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Professor uses blogs to connect concepts, encourage interaction in abroad course

4841330621_bcc1fd3380This past fall, Dr. Laurence Basirico in the sociology department led the general studies course, Culture and Institutions of Italy, at the Elon Center in Florence. The course relied heavily on sharing content and communication between his students, so on the recommendation of a peer, Basirico decided to see if blogs could benefit the collaborative atmosphere he wanted.

How Basirico used blog 

Every week, the class would discuss an element of culture and through the blog, students had to relate it to their institution (family, gender, etc.). Basirico’s plan was that the blog would not only keep students thinking throughout the semester, but also act as a resource for them.

“On the blog, [the student] collected information about culture, institutions, posted scholarly articles, and responded to weekly prompts,” Basirico said. “With all those documents, they compiled a work cited page. The idea was that by midway through the course, there would be enough information on the blogs that they could draw from to write their final papers.”

Basirico was originally inspired to use blogs when his colleague, Dr. Thomas Arcaro, used them successfully in his own classes. Basirico found, in his experience, that the blog was easy to navigate and share content on, which made it a great resource for his course.

“It is easier [for me] to use than Moodle,” Basirico said. “It required fewer steps. There was also a certain appeal about it for students. It was easy for them to get into it and easy to share.”

For Basirico’s class, the blog became a central space for students to post, share and react to their peer’s work. Thus, Basirico says, the class became more like a research-based collective rather than a traditional class.

“[The students] were responding every class and rather than me giving them the information, they collected it themselves, creating a conversation between us,” Basirico said. “I acted more like a research director [than a professor]. The students would find the information, post it on blog, read others blogs, and discuss in class. This helped conversations remain ongoing throughout the semester.”

How his students reacted

This idea of a dialogue-driven, interactive classroom was something Basirico strived for, and it seemed to succeed. According to junior Adrienne Euler, the blogs established a community among her peers.

“I think it created a sense of community in our classwork,” Euler said. “It gave me a chance to read other students’ work and get a feel for what they were thinking. Writing the blog posts also gave us regular opportunities to reflect on the world around us in a more casual way than paper writing assignments.”

Junior Ashley Roth referred to using blogs in the classroom as “unique,” seeing as it strayed from the typical classroom dynamic. Roth says that the blog made it easier to see the connections between what they were learning.

“Before this course, I had never used blogs,” Roth said. “I was typically accustomed to submitting assignments directly to my professor rather than on a public website. [But] the goal of our class was to understand how all the Italian institutions are interrelated. Since all the students were writing blog posts on different institutions, we were able to read those posts and make connections to the social institution we were examining.”

Junior Cate LeSourd was not entirely convinced of the blog’s effectiveness, but she realized how much more she was reflecting on the topics in class and its connection to the culture at large.

“At first, I felt like I wasn’t learning much from the articles, but I felt like this method really helped me pay attention to things I wouldn’t have normally,” LeSourd said. “I was learning and observing more because we were required to reflect on it, which helped me gain more from the assignments and my abroad experience in general.”

In general, the students seemed to have a positive experience with the blogs. LeSourd, for one, liked how it connected students to the material and created a long-standing resource for the students to refer back to in the years to come.

“I enjoy using blogs because it is less formal than a [traditional] write-up but also a way for students to collaborate and see their work collectively as a whole at the end,” LeSourd said.  “I remember Dr. B told us that as we leave Italy, we can always have this database of blog entries to look back on and I am very grateful for that.  I would definitely use them again.”

 

Do you think blogs are an effective tool for the classroom? Let us know in the comments below!

Image via Flickr user LaMenta3 /CC BY-SA 2.0 

Casey Brown

Casey Brown

Casey Brown is the Writing Intern for Technology with Elon University's Teaching and Learning Technologies Department.

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