Sunday, March 27, 2016

Comment-Less, Private Blog Writing: Why Low Stakes Reflection may be Beneficial

I've been using Google Sites' "Announcement" page style as a blog with my student e-Portfolio template. I didn't assign comments on blogs, as my students were already engaged in a variety of interaction/ feedback assignments on Docs, etc. But I'm not sure how I stumbled upon the fact that Google Sites doesn't allow comments unless the viewer is also a contributor. Many times, I want to provide a comment on the reflective writing "blog" posts my students complete throughout the writing process, but I am unable to.
I began thinking about the drawbacks and benefits from this type of blog writing. Should I make them keep an outside blog that allows comments instead? No. Not another outside Web 2.0 tool, thank you.
So, instead of simply assuming it is a negative, I thought more about how this default setting could work to my advantage.
I recently read "Private Journals versus Public Blogs: The Impact of Peer Readership on Low-stakes Reflective Writing" a journal article by Drew Foster in which he compares blog and journal writing to examine which is more beneficial for student reflection.
Foster claims how "Specifically, in spite of some pedagogy scholars’ vigorous endorsement of reflective class blogs, almost no research exists that directly compares learning outcomes of blogs relative to traditional forms of low-stakes reflective writing" (104).
Foster reminds educators how "college teachers have found that 'lowstakes' writing assignments completed at regular intervals can yield positive learning outcomes through reflection and maintain a sense of accountability regarding readings. In contrast to high-stakes writing, which typically takes the form of longer essays and is intended to formally evaluate students’ understanding, the goal of low-stakes writing is to spur students to think further about assigned materials in a casual and exploratory way" (105).
Even when I want to define my students "blogs" as "blogs," I find it difficult. Their Friday blog assignments are public but are comment disabled, so the "public" factor is there; while the "reflective" writing blogs are hidden completely and only I can read them, so this is more of a traditional journal, but both lack the "feedback" that a traditional blog assumes.
What are my students possibly missing out on? Foster notes how "blogs allow students to attach comments to one another’s reflections, enabling asynchronous discussion that can begin before class starts and continue after it ends. In this way, researchers have found that blogs help to create and sustain a “community of inquiry” (Martindale and Wiley 2004) in which students interact as both readers and writers to co-construct their own learning (Ducate and Lomicka 2008)" (106). Additionally, it has been well established that students who write for a legitimate audience produce higher quality work (Foster 106). But perhaps these benefits may be gleaned while using Google Docs via the "Comment" tool.
Foster's study of thousands of blog and journal entries across two semesters found that "specifically, students appear to be overall more likely to take greater intellectual risks in blogs, which they know will be read and commented upon by their peers. Conversely, journals—the more private option— compel students to be vulnerable and take more personal risks in their reflection" (111).
I was excited to read this as the Friday (public) blog posts are career focused; my students must write a summary- response of an argumentative piece related to their career field. If my students are more likely to produce more polished, intellectually focused pieces on this platform, I think the assignment is on the right track. Similarly, the reflective (private) blog post assignments will more than likely produce more honest, personal insights, which is what I am after; I want them to admit/ become aware of their writing choices, weak and strong.
 I like the combination of both private and public writing, as this mirrors the public and private self that normal humans switch between anyhow.

Works Cited

Foster, Drew. "Private Journals versus Public Blogs: The Impact of Peer Readership on Low-stakes Reflective Writing". Teaching Sociology. 43.2  (2015): 104-114. Sage. Web. 23 March 2016. 

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