The short answer is yes. Blogging can create community in an online course, if you design it that way.
Let’s start by defining what I mean by blogging. I am starting with very basic stuff because someone entirely new to online teaching may need just such a primer. If that’s not you, avert your eyes for a moment. At its base, a blog is a web page that lets you post updates. It places the newest update on top and pushes the older updates down. Blogs are generally text-based but can incorporate images and videos. Blogs also have a commenting open.
Blogs are ubiquitous now and are used for everything from entertainment to news.
How would I use student blogging in my online course?
There are a number of ways you can use blogs in an online course. You can use it as a journal, a way to educate others, or a way to entertain others. Blogs allow for reflection, a place to explain concepts, and a place to leave comments.
Using blogs as a journal can be an effective way for students to keep a chronicle of their learning. You can include a short reflection at the end of each major assignment or at regular intervals throughout the course. The journal will give them and you a clear look at their learning path. Another way you could use journaling is to have students write entries on specific writing prompts that connect to the learning.
Blogs can also serve as a repository for student work. You can have students create all their assignments in a blog form and submit the link to you. One of the benefits of this method is that a blog is public. Students have a much wider audience than their teacher and, in my experience, their writing reflects that. This, too, allows you and the student to see growth over the span of the course.
Blogs can hold all sorts of things besides text. You can ask students to create and post infographics, memes, or mock-ups of designs. They can also create videos and embed them in a blog. You can have students create action plans and post them in the blog.
You can also use blogs to helps students build a portfolio. Determine what types of pieces you want a finished student portfolio to look like and then design the assignments and lessons around that outcome.
As a matter of fact, if you took part in the 3-part discussion board series, you can use any of those strategies in a blog rather than a discussion board. It’s a little more cumbersome because students have to move to separate pages to see different students. But students don’t get to keep the discussion board. The blog is theirs forever. That is something to consider when you’re designing which way you want your course to go.
So now we get to the big question.
How can blogging create community between my online learners?
In a previous post about discussion board challenges, I talked about the importance of teaching students how to give good feedback. Feedback is the heart of how you build community using blogs.
You can assign students to small teams or groups during the course and make commenting and giving feedback on blog posts a regular part of their class participation. This gives each student a guaranteed audience and community. Students can read and comment on all the blogs if they choose, but they must interact with the blogs of their team members.
Students can personalize blogs and add pages to make it their own. This personalization helps students get to know each other better. You might even require students to create an About Me page with at least a picture and a short bio. If you follow the strategies in discussion board introductions, you can get some insight into the goals and motivations of your learners that will help you steer the class for the session.
A few tips before we wrap up
While blogging works really well within a synchronous course, where the students are all working on the same material at the same time, it does also serve in an asynchronous, or self-paced, class. In the self-paced class, you can collect blog links from your students as they move through the course and create a repository of links from past students that current students can browse through and comment on. This does have the effect of making the student feel less isolated. It’s a lesser effect than a live group to interact with, but it’s still a benefit.
Another thing to consider is that you can use student blog posts as exemplars in future versions of your course.
My last tip is super-important. If you’re going to use blogs, you have to use them consistently. Just having students post once or twice during the course is a waste of their time. It doesn’t create anything they can learn from because there are not enough points to create a pattern. And doing it only a few times isn’t enough to get students used to it. It doesn’t give them a chance to get good at it.
Grab a notebook or the back of a receipt or something and brainstorm as many ways as you can think of to have your students blog. Try to think of 50 things. Most of them are never going to see the light of day, but the act of trying to generate 50 ideas will spur more ideas and get you reaching. You will definitely find some gems in that list.
Once you’ve brainstormed that mondo list, type it all out in the comments… wait. No. Don’t do that. Choose one and share it in the comments of the companion YouTube video. Be sure to explain why you chose that one and what students might get out of it. I look forward to the conversation!
If you’re considering using blogs, check out the discussion board series. The blogs are slightly different from the videos/podcast.
You can also download my free ebook Online Course Creation Made Easy: 25 Activities to Engage Your Online Learners.