Welcome to the final blog post in the series for the Teachers Toolkit for Engagement. Until now, we have covered eight other activities to engage students in active-learning. These will assist teachers with active-teaching. These include:

This is post number nine and looks at Blogs, Wikis and Group Work. Here, we look at how students can be challenged beyond the classroom and we provide an overview of and the purpose and benefits of blogs, wikis and group work with a few examples.

Challenging students to learn beyond the classroom

How can you challenge students and motivate them to learn outside of class? Learners can be engaged using Blogs, Wikis & Group work. Why not expand the students’ audience to beyond the classroom? Blogs and Wikis are cheap methods of encouraging learners to contribute to an open forum and larger audiences. They can gain peer acceptance, recognition and feedback. These tasks can be done individually or as part of a group.

Learners seek validation of their knowledge and understanding. External audience members may provide comment and inspiration on students’ posts. This is two-fold. By challenging students to contribute to an online blog or wiki, students gain experience of writing posts and using different software/services. Students can share ideas with each other and the world at large.

Yes, it can be a terrifying experience. Students are putting themselves out there. Learners want validation and encouragement. As students, feedback is sought. If feedback is received, it can be viewed as either demotivating (negative) or constructive (positive).

When community peers do make comment, it is worth remembering someone took the time to read the work. They considered it and made comment. That’s all very positive in the scheme of things. It encourages dialogue from and between peers who may have a wealth of knowledge to offer.

Setting up tasks:
Blogs

As a teacher setting up blog projects, decide how ‘open’ the blog is to be. Is it completely open to the world? Is it a university micro-site for alumni or students from similar disciplines to contribute and feedback to? What parameters are you happy for students to operate within?

Depending what the teacher decides, there may be a need to moderate posts more frequently. This approach is considered careful and it can foster a community of learning and peer acceptance quickly. Students learn as much from each other as they do in taught sessions.

Preventing larger audiences impacts the opportunity of receiving comments. As a teacher, do consider the advantages and disadvantages of openness of work versus the risks of open commenting.

As a teacher, it might be you need to prompt a few industry contacts or alumni to read student blogs and make comment. It helps knowing someone is going to comment.

Credit: Patrick Fore
Credit: Patrick Fore
Wikis

Commenting works especially well with wikis. Why not task alumni groups to critique student work?

Ask students to create wikis on compelling subjects. It’s finding those niche topics and creating a wiki to fill the gap in the market. Niche wiki pages are more likely to be critiqued and commented upon.

Wikis are a great training ground. Students can use pseudonyms in favour of their real names. However, teachers need to know student pseudonyms for assessment purposes.

Having students use public forums for written tasks increases learner engagement whilst keeping the quality of the work high. Students will be motivated with boosted confidence levels.

Credit: Luke Chesser
Credit: Luke Chesser
What about group work?

Group work can be considered when using blogs and/or wikis. It might be a series of written pieces that have to be consistent in terms of content, knowledge and tone. Groups can decide upon individual roles, themes and time frame.

By comparing a series of blogs to group presentations, skills overlap. Planning. Research. Investigation. Analysis. Communications. Writing. Time management. Decision making, etc.

The group task might include every member having to write at least one blog post and proof-read others in the group. This helps make the series of blogs become cohesive and read as one voice.

Credit: MD Jerry
Credit: MD Jerry
The purpose and benefits of:
Blogs

A blog can be considered an online journal. ‘Blog‘ originated from the word weblog. And, blogs can be used as a marketing or learning tool to create an online presence. They can be informative; as a blogger, you might want to share your knowledge and skills.

The content of blogs can be experiential, i.e., travel experiences. They could be reviews of equipment and/or services. Blogs can engage audiences resulting in subscribers. Many blogs are impactful, i.e., political or through influencers via mainstream social media.

By writing blogs, this improves communication and written skills. Many blog sites have in-built tools to highlight the length of sentences, the use of passive voice and other ‘rules’. This is to help improve the readability of a blog.

There is merit in the saying: if an eleven-year-old child can read and understand the content, anyone can understand it. This makes for a better reading experience.

What are the benefits of student blogging?

As a student, you have a platform to write, to share your thoughts and to influence, help or impact readers. Students take control of their learning through reflection and development of thinking.

When creating blogs, other skills are being used, i.e., using the internet and other services. This includes sourcing relevant images, i.e., from creative commons or public domain. This is a creative task that can be used for any subject.

