Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why Blog?

Why create a blog or use a wiki for education?  One good reason is that blogging fulfills the "write something" mandate that Atul Gawande recommends as one of the keys skills in becoming a positive deviant; another is the metacognitive aspect of the experience discussed in this video:

There are many reasons why people blog.  As an educator, I have found that my students depend more and more upon web-based resources.  Learning to use these resources, and better yet, create them, offers an incredible opportunity to teachers.  Lets say that you've decided that you're going to take the leap and begin to blog, or create a wiki, for your students.  What tips can get you started?  If you're unaware of the "Twelve Tips" series published in Medical Teacher, check them out.  The following tips are a few that I found helpful from an article published from that series regarding these web 2.0 tools.

1.  Appreciate the uses of blogs and wikis

These web 2.0 resources have 3 main uses: read, write, and interact.

Reading a blog or wiki are easy to access.  As the author, many programs allow easy incorporation of digital media such as video or pictures that can be shared with the learner.  Links to outside sources are easy to add as well.

Writing can be done by the learner.  This is useful for creating reflection in learners.  These tools can also be used to create online portfolios for the learners.  For some time, I've wanted to do an experiment with my residents and see whether learners in difficulty would benefit from writing a blog covering the content that they find difficult.

Interaction is fairly easy through blogs and wikis.  Through the use of co-authoring or comments, these tools foster the creation of an online discussion board.  Learners can even exchange documents.  While interaction holds the biggest potential, I've found it to be the most difficult use to facilitate in my learners.

2.  Be clear about why you are using a blog or wiki. These tools do have some limitations.  Make sure you are matching the technology to the needs of the learner.  These tools tend to have reduced functionality compared to tradition websites which can limit the amount of content delivery.  Fortunately, as technology improves, the amount of content that you can deliver via these tools only seems to increase.

3. Decide how you want to use the reading of a blog or wiki as a method to enhance learning. I use both a wiki and a blog.  The wiki hosts the entire formal curriculum for the residency.  Residents can download their assignments at their leisure, log the completion of assignments, and a few even have personal pages where they share their knowledge with the rest of the class (EKG and Critical Care pages).  From a teachers perspective, our curriculum is literature based and I'm able to rapidly change reading assignments to keep the curriculum current, and well ahead of any textbook.  The blog is more of a hobby.  It allows me to digest the materials that I'm studying and keep them handy for future reference.

4. Choose appropriate technology to create the blog or wiki.  The tools that "create" your sites vary in their functionality and cost.  Some are completely free but others will increase in cost as the feature go up.  For our wiki, we use Google Sites, which is simple to use and inexpensive ($10 per year for the storage we need).  One thing that we're now finding we need is the ability to limit access to certain pages.  The site unfortunately doesn't allow this feature.  Knowing what you might need in advance will save you time and headaches in the long run.

5. Expect barriers.  While many of todays learners are tech savvy, I've encountered moderate resistance from some.  Participation from the learners varies widely, with some jumping right in and creating content to others who just use it to download their assignments.

These are just some of the tips with my own 2 cents added.  The article provides 7 more which you will find useful if you're just jumping into this.  One thing is fairly certain.  Web 2.0 tools are going to be around for a while and are very popular to the learners coming through the system currently.  Mastery of their use offers a unique opportunity to improve their learning and possibly even accelerate knowledge translation.


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