Current Pedagogy of Group Edublogs
In a typical group edublog setting in common use today, the majority of interactions continue to be through either the filter of a single central authority, the instructor, or through a group of peers. The use of the Class Blog, the Collaborative Blog, and to a lesser degree, the use of Sharing Circles and Learning Partnerships, reinforce the role of the instructor as the central authority, and students as dependent. The transmission model is still widely practiced within these blogging settings. Although several attempts are made to encourage independent blogging by offering learners their own blogging spaces, most interactions in these blogs do not reflect what the students really feel or think. Emotional comments and feelings of frustration are commonly withheld by most learners concerned about the impression made on others. Most posts are carefully contrived guesses by students at what their instructor or peers thinks is the best way to post. These guesses and calculations made by student bloggers are based on a list of cues provided by the instructor and their peers. Careful attention is given to how others interact, what script (tone, style, language) is used when a post is successful, that is, when it has been commented on by the instructor or by peers. Furthermore, students calculate the likelihood of creating an orphaned post, a post that receives no comments whatsoever, despite the amount of time spent carefully organizing the thoughts. Orphaned posts, unsurprisingly, are to be avoided.
Oftentimes, within a group blogging environment, the student perspective of tentativeness and guarded, calculated blogging is reinforced by other learners, as well as mirrored by the instructor’s approach to blogging (Haskins, 2009, blog post). Subsequently, there is often an absence of playfulness, of wit, of openness to dialogue and discussion. This selective enforcement of guardedness on the part of the instructor internally to students within the group (censuring is often done off-blog by email to individual detractors) extends to beyond the group, where no outsiders, such as former students of the program or current students registered in the program but not registered in that course, are permitted to engage in conversation with the participants if uninvited by the course instructor. Attempts by outsiders to build rapport with the group members are met with silence. By remaining silent to outsiders, instructors model the expectation that the students should do the same.
Within such a group blog setting, learners are instructed to review specific texts, and then answer specific questions. Everyone answers the same questions the same way within the same timeframe so that by the fifth student’s post, most of what needs to be discussed has already been covered. In groups of between 3 and 5 learners, this would be fine, as students could then build on each others’ ideas, given more elaborate instructions, examples of past students’ posts on the same topic, and the feedback of both the instructor and several outside guest experts volunteering to join the discussions.
What in fact, happens, however, is that students go into panic mode, and many do a loss/benefit calculation, coming up with a list of strategies:
1. Post an inane comment “yes, I agree with John”
2. Engage in repeating most of what has already been said,
3. Remain silent, making sure to participate early in the next post cycle rather than lose face,
4. Give apologies, and state you have been busy,
5. Make excuses that you have not read the article, and adopt the role of reviewer of what the posters have contributed,
6. Get frustrated, and go into silent mode, calculating that the time and energy spent on the “stupid” blogging activity is not worth the grades assigned to it anyways, and devote the time to the other activities.
Reasons for Student Disengagement
For a large number of learners, opting out seems a legitimate strategy, forgoing the entire blogging process altogether, with the loss of the corresponding grades.
Tom Haskins (2009, blog post) has described several reasons for disengagement which are relevant:
- “learned helplessness” or “morbid dependency on authority figures following years of getting told to comply with classroom dictates;
- chronic anxiety tied to pending crises in other contexts which interferes with paying attention, making a contribution and subsequent reflection upon new information
- repeated incidents of confusion, disorientation and defeat from under developed resources for critical thinking and conceptual manipulations
In most group blog settings, learners have little interest or investment in retaining their contributions for future reference. Oftentimes, the attitude of students is that the ideas generated and contributed by students are specific only to this one setting, and they will be abandoned without regret or a second thought. Students’ unwillingness to engage in intensive self-reflection is reinforced by institutional policies.
Mike Bogle recent blog post has taken issue with the ways blogs are being used for instruction, and suggested that motivation is affected and learners’ interest in engaging in potential reflections wanes when they are aware that their access and their future involvement are severed at course end, when the LMS shuts them out. Thus, for most of these learners, it is unsurprising that the contributions are contrived, shapeless, heartless, devoid of passion and meaning, and created in an attitude of compliance and dependency.
Equally unsurprisingly, these students have little commitment to continuing the discussions beyond the course end date, migrating whatever model posts they might have made for personal archiving, or setting up their own blogs in future. For them, the activity has been a necessary evil to obtain grades, and the degree of compliance with the rules has led to the award of grades.