Students may receive feedback or encouraging comments on posts. And, if people share posts, it’s encouraging and might motivate students to write more. This leads to students sharing their knowledge and increasing their professional network and may lead to monetization.

Ultimately, blog posts may make a difference to someone.

Credit: Clark Tibbs
Credit: Clark Tibbs

The disadvantages of blogging include:

  • The frequency of posting. If you have committed to posting weekly, stick to that rule.
  • Planning a series of blog posts can be challenging.
  • Creating a blog takes time, research and energy. You can blog stating opinion on a subject but it’s good to back it up with facts.
Good blog examples

When it comes to blogs, what is ‘good’ depends on your interests. These are just a few examples of blogs:

Wikis

Wikis are collaborative online articles where multiple authors can contribute to the same article. This is based on sharing knowledge for the common good. The word ‘wiki’ comes from Hawaii and means to be quick or fast. Wikis can be quick to create through group or community collaboration on a subject.

The advantages of using wikis in student projects include:

  • They encourage innovation and build learning communities.
  • Students grow in terms of higher order thinking. It requires research, thought and assimilation of knowledge.
  • They are personally connected to the content.
  • And, students create new knowledge through wiki creation.

As teachers, student wikis can be used as future learning resources. These can be further added to or amended through the passage of time. It’s a living document.

The major disadvantages:

  • Other people can edit the wiki as well. This can be a source of frustration for students and takes away their ownership of the content.
  • To edit wiki pages, students need an internet connection. The same is true of blog posts. However, blogs can be written as a Word document and copied over later. It doesn’t need as much internet time.

When it comes to assessment, the students work needs to be presented. Not the live wiki page. Content edits can be seen on the wiki page. For assessment, record the student work by printing to PDF. As the wiki is a living document, it will change. This is not a disadvantage, just something to be mindful of.

Credit: Ian Schneider
Credit: Ian Schneider
Good wiki examples

It was hard to show only a few good wikis, so we’re sharing them all and you can look through wikis that interests you:

Group work

Group work has been used in education since the dawn of time. This involves tasks where groups of students need to collaborate and complete a project for assessment within a defined time frame. This helps develop group work skills such as:

  • Communications
  • Decision making
  • Time management
  • Problem-solving
  • Leadership, etc.

Working in groups provides opportunity to learn more through combining group knowledge and considering different viewpoints and ways of thinking. Finding and investigating possible solutions and making informed choices.  

Whilst group work can be challenging. Group members may over- or under- perform, This can lead to tension, conflict and a lack of trust amongst members. An ineffective group will not manage their time well. It might be the group are indecisive with a lack of leadership. This can lengthen the time required to make decisions and does not convey individual thinking.

When groups work well, more can be achieved compared to an individual with the same task. There are more resources available and it can lead to greater productivity.

Credit: Nick Fewings
Credit: Nick Fewings

Other advantages for students working in groups:

  • Tasks are broken down into manageable chunks.
  • Delegation of roles and responsibility.
  • Groups members hold each other accountable.
  • Support and encouragement from group members.

As teachers, group work allows for more complex tasks or problems to be set and solved. Group work takes the focus off teaching. The teacher can learn from students as they apply novel solutions. When it comes to assessing work, there are fewer projects to mark, however, grading becomes complex.

Good group work examples

For these examples, we looked toward everyday life and news stories. Examples of good group work include:

Summary

Blogs and wikis are two different outputs. Once published, blogs remain ‘fixed’ whilst wikis are forever changing. Through engaging students with these online tasks, students achieve ownership of content and seek validation and approval from peers.

Whilst blogs may be commented upon less frequently, comments received can be encouraging. Wikis may be commented upon more frequently and amended by other contributors. This can be frustrating for students completing tasks.

Both blogs and wikis can be group tasks. When compared to presentation tasks, both outputs are basically presenting findings. The output is to an audience beyond the classroom.

The thought of posting something the world can view and comment upon may be daunting. However, having peers within the learning community give feedback and guidance on what you have shared is priceless.

Through building communities of learning and student-industry networks, this is a fantastic way for students to learn beyond the classroom and be encouraged and/or mentored by peers. This learning will continue beyond the course of study and can immerse students in their chosen careers.

Next time

This post is the last-for-now in the series of the Teachers Toolkit for Engagement. We hope you enjoyed the series and have a new activity or two added to your teaching toolkit to engage students in their learning.

Next Monday, we are back to one blog post a week and we look at the Countdown to Teaching. Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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