The following blog post is a presentation I am giving this afternoon at a Hong Kong University symposium called Transforming Learning through Technology.
In January 2007 when I came to the Journalism & Media Studies Centre, the first thing I did was to enlist the help of web architect Boris Anthony (of Global Voices fame) to set up a blogging platform for our faculty and staff.
The JMSC blogging platform utilizes Wordpress Multiuser. This variation of the open source blogging software Wordpress enables the creation of an unlimited number of blogs on our JMSC server - but only requires that we install the software once. After receiving a user account, anybody on the JMSC faculty or staff can set up as many blogs as they want with minimum technical knowhow.
Over the past three semesters, blogs have been used by seven faculty and staff to teach fourteen different undergraduate and graduate courses at the JMSC. These courses range from Documentary Film to Media Law and Ethics to Reporting Public Health. My New Media Workshop course is also centered around a blog along with other Web2.0 tools - which I will go into later.
Most of our instructors use blogs to disseminate course information to their students, and to create a repository of resources and assignments that can be easily reviewed.
Doreen Weisenhaus has used blogs for four of her courses. She has been using the Internet as a teaching tool for eight years now, since first using an intranet chatroom to conduct classes online during the SARS crisis when classes were cancelled for a couple of weeks. She writes: "Later I used HKU's WebCT but did not like it at all. It was not user friendly. These Wordpress course blogs have worked the best of the three systems I've used." (See Media Law, Legal Reporting, Journalism Traditions, and Media Law and Ethics) Weisenhaus says that her course blogs facilitate communication with students, keep them up to date, and keep her organized. "They come to expect it. I couldn't imagine teaching without it."
She also had students posting to a separate blog in her legal reporting course. Three of the seven faculty members have also required students to write on their own blogs or contribute to a group blog as part of their assigned work.
When we created our blogging system we decided that we would not open it up for students to set up their own blogs. There are many good reasons why we would want to host course and faculty blogs at the JMSC's web address. But we felt that hosting student-controlled blogs on a public publishing platform would be an administrative nightmare over the long run, and too much for our small tech support staff to handle. Instead, students are asked to do their blogging assignments at Edublogs, a large Wordpress-Multiuser-based educational blogging platform hosted in Australia.
Last semester Thomas Abraham had his International News students posting stories on an Edublogs site. Since we are teaching journalism, which requires that students get used to writing stories for the general public, Abraham finds great value in this user-friendly public publishing platform. He writes: "The primary use of the blog has been for students to post stories. I think by and large the students have found it useful, and have enjoyed being able to post stories which the rest of the class ( and outsiders as well) can comment on. I think the fact that people from anywhere can read and comment on what they write, brings home to the students that their posts are more than just part of a course, but are part of a global dialogue."
My New Media Workshop course, as taught in Spring 2008, combined several elements:
- A central course blog housing the syllabus, weekly class notes, assignment information, resources, reference materials and some "how to" guides.
- Individual student blogs (see examples here and here) on which students posted most of their individual assignments. Since all blogs automatically generate an RSS Feed, I can aggregate all of the students' individual blogs into a single feed, then publish that feed to the web via Google Reader. This enables students to follow each others' work, and also makes it easy for me to follow their assignments via my own RSS reader (I use Google Reader).
- A class wiki which we used both inside and outside of class to brainstorm our final project ideas and to organize deadline schedules.
- A Google e-mail group for disseminating urgent announcements and for discussion of questions or problems the students would prefer not to air publicly.
- The Hong Kong Stories website on which we published the students' final reporting projects.
Previous iterations of the course also had students sharing information via the JMSCHKU tag in the del.icio.us social bookmarking system, though we did not get into it this past semester as I had decided to spend more time on other things.
Having been a practitioner before coming to the JMSC I have never taught without these tools - and can't imagine teaching without them (or running a project without them for that matter) - so it's difficult for me to say how they have altered the journalism teaching and learning experience. Ease of use aside, for the teaching staff at our Journalism and Media Studies Centre it makes a lot of sense to teach and assign work where appropriate on a widely-used public blogging platform rather than an internal system like WebCT. It's important for students to become comfortable with web tools and systems that they encounter frequently on the public web and which they will wind up using in real life - either as reporters working for news organizations, or as freelancers promoting their expertise via their own websites, or as founders of internet media startups which are easier to launch than ever - thanks to new user-friendly, open source publishing platforms like those we are using in our classes.