Monday, January 11, 2010

Does Blogging in the Classroom Help or Harm Students' Writing?

A thought dawned on me a little while back. While at a conference on how to teach writing skills to college students, the most popular presentation by far was on the panacea of blogging. Indeed, everyone in education talks up its merits - even those teachers who haven't implemented blogging into their curriculums yet (and bemoan their lack of technical skills as the culprit).

But amidst all the hype, is there any evidence to suggest that blogging actually helps students' writing?

In fact, couldn't you make a plausible argument why blogging, in fact, harms it?

Exhibit A: I've personally integrated blogging into my classrooms, using trial-and-error to find what works best. Requiring students to start their own blogs led to lots of (mandatory) participation, but not great content, and ultimately I'm not convinced it helped develop their writing skills at all. A second tactic was to run one class blog myself, and encourage student commentary - but that only led to more work for me, and hardly anything gained, again, by the students.

In retrospect, the students would have been far better served by devoting more time and effort to the substantive course material.

Exhibit B: There is not a single research study that I've been able to find (if you know of one, please let me know) linking blogging in the classroom to improved writing skills. Thus, until one is performed, educators ought to step back and remember that the idea remains simply theoretical.

Exhibit C: After my own experience taught me that blogging wasn't much use to students, and since no scientific evidence exists rebutting that conclusion, let me share another insight provided by a colleague of mine. He emphatically insists that requiring students to blog was the worst idea he's ever encountered as an instructor. In fact, he believes (in not so soft terms) that the students' blogging made them far WORSE writers.

When pursuing a low-stakes approach to writing, it's inevitable that plenty of grammar and spelling mistakes will arise. But, ironically, those students most comfortable with the blogging format - the so-called "Digital Natives" - produced posts that were almost incomprehensible, filled with BTWs, IMOs, and other LOL-speak that would make any academic roll their eyes.

Furthermore, because the course was designed to only grade whether the low-stakes blogging assignments were completed or not, a perception arose that those highly active digital native students with the worst LOL-speak were actually succeeding in the class because of the manner in which they were participating. The worst writers were being rewarded the most.

Obviously, some ways of integrating writing assignments into the classroom are better than others. But based on my experience, and contrary to what many academics are postulating, blogging in the classroom hasn't helped students' writing at all.

I'd love to hear any feedback on this subject...


At 2:03 AM, Blogger FreddyAIppolito said...


At 11:31 PM, Blogger Amber said...

I have just read your blog. I am currently a college student taking CS 201. Our teacher has made it part of his curriculum for us to blog. He made a grade sheet for us to follow as far as how he will grade the blog. Spelling and grammar are one of the things he will count off for if done incorrectly. I am one of those people that spell with the BTW's and LOL's. Having this required has helped me to not only expand my mind a little but being graded on it and knowing that missing one blog brought down my grade by two points has made me be a little more cautious of spelling and grammar mistakes. I do think it will help students with writing and that if they are graded on it, it will matter a little more to them. It really depends on how much the teacher wants to grade. In the real world you will not be able to text type or talk, so requiring students to get out of the habit now will be good in the long run. This is just my experience and opinion on the matter.


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