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Blog in the classroom - final evaluation
A bit later than promised, but here is the summary of the final group interview with the students on my experiment 'Blog in the classroom'. About half a year ago the students filled in a second questionnaire. In that questionnaire they were asked about general computer behavior, likes and dislikes about using the blog, their attitude towards math's, etc. In the interview I asked questions related to the questionnaire, mainly to get a better explanation of their previous answers.
- Generally speaking the students liked the experiment, because they were using a computer for their homework, they could see what others answered and they were solving the problem with the whole group. I asked them whether they normally solve problems (whether for math's or other subjects) with others. They said that they only do so during the lessons with the people sitting nearby.
Remarkable in the response of the students is that although the students say they collaborated on the problem, the teacher says otherwise. Especially in the beginning the students sent in their solution (they worked alone or in couples), restating what was sent in before them. Later on in the process, we can see in the comments from the students that there is more interaction and more use of normal language (instead of just math formulas). (Take a look at the archived blog
. Even without understanding Dutch you can see that their way of answering to the questions is different. Compare these comments
, from the beginning, with these
- Most students liked the idea of using weblogs for other subjects as well. Those that didn't, were afraid that it would take too much extra time, adding up to their regular homework. If weblogs would be used instead of existing assignments, the students wouldn't have problems at all.
- I asked the students whether writing an essay together in a blog with the whole group would be a good assignment. They were not enthusiastic about the idea. Their main concern is that not everyone in the class will contribute evenly, spoiling it for the rest. However, it would be better when students could fail the assignment when they don't participate enough. Then it seems more fair to the students.
From this conversation and the answers in the questionnaire I get the impression that these students don't have a clear idea what kind of assignments through blogs they can expect. In this experiment, they say they needed to spend a lot of extra time doing homework for this class. That makes them a bit hesitant for using blogs for other classes. Another concern for the students is the grading process for group work. They only like group assignments when the grades represent the effort of the individual student.
Although this may seem obvious, I know exactly what these students refer to (I got my education at the same school). This school's culture is one of moderate results. Excellency is graded down, failure is graded up, especially when it comes down to more subjective measurements of the teachers. Sometimes that can lead to unsatisfactory results regarding those students that underachieve.
- In the second questionnaire the students suggested other classes that could benefit from the use of blogs for assignments. To my surprise most of them thought it would be useful for exact sciences (especially physics). In the previous interview they told me that it took a lot of time typing in formulas. I expected them to answer that blogs are more suitable for 'normal' language based subjects (e.g. history, Dutch, English, German). Why for science?
The blog made them do the assignment, normal homework is often skipped. Teachers don't check students' notebooks whether they've done their homework. However, on the blog it is visible whether you've contributed to the assignment. And doing the work, they realize, makes them understand things better. Exact sciences are difficult subjects and it's hard work to understand it. The blog made sure they did the work. Some of these students do their physics homework together anyway, because otherwise they don't understand the subject. Two of the students told me they talk to each other through MSN a lot in preparation for a physics test.
The students don't think it would be easier to do language assignments through blogs. Although typing in formulas takes time, typing a lot of text does too. These students don't see the value of exchanging ideas and opinions about a topic as an assignment. They expect it to take a lot of time and they would only like such an assignment if it's a substitute for another one.
Only after the interview was over I realized that the group consists of students with a focus on exact sciences. Generally speaking those students are not linguistically oriented. For these students it might be more of a hassle to produce larger amounts of text than for students that are more linguistic.
- Finally, I asked the students about preferred teaching styles. This year they take their math's classes from a different teacher. The two teachers have completely different teaching styles: last year, the teacher started at the end of a chapter in the book and only went backwards if the students didn't understand things. The teacher left more room for self-exploration by the students. This year, the teacher explains things one step at the time and asks the students to do more sums. The students prefer the latter form of teaching. They think last year's lessons where too difficult.
Last year the students were around the age of 16. The same method of last year's teacher worked well with the group that was one year older (the year of the Central Exams). Maybe the shift in teaching styles from third to fourth grade was a bit too big a step. For these students it was the first year to be confronted with self-exploratory learning and they gave up rather quickly when they didn't understand, according to the teacher. (FYI: Dutch secondary education is split into three levels: VMBO, HAVO, VWO. The first two levels are preparations for vocational training (VMBO is the lowest level, HAVO the highest), These take four respectively five years to complete. VWO is preparation for university and takes six years. The students in this experiment were in HAVO 4, the pre-exam year.)
There is more to tell, but that is more specific for Dutch context and doesn't make sense mentioning here. If you can read it turn to my Dutch summary
. It's been fun running this experiment. The students gave me feedback about things I would never have thought of myself. If all goes well, I will be introducing blogs to more classrooms in the near future. Stay tuned!
Blog in the classroom
I've finished my Dutch report of the final group interview for my experiment Blog in the classroom. So for all my Dutch readers: go to Skallagrigg
(my Dutch blog) and read it
. For everyone else: I will translate it into English and hopefully have it published next Friday.
Blog in the classroom - update
Last monday I had the last group interview with the class that participated in my experiment. Due to an organizational crisis at their school, this last interview was postponed for a while. The students needed to dig deep into their memory, especially after the answers they gave in the questionnaire they filled in about half a year ago. Nevertheless it was fun and interesting to hear what they had to say about the experiment now that they have a bit more psychological distance to their blogging experiment.
