Sunday, November 9, 2014

Co-Learning: Thoughts from students on blogging and sharing

The students in my classes share and comment on each other's work every week, and I am learning right along with them. We use both blogs (mostly Blogger, although it is student choice) and websites (mostly Google Sites, although that is also each student's choice) to share and connect online, with students commenting on each other's blogs and commenting about the websites via a "comment wall" blog post at each person's blog. You can find out the nitty-gritty of how that all works at my Anatomy of an Online Course blog.

For this post, I'll just pull out some comments from the students' blogs this week that I hope will convey a sense of how the sharing and commenting process works. Every week there are hundreds of comments, which means several thousand comments over the course of the semester. To see the comment stream, I use Inoreader, and you can take a look also. The feeds come in by each class: Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics.

It's a bit weird taking the comments out of the context of the class, but I'll provide some commentary before each one with my own thoughts — and they are happy thoughts: being able to listen in on their comments for each other always gives me such a big boost, and I enjoy their comments very much!

Students really value each other's work:
I absolutely love the concept for your storybook as a whole. I like the idea that the stars are watching over these unfortunate princesses and while they may not be able to intervene, they can give the girl the eternal protection she needs by placing her in the stars. 
I knew in the beginning that the stories would only get darker but you really did a great job! I love how you made your readers curious till the very ending. I was literally entranced with every word until the very end. I like how you added your own twist to the portrayal of Nadine and how you made the story very interactive. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who is slightly frightened to enter Zarrow Hall again. Overall I absolutely loved your storybook from beginning to end. Your ending was very fitting and a perfect fit for the overall feel of your story. It’s sad to see something so good end but you should be very proud of all the love your story receives! 
Students are great at sharing their own reading process as they explore each other's work:
It was very creative how you managed to fit this classic story into a futuristic Dr. Who atmosphere. I was very impressed with your writing throughout the story of Aladdin, but I think the most impressive thing of all was the speech and vernacular of the narrator. The dialogue really felt as if it was really coming from the character, and you totally nailed the clever, kind of quirky personality that is Dr. Who. When he was talking about the jewels that Aladdin came across in the cave, the line "some of the jewels were even shaped like chubby babies" caught me off guard a little bit and really made me laugh! Aladdin is certainly brave (or perhaps just crazy) taking away the Sultan's daughter on her wedding night!
The introduction of Giovanni's character was very mysterious. But without a description of his character, I think that part was too mysterious. What a cliff hanger you ended this story on! I'm sure it will be quite exciting to hear about what Galileo has done to land himself in a court like this one. It makes me wonder if it has anything to do with the way he was forced to renounce his faith by the Christian church. I am also looking forward to the history of Italian literature that you plan to add in the next story. I bet that will really help to flesh out your project and give a lot of background.
The students have a choice of reading each week, so sometimes they are looking at assignments based on the same reading they did, and sometimes different — either way, it makes for good comments:
I really like what you did with this story. I did not read the Celtic tales unit but kind of wish I had after reading this tale about leprechaun and their little tricks. 
I think you did a great job recreating this story! I read the Alice in Wonderland unit last week and found it difficult to make a new story out of it because the concepts are so abstract. You did a great job in switching the story to be told from sports commentators. It allowed for the whimsical element of the croquet game to still be present, just told in a new way. I did a similar approach by keeping the details and story the same from the Looking Glass story and merely set it in a new setting. Great job tackling a rather harder unit to retell!
Reading about what one student has read can spark an interest to do that reading too:
I think I like that I can visualize the stories you are retelling because they all take place on campus. The book that you have repeatedly referenced in your Author's Note is definitely a book I plan to read through. I read your last story about Zarrow Hall, and man, was that scary! I have actually never been in that building so now it makes me curious to visit it. 
I hadn't read this story before but your retelling prompted me to read the original. I can definitely see why you wanted to change the ending somewhat. That was so sad! I thought that your retelling was great. I loved that you weren't afraid to change up the story. I am always to timid to change it too much, but I thought you making the ending more honorable was definitely a great choice. Awesome job!
Students also connect through experiences that are not part of the class as they read and comment on each other's introduction posts:
I can so relate to you on the rigor of taking Anatomy at OU. I studied more than ever for that class and in the end it all payed off and I felt so accomplished. I hated that class as it was happening, but appreciate it more than any of my other classes now. I think it is so cool you worked at a Vision center this summer. I took physics over the summer and in physics 2 we learned about lenses and how the eye works at different angles and how corrective lenses, such as glasses and contacts, work to fix any impairments in vision.
It seems that we share a similar passion for traveling. After I traveled on my own in Italy, I ended up adding Italian as a major. In retrospect, it has been one of the best decisions of my college career. I hope you get the opportunity soon to travel on your own. I did a month on my own in Europe, traveling from Dublin to Arezzo, Italy, and I found myself transformed after coming back to the US. Make it a priority!

I'll stop there, but I could go on and on... and those are just a few comments out of the hundreds this week, and the thousands over the course of the semester. When I look through these, I am so grateful to the students for their energy, their enthusiasm, their interest in one another's work... it's wonderful! It would be impossible for me, on my own, to give back all that attention and excitement that their work deserves, but with everybody sharing together and everybody commenting on everybody, the class is full of good energy all the time.

My conclusion: learning together is better! And for a graphic, I'll use this nifty item that came from Karen LaBonte's blog post re: David Kolb and experiential learning. As I read through the students' interactions with each other, I get a strong sense of that cycle of learning:

experiencing ~ reflecting ~ generalizing ~ applying 

My guess is that if I asked the students just to reflect and generalize from their individual work in the class in a private way, each on their own, they would not get very far. But by experiencing each other's writing, reflecting on it, and generalizing from that, they are then able to find new ideas to apply to their own work and in their own lives, and then other students get the benefit of that as they experience what the students have written and shared, and on and on it goes. Not to mention how I get to experience, reflect, generalize and apply from all that I am learning as part of this process as well!

So, I cannot imagine teaching any other way, and I look forward to challenging myself in the next two weeks to find more and better ways to help foster social learning in my classes!

Meanwhile, for people who are just getting started and thinking about having students blog, I am glad to answer any questions you have. This is something I have been doing for over ten years, and every semester is a complete adventure for me. I have nothing but good things to say about it, and if there is any information I can share or ideas you want to brainstorm with somebody, just let me know! :-)


  1. I loved your post, Laura! I've had the pleasure of using blogs as a writing/sharing/global platform for year 9 and 10 students, and the result was very rich. Happily I've also got our Art students taking charge of their own learning using Pinterest boards. These are only very small examples - the rest of the school continues without tasting these delights. I can't understand how it's not obvious that opening up writing/curating/thinking is a great thing but so it goes. Your examples have inspired me to keep trying to make these things happen. I need teachers on board because I don't have my own classes.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Tania! It was hard to stop where I did because I could have just gone on and on with all the good student energy; every week is a great week for me because of all the goodness I experience through their work. I am so glad that sharing these examples can be useful to others. I know that when I started doing this, I just took the plunge because I knew how much blogging and web publishing had meant to me personally and professionally, so I hoped the same for my students... and so it turned out to be true for them too. One of the best spokespeople for OPEN on our campus is also someone in the Library, and what's great is that she is able to be in touch with faculty across all our different colleges and programs, which is great; it gives you some wonderful opportunities to keep planting those seeds and just seeing where they may grow!
    Here is the blog of our OER person in the Library, Stacy Zemke - you might find it useful too! OU Open Ed: University of Oklahoma. She is at Twitter also: @OUOpenEd


If the comment form misbehaves, you can also find me at Twitter: @OnlineCrsLady.