Student blogging

There are real challenges in teaching a required information literacy class to college freshmen, but we keep trying to make our class, LALT 101, more relevant and interesting to our students.

Through last spring, students took weekly quizzes through WebCT. It made for easy (read: automatic) grading for the instructors, and it helped students prep for their midterms and finals. Students could take each quiz multiple times, so ostensibly they learned the topics being covered.

Each class session included group searching activities, so, again, ostensibly the students were learning through doing.

But it didn’t feel like enough. After ten class sessions, we weren’t always confident students could do much more than find their way to Academic Search Complete. Yet we seemed to have an inherent conflict between creating meaningful assignments and limiting instructor grading time. In the past, limiting grading time was given higher priority (and, I should add, not unreasonably given the many other responsibilities of librarians who teach LALT 101).

But somehow last August, just days before the beginning of the new semester, in chaos of our move to AUC’s new campus, I managed to convince my colleagues to give student blogging a try. We re-wrote our syllabus and lesson plans to incorporate blogging assignments into the curriculum, deleted our old quizzes from Blackboard, and dove in.

There were moments last fall when I thought our blog project was going to be an absolute disaster–in large part because I underestimated librarians’ comfort with learning, using, and teaching WordPress–and indeed some instructors were miserable about blogging through much of the already-chaotic semester.

It was looking like we’d abandon blogging and incorporate student assignments into Blackboard discussion groups. But then we asked students to blog answers to a couple of simple questions:

  1. What did you like about blogging through WordPress?
  2. What didn’t you like about blogging through WordPress?

Here are some of the comments we received (with spelling and grammatical errors intact–please remember these are non-native speakers):

Bolgging through wordpress was easy and simple. It was not complicated.

Blogging through wordpress made the whole experience much more interesting for me because it helped me acknowledge the fact that I can get anything I want to get across to a large group of audience.

I really liked WordPress. I don’t think i faced any problems using it.

I did not know that it is so that easy.

Blogging through WordPress gave me a new insight to the idea of blogs and how people generally discuss topics online, which is something far more serious than when I discuss anything on facebook for example, as a hobby.

what i liked about wordpress is that it is something new and i felt that it is more professional. moreover you dont have to worry about whether the professor got it or not you just do your work put it there and they will see it.

This was my first time to make my own blog, actually. I found the entire experience rather interesting in fact. What striked me most about it was the idea that you can use it as your own personal magazine, you can write articles, add pictures and even links to other web pages.

what I like about blogging through WordPress is the idea of applying what we have taken in class on a network that join us as a clas with our instructor. ANd I liked learning how to create a blog for myself

Students were overwhelmingly, if not universally, positive. In particular many instructors were surprised by how much student liked blogging. And this encouraged many instructors to reconsider the value in blogging.

Blogging is a big deal in Egypt. This spring an AUC graduate student blogger was actually jailed following some of his political activities. Other political bloggers have seemingly disappeared. Yet our undergraduates seem to have little exposure to blogs beyond what they’ve been taught about them (“blogs are personal diaries online”).

Blogging their homework–no matter how dull they find the actual assignment–connects them to the web beyond Facebook. And, it seems to help them learn.

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I’m a Shover and Maker!

Shovers and Makers 2009: I’m a winner! (So are you.) shoversandmakers.net

I don’t know much about the Library Society of the World, but I like their style and followed the lead of many clever and attractive librarians and declared myself a Shover and Maker.

You should too!

Why not use Google?

Classes started at AUC two weeks ago, but we’re just starting our first real session next week, in part because of an exemption exam and in part because of some construction delays on our new campus. In any case, as I prepare to teach two sections of our semester-long library class, I find myself wondering how I’ll convince students of the value of library resources.

Just today I’ve been doing some of my very own research, on canine seizures (a topic that, unfortunately, has become of great interest to me in the past few days). Right now I have an article printed out that I’ll read more carefully later. You know how I found it? This morning I googled dog seizures. I dismissed the first result. This article? It was the second result.

I did some evaluation almost unconsciously: I read through several paragraphs and took note of where it agreed with what little I already knew from my vet; considered its lack of currency (1995); noted the in-text citations; and glanced through the bibliography. But I did not research the article’s author, consult a library database, or even look at the URL.

So I did exactly what we tell our students not to do: google something and use one of the first few hits. Of course, I’m a librarian with a decent sense for what’s credible and what’s not. But I’m no expert in veterinary studies, and this article could be total bunk. But more than seeming credible, it answered all the questions I had, with an overview of the topic, explanation of symptoms and diagnoses, and a list of pharmaceutical and alternative treatments. In short, it gave me exactly what I wanted.

This week, if my students are feeling bold, they might ask me, “Why not Google?”

Ultimately, sometimes the most practical answer to this question may be, “Because your teacher says.”

How about you? What’s your best answer?

Britannica opens to users

Via the Chronicle’s Wired Campus, I read that the Encyclopedia Britannica online is now welcoming “greater participation” from its users. Hmm, an encyclopedia with user participation… sounds familiar.

The Britannica press release emphasizes how they are not Wikipedia (which isn’t named, of course):

Two things we believe distinguish this effort from other projects of online collaboration are (1) the active involvement of the expert contributors with whom we already have relationships; and (2) the fact that all contributions to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s core content will continue to be checked and vetted by our expert editorial staff before they’re published.

Of course, the irony is that oft-cited study by Nature which found that Britannica’s science entries, no doubt fact-checked by these Britannica experts, were only a bit more accurate than Wikipedia’s entries.

Britannica’s quest to be more like Wikipedia has me smiling as I’m a librarian who doesn’t hate Wikipedia and am frustrated by students’ reports of faculty refusal to allow students to consult Wikipedia in their research. I suspect students will use it regardless and it’d be a better use of our time to teach them how to 1) do their own fact checking, 2) use Wikipedia appropriately, and 3) find other good, reliable sources (which should also be used appropriately and fact-checked).

Because of course it’d also be inappropriate for these students to use Britannica for this same research. Singling out this one resource seems like telling your kid he can have anything to eat except candy… and then putting the candy on the counter in front of him while the healthier snacks are tucked away in the fridge.

An interview with Jimmy Wales in today’s Chronicle hints that Wikipedia might trend towards something more like Britannica itself, with some articles flagged as having been vetted by academics.