Predictions in an Online Publishing World

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?

5 thoughts on “Predictions in an Online Publishing World

  1. Cole,

    I couldn’t agree more about the use of WYSIWYG software for the e-portfolio. I’ve talked wiht Glenn, and with Brad, and I really think that the blogs project, based on MT4, will be the way to go. I can say from a training perspective that it will be much easier to get them up and running sooner, and their content will be more dynamic.

    After all, is the idea of the portfolio to be about content? That’s what I tell them in my training sessions. Often we worry too much about the cosmetics than we do about the underlying content. I do like Weebly in that case, because it is easy, looks good, is flexible, and allows them to get a “website” look without too much work AND they can concentrate on good content.

    I really think that the MT4 back end of the blogs project will make the e-portfolio move ahead wiht greater momentum and ease. Let’s see what happens.

  2. Cole,

    I have been meaning to respond to this post, and Bill’s accusation of me being just a rapid fan of WPMu–he does me no justice, he knows very well I am a psychotic fanboy–reminded me that I have been remiss. I have been thinking through a lot of this stuff as well, and I think your notion of the blog as e-portfolio is dead on.

    We have a pretty big pilot of blogs and we have been encouraging our freshman to blog for their seminars, which has created a kind of blogging cohort of sorts. Also, their are a number of students in the English, Linguistics and Speech department who are using their blogs as an e-portfolio already, same goes for some video art students, and art history students. it has been cool to watch because it has been somewhat organic.

    In fact, part of how we are imagining the UMW Blogs project is a kind of distributed publishing platform for teaching and learning. And I would say more than thirty faculty out of about 200 (nothing compared to your scale I know) are using WP as a C/LMS of sorts. And it is the flexibility of these lightweight CMSs that has us really excited.

    In fact, I was recently talking about mapping a series of domains off of one WPMu install to allow for faculty websites/blogs, organizational websites, etc. Not exactly our division particular mission, but it could definitely be done quite easily. And this is where I start getting to your question finally. In the almost two months since we started the blogging pilot we have 800 users and 750 blogs (roughly a 20% to 25% of our entire undergraduate population).

    More than that, about 25-30 of them are student groups and organizations, while another 15 were actually using WordPress to design a website for a class they were taking. All of this because they understood the implications of having such a flexible online publishing platform. And I think this is just the beginning.

    I think if you give a community an online authoring space that is simple to use and associated with the University, they will definitely use it. More than that, they’ll show you something about the tool you didn’t know. When that happens you might also have a development community that starts shaping the infrastructure, rather than being shaped by it.

  3. Pingback: Back to the Portfolio at Cole Camplese: Learning & Innovation

  4. Cole, I have been using blogs for classroom assignments (replacing the traditional journal writing) and have been seeking others who have used blogs in classroom environments. Can you tell me more about your usage of blogs? I am doing a conference paper in April and hope to obtain additional input as to how other professionals use blogging for student learning. Thanks – Pam

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