[CITASA] Blogs, online teaching, and skill sets

carey sargent cs2wq at virginia.edu
Fri Oct 23 14:16:39 EDT 2009

This has been a great conversation to follow. I wanted to chime in with a
couple of comments one on the use of social media during class discussion
and the other a blog assignment I am testing out this semester.

I'm teaching an upper level seminar on social media and we have the luxury
of working in a computer lab. We've been experimenting with using social
media inside the classroom during discussion. Students work in small groups
discussing a particular concept or set of questions and instead of writing
down a summary of their ideas, they type as they talk (and often incorporate
on-line research), making their conversation visible to other groups in the
class in real time. The tools we have used are our university system
which has a wiki and blogger function, Google Docs<http://www.google.com/docs>,
and Drop.io <http://drop.io/>. I recently wrote a blog post
how well they work and what is I think is useful about using social media
this way. If you don't feel like looking at my blog post, the bottom line is
that I found using social media in class discussion helped students to
engage each others ideas more fully without that initial self-censorship
that arises from fear of the teacher's approval or peer approval.

The course aims to get students to think critically about how information is
produced and distributed on line and to consider which information becomes
visible and how. They are assigned to create public blogs on a topic of
their choosing (which is not about course content, so the blogs are about
things like crafts, news and photography). They then have a series of
written reflections and in class discussion about the challenges they face
in creating content and gaining and audience for the content that asks them
to think about course concepts like the digital divide, privacy, the
commercialization of on-line content, net neutrality etc. as they practice
producing their own content. So far it seems to be working, but, like others
have said, I've found the students knew far less about the technical side of
blogging and constructing a public voice than I anticipated. This has slowed
down how far we can advance the conceptual/sociological side of the project.
However, being able to go through this process actively with them does seem
to make particular sociological concepts stick like glue - particularly
issues about the authority of on-line content, issues of privacy and
copyright, the role of "connectors," and the relationships between
traditional media institutions and blogging. I'm happy to share the
assignment with anyone who is interested.

Thanks for everyone's input!

Carey Sargent

University of Virginia
PhD Candidate Sociology
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