Getting Student Teachers to Blog

Taking the plunge (photo by author)

Early on in this blog I wondered if student teachers should blog. I decided that despite the risks, blogging was a great way for student teachers to reflect on their practice and make connections. I then thought about what guidelines student teachers should place on themselves while blogging.

From there I had a conversation from @catmill on twitter about how to get student teachers to blog. I should preface my comments by saying that I am a blogger who happens to be a student teacher so when it came time to start the course it only seemed natural to me that I should blog about the experience. I also think that blogging isn’t just about writing posts, but also reading and more importantly commenting on other people’s blogs. It’s the connection between people that makes the difference between web 1.0 and web 2.0.

So how do you get student teachers to blog?

Assess it
There’s an argument to be made that the minute you assess something, you take the joy out of it. But if you want your university students to blog, they may very well need an extrinsic motivator to get them started. Course requirements work quite well in that regard. I’ve been using this blog to build up an E-Portfolio for evidence that I am meeting the Teachers Council Graduating Teachers Standards (even if I shamelessly stole the idea from someone else). There’s bound to be elements of your course that are well-suited to using web 2.0 identify them and start using them.

But if you want students teachers to keep blogging….

Meaningful experience
You need to make blogging a meaningful experience for students. Ask yourself hard questions about why you want your students to blog. Start thinking about the content you are setting and how you are delivering it. Has your course/institution moved from education 1.0 to education 2.0? Are you still expecting long essays  when a series of blog topics or the building of a wiki could be just as an effective way to assess students work as the traditional essay route?

Start by encourage students to read and comment on class blogs not just from your own neck of the woods but around the world. It’s a win-win. The kids get a kick out of comments and student teachers get exposure to more classrooms without the added expense of arranging practicums. There’s literally a world of classrooms out there for student teachers to observe and their teaching over the long-run will improve because of it.

Alongside traditional academic papers set reading lists that include reading lists of teacher blogs. What ed said (Australia), Integrating Technology in the Primary Classroom (Australia), e-Learning 2011 (New Zealand) Shannon in Ottawa (Canada) and Stump the Teacher (United States) are my must-reads. But again there are world of teacher blogs out there for students to explore.

The point is that blogging for the sake of meeting course requirements isn’t going to enthuse the next generation of teachers to take up the challenge of web 2.0. There needs to be a purpose to blogging and more importantly there needs to be personal connections.

Speaking of which…

Authentic audience
Right now my university has a blog service but it is set up behind passwords which means that only the lecturer and a few classmates get to see the blogs (although I often crosspost over here). There’s argument to be made that the social constraints of observation could cause students to be careful with their words or not blog at all (indeed I do tend to tidy up my blogs for public consumption). However there are ways to overcome this. Privacy settings can enable students to hide some posts behind password settings or indeed their entire blog.

But first…

Teach students how to blog
Don’t assume that all would-be teachers are web-savvy young things. In my experience students in Teacher Education papers come from a variety of different backgrounds. Some are months out of university while others have been out of higher education for many decades. Before you launch blogging on an unsuspecting group of students lay the foundations so that the experience can be an enjoyable one, rather than ZOMG I have to write about my studies on the internet!

More importantly…

Set an example – you should be blogging as well
Otherwise known as walking the talk. I don’t think a university programme can encourage students to blog without being willing to go on the journey as well. Get in touch with other educators who are using web 2.0. Help your students make cross country connections.

Because in the end you want your students to be better teachers and better teachers get jobs which brings me to…

The end game…
From a student teacher perspective the most important reason why institutions need to start encourage student teachers to blog is that student teachers need to find jobs at the end of their course.

But how can blogging help teachers get jobs?

If a school’s interview panel was looking for concrete examples of teaching philosophy, work ethic and personality of a would-be teacher there is more information they can find spending 30 minutes scanning a teacher’s blog than the traditional CV/interview route.

Moreover if students are blogging effectively it means they are making connections and connections which can lead to jobs.

It does happen. Back when I was teaching in Korea, I would frequent a message board for EFL instructors. I posted, well A LOT. However one woman, who was looking to hire teachers for her school district, knew of me through the messageboard and more importantly that I was looking for work.  She liked my posts enough to set up an interview with her district and to cut a long story short I ended up with an awesome job (I stayed on at the school far longer than I had anticipated when I signed on). This was way back in 2004 when the phrase social networking hadn’t entered the public lexicon.

I don’t know if the same will happen from this blog and my tweets, but I can’t help but use the wonderful quote from the Steven Johnson video I mentioned last week chance favours the connected mind.

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