A text-based student community for reading and writing science

Science and technology moves forward at a very rapid pace. Those who don’t continue to read the literature become outmoded. What kinds of learning activity help students develop the necessary skills, and habit, for reading science?

In the dissertation work of Johann Larusson, my lab began to develop a co-blogging environment that already has been adopted in several different classes at Brandeis. Student co-blogging is a text-based online student community that supports students as they learn to read and write science.

In the co-blogging environment, each student has a blog. The blog is composed of multiple posts written by the blog owner. Students can read each other’s blog posts and comment on them. Student co-blogging has tremendous potential as a learning activity. It continues to be a research topic for my lab.

Co-blogging enables students to move beyond just rereading their notes and assigned readings as a way to learn material. Students have the opportunity to review, rethink, articulate, explaining in their own words what is significant about the material, making “common” sense of the causal relations among the different elements of the course content. The discussions that naturally emerge expose the students to alternate ways of “seeing” and “constructing” what is significant and why, allowing students to collaboratively work through arguments and trade-offs, weighing and comparing different explanations and justifications. To a greater or lesser degree each of these elements has developed in the courses I teach.

During the semester, there is an aggregation of content in the blogosphere. Topics and themes introduced at the beginning of the semester persist in the blogosphere and can be revisited and further developed as they again become relevant. The aggregated content of the blogosphere can be exploited for other learning activities like constructing arguments, summarizing the literature, writing papers, or preparing for exams.

Each post in the blogosphere is tagged by the student from a selection of pre-defined topics. These tags help students to navigate the blogosphere. Students also receive daily email newsletters that summarize the online co-blogging activity of the class in the previous 24 hours. Students can use links in the newsletter to directly navigate to posts or comments on the blog site that are of particular interest.

The co-blogging environment provides some visualizations for the teacher and students that represent student activity level, balance of participation, and other aspects of the blogosphere. The visualization shown below helps students and teachers locate discussions within the blogosphere.

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