Moderating and Ethics for the Classroom Instructional Blog

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2/26/2007—If I still taught in K-12, would I use a blog? It's one of those new technology tools that some of us digital immigrants might struggle to appreciate. Knowing what I do now, I probably would at least try one because blogs can support the collaborative element so important for peer to peer learning. While some blogs serve personal agendas, in education they can be used for student journals and portfolios, communication with parents and community members, faculty coaching, classroom management (e.g., posting assignments), and other knowledge management tools (Long, 2002) and enhancing classroom discussion.

But then I start thinking of the work involved to have a good one.

I'm not one to do something just because it's in fashion. As I have taught several online courses in higher education, it occurs to me that there is a relationship between conducting online discussions using a course management system, such as WebCT, and conducting blogs in the K-12 classroom, including some ethical considerations that students must be taught. If I had a blog, it would have a purpose tied to some instructional outcome. To know if that outcome has been achieved, I would have to find a way to set up and moderate the blog without exhausting myself. But how? What are the rules of engagement?

To begin with, every unit of instruction should include standards, goals, and essential questions with corresponding understandings, knowledge, and skills that you desire students to acquire. If I had a blog, I would set up discussion focused on just one or two essential questions at a time, and I would limit the time of each discussion, perhaps to the length of the instructional unit or a week. I would identify the frequency and due days for student posts and expectations for their responses to others. I would model a reply to illustrate the quality I expect. I would make my own presence known and encourage students to initiate questions on course-related topics. They might find this one of the most beneficial and rewarding aspects of discussion.

If I had a classroom blog, everyone would be required to participate and respond to others. There is value in this. Stuart Glogoff (2005) found that without that requirement, a blog can easily be abandoned and die. Consider what typically happens when a teacher poses a question in a traditional classroom, hopefully of an open-ended nature. There are always the few who dominate discussion. Too often students state opinions without solid support from content they are studying. Sometimes they drown out others. There are always disengaged students who pray you don't call on them and others who might have something truly relevant to say, but are too shy to do so. The discussion is often teacher-student centered, rather than also including student-student dialog. As in the asynchronous environment offered within a course management system, the blog is a vehicle to ensure that everyone is heard and is a valued member of the learning community.

Guidelines
If you elect to blog, you might consider some of the following guidelines drawn from my online teaching:

1. Provide posting guidelines. Suggest a minimum number of words or length for each posting based on your criteria for what constitutes a substantive post. Generally, one to two focused paragraphs per post is appropriate. Criteria might be stated in a checklist or rubric for graded discussions--yes, associate the requirement to participate with a grade. A substantive response might include references to assigned readings, other resources learners have found, and their views on practical applications of principles they are learning. As students must be taught to credit the work and ideas of others, a blog might be a good place to introduce students to APA format, MLA style, Chicago style, or even AP style for aspiring journalists.

2. Provide HTML support, if needed. Depending on your blogging service, you might need to teach students some introductory HTML code to create new paragraphs or live links to any Web content they provide. New paragraphs are created very simply by adding <p> at the beginning and </p> at the end of each. A link can be created by filling in the URL and words to appear on the screen using the code <a href="http://.......">Words to appear</a>. Alternatively, students might use the HTML features of Word to compose replies offline.

3. Give priority to student commentary. Your reply to student postings can stimulate dialog. On the other hand, it might be perceived as the final word and cut off discussion. Consider waiting to add your comments until conversation is waning. Then you might summarize key points and recharge discussion with another question (Muilenburg & Berge, 2000). Ideally, every discussion should have some kind of closure. Learners will feel more valued if you quote their posts in any wrap-ups.

4. Involve students in summarizing and moderating discussions. Let's do some math. You might have a class of 25 students, posed only one discussion question for the week, and asked students to not only post an initial reply, but to respond to two other learners. That translates to reading at least 75 posts, replying to many, and then composing your own initial contributions--and you have five classes. Did all learners participate fully? Were the replies of value? Summarizing content takes time, and you might wonder how useful it will be. The question is, "Who should summarize your blog discussions?"

Glogoff (2005) stated, "[S]tudents reported that the peer-review capabilities of blogging contributed to better understandings of course content" (sec: Student Responses to Blogging). So, why not use your blog to help students develop critical thinking and metacognition? You should summarize at least once to model how it is done. Then let students weave and summarize as a way to reflect on their own learning and contributions of their peers. Weaving relates discussion sections from prior weeks to the current week or is used to synthesize multiple responses. You might also have students take turns as discussion moderator for part of a learning experience. Assigning student teams to moderate discussions also enables high levels of feedback without exhausting you.

Ethical considerations
A blog is still a public forum, even in the gated environment of a password-protected class account you might have created with services such as Class BlogMeister or Edublogs.org. Martin Kuhn (2005) suggested that any valid code of blogging ethics needs to consider values both unique to and shared among those in the blogging culture. The ethics debate goes on, and there is still no agreement about best practices, nor how to enforce a code should one be developed (e.g., Bloggers Code Imminent?). However, as educators, we are charged with keeping our students safe and instilling ethical considerations in them. As you monitor a blog, will you delete comments that don't meet your standards or appear to hurt others? How much free expression should you permit in the K-12 blog? Should learners define their own blogging rules? According to Kuhn, "Any workable code of blog ethics would need to strike a balance between ['factual truth' and 'free expression'] and encourage practices that would enhance both" (p. 6). In general, the rules of engagement in blogs appear to include the need for truth, accuracy, and accountability for what you say, as well as respect for others even when you might disagree with them. There is also need to ensure that bloggers keep private issues private to minimize potential harm to others.

Final words
The blogosphere is filled with dangers--"misrepresenting opinion as fact, plagiarism, conflicts of interest, and newer trends, such as word of mouth marketing" (Kuhn, 2005, p. 5), and before entering that bigger world, you can use your classroom blog to do more than help students reach instructional goals. With good moderating, you can teach them the skills for monitoring their own online behaviors. In the end, ethical self-monitoring is what ensures that the blog is a vehicle of trusted content.

Resources

References

Glogoff, S. (2005). Instructional blogging: Promoting interactivity, student-centered learning, and peer input. Innovate, 1(5). Retrieved February 9, 2007 from http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=126

Kuhn, M. (2005). C.O.B.E.--A proposed code of blogging ethics. Retrieved February 9, 2007 from http://rconversation.blogs.com/COBE-Blog%20Ethics.pdf

Long, P. (2002) Blogs: A Disruptive Technology Coming of Age? Campus Technology. Retrieved February 9, 2007 from http://campustechnology.com/article.asp?id=6774

Muilenburg, L., & Berge, Z. (2000). A framework for designing questions for online learning. The American Journal of Distance Education. Retrieved February 9, 2007 from http://www.emoderators.com/moderators/muilenburg.html

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About the author: Patricia Deubel has a Ph.D. in computing technology in education and is currently an adjunct faculty member in the graduate School of Education at Capella University. She is also the developer of Computing Technology for Math Excellence at http://www.ct4me.net.

Have any additional questions? Want to share your story? Want to pass along a news tip? Contact Dave Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

About the Author

Patricia Deubel has a Ph.D. in computing technology in education from Nova Southeastern University and is currently an education consultant and the developer of Computing Technology for Math Excellence at http://www.ct4me.net. She has been involved with online learning and teaching since 1997.

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