I'm eager to share the outcomes of the interview with you, but somehow my local apache server doesn't start. Consequence is that I can't access my local wiki where I keep my notes (don't worry, notes are save). As soon as this is fixed I'll publish more.
The screen as teenagers umbilical cord
Just before Christmas (yep, it's been a while, sorry for that) I had a group discussion with the students participating in my experiment Blog in the classroom. It was 50 minutes of great fun to see and talk to the students. Especially talking about my father's teaching style (I had him as a teacher for four years) was amusing. He hasn't changed a bit ;-) I asked the students about their experience using the weblog. They experience the assignment as rather difficult, but using the blog is pretty easy. The only thing that makes them a bit reserved is the way they have to type in their solutions since it's all about algebra (meaning they have to use V for roots and ^ for power, see the blog for examples).
The thing that was most interesting to me was a remark from one of the students that it was easy to check whether something new was published on the blog. It just felt natural to sit behind the computer (mostly at school btw, not at home) surfing around, chatting perhaps and check out the blog in between. Another student told me that it is easier to check to blog, because she often felt 'too lazy' to get her books and notebooks in order to get some homework done. It seems that using an internet based communication tool is far more fluent for today's students.
To me that is the biggest challenge the educational system faces in the next few years. Schools are not dealing with the way teenagers learn. They are taught by people that grew up and finished their education before the internet era. Lots of teachers still lack the skills to teach current teenagers in the way they are familiar with and can understand. Loads of information is coming to them via the internet and everything they do is through the screen: the learning, the reading, downloading and listening to music, writing, designing and most importantly: communicating with the world. And if everything teenagers do is through the screen, why then is there so little taught through the screen??? It's time for a change, it's time to blog! (or to use wiki's or whatever you prefer as long as it's screen wise)
Blog in the classroom
So my little experiment is running for one month now. I'll recall what it's all about: I set up a blog for my father to use in one of his classes. The group exists of nine students. The age of the students is approximately 16 and they're educated in five years to go to colleges of higher education (for the Dutch: HAVO). The group that uses the weblog is in it's fourth year, the pre-exam year. The subject for the blog is mathematics.
The way the blog is used: the teacher has published an algebra problem that needs to be solved in a number of steps. It is the task of the students to collectively come up with a solution for the problem. Their participation on the blog will be taken into account for grading, as well as the quality of their solutions.
Before the students started to use the blog I asked them to fill out a questionnaire about the way the normally to their homework and their expectations of this experiment. Here's a quick summary of the students' answers:
the students normally to their homework alone
the students do ask a fellow student to help them if they can't solve a problem, but most of them do that only sometimes
most of the students wait with asking questions until the officially scheduled lessons
most of the students think that the amount of scheduled hours is too small to learn all the required material
they haven't participated in such a project before (where they have to produce a solution for a problem 'at a distance')
most of the students have no problem with sharing their answers with fellow students
only two (out of nine) students feel a bit scary of publishing something on the internet
most of the students think by using the weblog it's easier to ask the teacher something
most of the students don't know whether the use of a weblog will help them understand the math's problem and solution
So far the results from the questionnaire. In a few conversations with my father I asked him about his observations on the experiment. I'll sum them up:
the students seem to like the experiment
in the beginning the solutions came pretty quickly (they seemed eager to post)
some of the students come up with a solution together (they sign the comment with multiple names)
the teacher has good insight in the mistakes the students make
the way the students work becomes more clear for the teacher
the blog enables a different way of communicating through student and teacher, different than use of other ICT-applications. This experiment integrates the use of the computer more with the classes
although some students work together on solving the problem, the students don't really look into the solutions others come up with.
the students are not critical towards each other, they are not correcting one another.
I'm interested whether the last two observations will change during the year. It is obvious that the students are not used to collaborative working. They do their homework alone and there is one-sided communication during the classes. The teacher tells them what the solutions should have been. There is not much of a dialogue between students about the things they learn. It would be interesting to see whether it is the case for all subjects in school, but on the questionnaire they all say that they do all their homework alone.
At the end of December I will have a group discussion with the students in order to get more input from the students. The outcomes of that discussion will be published here. Let me know if you have any questions or remarks regarding this experiment!
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Blogs in the classroom
A few weeks ago I spoke to my father about blogging. Explaining what my conclusions are from my research I told him that blogs could be used for educational settings. As a maths teacher he was interested. The upcoming year will probably be the last one before his retirement, he only has half the hours than usual and therefore time on his hands, so I thought that running a little blogging experiment would be a nice way to end his carreer as a teacher.
The idea is that he will run a classblog, in which he posts maths exercises on a regular basis. The students will have to post their solution in the comments. I think it would be interesting to see what happens when students get clear insight in what their peers come up whith. When I look back at my own highschool period I never discussed the things I learned with my peers. Maybe this easy way of using a blog to share solutions publicly inspires students to discuss things more.
I suggested to my father that he ends this experiment writing a paper that could be published in a specialist journal for (math) teachers. But maybe I'll make it my experiment too, since I'm the social scientist and an expert on interviewing and blogs, and write a paper myself. Would this be a good idea?
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