I got asked a very interesting question today during a committee meeting today. The question was about the use of the Blogs at Penn State toolset as it relates to student portfolio activity. I have been saying for about 36 months or so that a robust blogging environment could serve as an “ePortfolio Light” toolset to enable students to focus on the reflection of their learning without needing to learn commodity web skills. As an aside, for a long time I have been trying to talk about a blogging platform in terms of personal content management and as a publishing platform. What I like about the PSU portfolio efforts is that it has been about the right stuff — students taking time to reflect upon their personal story. The thing I haven’t liked about it is that we have forced them into a very old school web publishing model to do it. We’ve asked them to use Dreamweaver to do this expression and while it is a decent tool, the whole notion that a complex piece of software gets in between thought and execution as it relates to reflection is a shame.
I have had one of my colleagues, Glenn Johnson, come into my class in the past to discuss ePortfolio and the students really do get it — they get the importance of building a place online that represents them. What they struggle with (generalization time) is the whole web publishing process. Think about it, expression online using a WYSIWYG tool is a convoluted path — open a WYSIWYG tool, learn it, understand the naming conventions of the online world, figure out how to move your static files, make sure everything is in the right directories, upload it, look at it in the browser, rinse, and repeat. Contrast that with modern publishing tools — authenticate, type, and click publish. Sort of a no-brainer.
So, back to the question. Today I was asked to project if the Blogs at PSU, when used in a electronic publishing context, would increase the amount of students engaged in portfolio creation. Right now, from what I understand, less than 50% of students activate the free personal webspace we give them. Activate is different than using it. About half of that group reports using it for academic purposes. Will giving the students of our University a simple tool for publishing, reflecting, sharing, and collaborating online change those numbers? I said I think it will — and I also mentioned that if we built a FaceBook Application to facilitate blogging from their profiles we’d see an even bigger jump. I am wondering if those of you who have done University blogging environments to support simple web publishing have seen increases in student utilization of online publishing for academic (or even personal) use. Any help out there for me?