Happy Friday, Thinkspiration Readers! In this first month of 2013 we’ll be featuring guests posts from authors who recommend pairing Inspiration Software with other ed tech tools. First up is from Jessica Ruane, former writing tutor.
The Future of Education— Student Blogs and Learning Software
By Jessica Ruane
Writing is a polarizing subject to teach. Students either love it or hate it. I was a writing tutor for many years, and to this day I can still remember the first words out of every student’s mouth who came in to work with me for a tutoring session. It usually went something like this: “I hate writing. My teacher is confusing. I’m only taking this class because it’s a requirement.” Does this sound familiar?
What if there was a way to get your students motivated and excited to write? What if somehow you could channel their social media addictions into a productive activity that enhanced their writing skills? What if there was a way to do all of this while teaching them a valuable professional skill that automatically makes them more employable?
There is a way to accomplish these goals—student blogs and interactive learning software like Inspiration. Teachers who try to implement bans on the use of electronic media in the classroom are fighting a losing battle. Learning software like Inspiration’s graphic organizers allow students to visualize concepts and make thematic connections, while using a medium in which they are already comfortable.
By transitioning student writing onto a digital platform you will see the level of student engagement increase dramatically. For the most part, students hate writing silently in journals. For some kids in-class freewriting may be productive, but in my experience the vast majority of students viewed it as psychological torture, and got next to nothing out of it.
Here are 6 compelling reasons why writing instructors should incorporate student blogs and learning software into their curriculum, all of which I have seen through working in classes that utilize student blogs.
1) Students Actually Enjoy Using Technology and Blogging Platforms
I think every teacher would agree that when students buy in to an assignment, the quality of their work increases tremendously. Blogs and learning software have a social media component which students love. Students are not going to easily abandon Facebook or Twitter in favor of doing homework, so why not give them a productive way to satisfy their desires to be plugged in, connect with their friends and upload content? Blogging is practically the same thing they would be doing in their free time—for homework!
2) Students Are Able to Establish a Sense of Ownership
The process of playing around on blogging platforms (such as BlogSpot) and being able to customize the look and feel of their blogs will help your students establish a sense of ownership over their writing. A blog is another social media platform, and students love expressing their unique personalities through these technological tools. Updating their blogs will become something your students will want to do, as opposed to an assignment they have to do. Make it very clear to your students that these are their blogs, and encourage them to get creative with how they look.
3) Students Can Connect To and Read Each Other’s Blogs
One aspect of student blogs that really struck me was the level of engagement. For homework, the students in our class would have to write a blog post about something connected to the material; then they would be asked to read and comment on three other students’ blogs from our class. For the instructor, it’s truly an integrated way to teach reading and writing at the same time. Students use the critical thinking skills they are learning in class, and apply them to their peers’ actual writing. It’s like intellectual Facebooking. If you implement this great tool, encourage students to leave thoughtful questions and constructive feedback.
4) Students Develop Valuable Computer Skills in the Process
In our class, we had some students who were still developing basic computer skills. Blogs and Inspiration’s software tools are a great way for beginning level students to practice basic skills like typing and uploading images. At the same time, more technologically advanced students can play around with their blog’s layout and even do some basic HTML coding. Blogs and learning software allow students to build technical skills, which they can include on a resume. Plus, for students who are interested in the field of writing, your class has just become an internship for developing web content!
5) Students Can Easily Access Class Material and Supplemental Resources
Student blogs work best when the instructor keeps a blog as well. For the teacher, grading student blogs is easy–and you don’t have to lug around 30 paper journals! Students will have access to your blog where you can post class PowerPoint presentations, the syllabus and links to any supplemental websites you think would compliment the class material. The blog dashboard becomes a place where students can go online to do their homework, interact with the teacher and connect with each other. And the best part is, it’s all free!
6) Students Leave Your Class With an Online Portfolio of Their Writing
Many of the students from the class I’ve referenced continued their blogs after the semester ended. However, even if they don’t keep updating your students will leave the class with a beautiful display of their work. After the semester ended, I noticed many of our students linking to their blogs on their personal Facebook and Twitter profiles. They were truly proud of their blogs and encouraged their friends and families to read their work. Some students even tried to get their friends who weren’t taking the class to start blogs of their own!
Student blogs, along with visually based learning software like Inspiration, provide students with a dynamic learning experience while allowing them to work within their learning style. Lecture-based learning is ideal for students who are auditory learners, but in actuality the majority of students are visual and kinesthetic learners. The built-in graphic organizers that come with Inspiration 9 are great tools for students to use while writing. Because it allows students to organize their ideas and solidify their content before composing their blog posts, Inspiration is the perfect compliment to student blogging. Not to mention a big step towards a more inclusive, well-rounded learning experience for your students!
For another version of Inspiration integration, students can brainstorm and create outlines for their blogs with Inspiration Maps for the iPad templates, then seamlessly transition their prewriting activities over to blogging platforms all on the same device.
The palpable resistance teachers feel from students while attempting to teach writing can be demoralizing for everyone, slowing down progress and leading to complacency. You can get your students excited about writing, but you may have to update your methods—don’t be afraid to log on and link up with social media tools!
Jessica Ruane is a former English tutor who is now a freelance writer and blogger. Her areas of interest include education and public safety.
Check out her company blog to read more of her work.