NLI Pilot Program Uses Social Networking, Blogging for Project-Based Learning
Today’s typical high school student cannot recall a time when blogging was not a daily activity. Blogging, or posting news, thoughts, reports, reflections, or comments on the Internet, is a communications skill that many students already possess. Even if they don’t call it blogging, when they are posting on Facebook, or “tweeting” Twitter, blogging is essentially what they are doing. The challenge for educators, as with other areas of communications technology, is to find ways to help students use this skill as a learning tool.
In 2009, the New Learning Institute in California began several pilot programs to explore the use of blogging as a way to enhance and expand educational opportunities for students. The NLI's Nancy Chou explains the educational potential for blogging this way:
“If you look at the original etymology of the word blog, which comes from web and log, you see that a blog is a web diary, an electronic expansion of a journal. Teachers understand how to use journals, but blogs greatly expand the uses of journal making, because they allow students to not only record their experiences, but to share and collaborate. The conversation that might go on in a classroom can now go on all day long, wherever students have access to their blog.”
In addition to a means for self-expression, a blog provides students with a way to quickly give and receive feedback on any media project, as blogs become showcases for digital arts of every sort. Blogs are also platforms for group projects as team members can remotely participate and exchange ideas and an avenue of interactivity and communication with their teachers and their peers. This is especially true if student blogs exist within a dedicated social network that allows for group blogs and discussion boards as well as individual blogs.
Fitting Blogging into the Curriculum
The goal of the New Learning Institute in these pilot programs was to integrate blogging as a tool to enrich and supplement existing curriculum. At Metropolitan Arts & Tech High School in San Francisco, that meant working with faculty to create a blogging component for the school’s Workplace Learning Experience (WLE). In the WLE program, students mentor under a career professional, do real work, solve real problems, and gain invaluable life experience. In the spring, the one hundred Metro students who take part in WLE spend one full day a week at their internships.
Working with Metro High School educators, the NLI developed a blog space for the WLE students on a social networking site. The students were divided into groups of twenty: each student had an individual blog and each group had its own group blog as well. The students were given regular assignments to answer questions about their work experience or post observations. They were also free to comment on or respond to posts by others in their group.
The use of the blog and social network transformed the WLE program from a set of individual internships of one hundred students spread throughout the city to a collectively shared experience. The knowledge students were gaining on the job could be instantly shared with others in similar situations. Questions and challenges could be posted online for rapid response either by teachers or classmates. The learning process was freed from the bounds of a particular classroom or job site to take place wherever and whenever students had access to the Internet.
The Blog as a Publishing Tool
At Frida Kahlo High School in Los Angeles, the NLI worked with teachers and administrators to develop a program that utilized the capability of blogs as a publishing tool. At Frida Kahlo, students are organized into units called advisories, with approximately sixteen students per unit. The NLI assisted the students and their teachers in setting up a group blog space for each advisory and individual blog pages for each student.
The blogs became part of an ongoing curriculum area that focused on students’ awareness of identity formation. The group blog spaces were established as an area for ongoing discussion of this topic. At the same time, the individual blogs became self-publishing platforms for the students. As issues of identity formation were discussed in class and on the blog, the students in each advisory were given assignments to research questions of identity in their community.
Students were provided with mobile devices and asked to record interviews with family, neighbors, and members of the community. These digital records, in video or audio formats, were then uploaded to the student blog pages, where they could be viewed and responded to by their teachers and by other students. The communications technology and blogging platform created a collaborative process that linked the students’ home life with their life at school. What would have been an individual conversation in an interview became a group discussion.
Blogs as a Creative Tool
At the Field Museum in Chicago, the New Learning Institute worked with staff to adapt a social network platform and blog site for the Museology Department, which runs a program for Chicago high school students who are interested in learning the science and techniques of museum exhibition and management.
In the department’s graphic design workshop, students were given the assignment of creating text panels for a museum exhibition. The NLI team worked with students, showing them how to use mobile phones and a blog page as creative tools to aid in developing the panels. First, students used the phones to capture images and upload them to Ovi, Nokia’s online home for communication applications. They then used online graphics tools to combine the images with their own text. The finished panels were published on the blog for review by teachers and other students. Comments and suggestions were incorporated into revisions of the work that were also published online. The final products were then printed and displayed.
Technology Presents Opportunity
The New Learning Institute continues to investigate ways to use advances in communications technology and applications to expand the possibilities for education. Young people are quick to adopt new devices and software, and as education professionals we must meet the challenge to keep pace with them. We’ve learned that what may seem like background noise or a distraction, in this case the omnipresent blog, Facebook page, or Twitter account, may, in fact, hold tremendous potential as a learning tool. By following students as they explore the range of electronic media now available, we can help guide them to use these new ways of connecting to achieve success.