish it had" (Veronikas and Shaughnessy, 2004, p. 60). To understand some of the reasons for this, the example of CMSs is illustrative. For many instructors, especially those without HTML or programming skills, these campus-wide systems provide a door into instructional technology. CMSs have "become essential features of information technology at institutions of higher education" (Warger, 2003, p. 64). Advocates agree that they can create a learning space that is social, active, contextual, engaging and student-owned (Carmean and Haefner, 2002, p. 27). Critics and advocates acknowledge that in practice CMSs are not usually used to this end. …

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