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Using Multimodal, Asynchronous Discussion Forums in Public (aka: Why My Students Blog)

Special Issue: Instructional Technology in the Online Classroom

By Nicole M. Zumpano / December 2018

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As an adjunct instructor with a full-time job as a technology coach in an urban school district, I have the advantage of being in the field on a daily basis and the ability to bring back best practices to my university courses. One of these best practices has been the implementation of blogs in my courses. Students create multimodal blogs (i.e. text, images, audio, video, hyperlinks, etc.) and write about assignments, reflections and wonderings. In this article I discuss the reasons why I implement blogging and why I would encourage you to do the same in your elearning program, whether it is education based or not.

Blogging Models Best Practices for 21st Century Educators

Students in my courses follow a rubric that requires substantive reflections, links to additional information, tags, and cited images or videos to help their readers become immersed in their topic. Sometimes their opinions are not popular or they feel a sense of failure with a lesson or an idea. When teachers model behaviors such as risk taking and "failing forward," these often become habits that are passed on to their students. These skills are needed in the 21st century workplace. Students learn to mimic the risk taking they see in their teacher and don't give up at the first sign of failure. This helps our students see us as continuous learners just as they are, and reinforces the notion that learning doesn't stop after former education does [1, 2].

Blogging Takes Students into the Real World

Online courses are housed in learning management systems (LMS), which vary between universities. While discussion forums within LMS' have a place of value they are siloed; students are confined to only the views of their peers within their current course. Furthermore, in discussion forums within an LMS there are those students who will always answer the prompt as soon as the module opens and then may not return to it, missing out on discussions that are ongoing. By taking assignments out of the LMS and opening them to the public through blogs, students tend to take work that is good enough for a discussion forum and make it good knowing they are writing for an authentic audience and not just for an instructor or their immediate peers. While it's true that in the beginning stages many of the public comments may only come from classmates, bloggers have the opportunity to share their work via social media and continue to build a following. Many of my students continue to blog after our courses are over. These blogs can then be considered evidence of "Domain 4d" of the Danielson Framework, used in educator evaluations (Domain 4d is "participating in the professional community"), becoming another authentic reason to advocate for blogging [3].

Blogging Reinforces Reflection

The world of education, our institutions, and our students are in constant motion. What works today in our K-20 classrooms may not work tomorrow. Blogging promotes reflection [4] and a growth mindset. Being reflective creates natural opportunities for teachers to be more accepting of change in their practice and suggestions, which allows them to grow with their students. The more we reflect on our pedagogy and practice, the stronger we get at our craft [5]. Reflection also reduces the myth of being perfect and having all of the answers as educators. It shows the world we are continuously growing with the focus of improving the learning experience for our students. We are never done, never satisfied, always seeking ways to improve by working in public. To read an example of a student post reflecting on learning, click here.

Blogging Promotes Publicness and Professional Learning Networks (PLNs)

Jeff Jarvis states, "Being public helps me get information and make decisions. I have learned the more we share, the more we benefit from what others share" [6]. Being public as an educator is a good thing. Blogging is a way to express your success and frustration and hear from others that share your same joys and concerns. By requiring our students to blog we are nurturing their opportunity to find support in professionals within the field but outside of their immediate environment. Being public also supports the learning theory of communal constructivism in which "networked learners not only construct and assimilate their own knowledge from their own learning opportunities, but deliberately contribute their own learning to a community resource base" [7].

Blogging Allows for Authority And Agency

Modeling for our colleagues and students how to speak up for ourselves, our classrooms and our beliefs gives us voice and agency. For undergraduates yet to enter the field of education this sets the stage for them to help the field move forward using the Constructivism learning theory; even while blogging for class assignments students are sharing their voice and reflections on what they have learned. They are asserting themselves, modeling leadership for their students and providing first person insight into the ever complex world of education. To read an example of a teacher blogging with authority and agency click here.

Blogging Keeps the Conversation Going

Elearning discussions can be rich and promote debates. Many students continue to blog after the course is over, while they don't go back into the LMS to continue a conversation once a class concludes. Blogging makes following up easier, as posts are public and can be updated when needed.

Blogging is a No (or Low) Cost Form of Publication

There are several blogging platforms available at little or no cost. One of the more popular free services is Blogger, which is owned by Google, a service many school districts use. This allows for easy cross-posting promotion to Google's social media platform Google+.

Blogging is Positive for the Profession

Let's face it, we teach in a world full of fake news and often face criticism for the profession. Blogging about education allows us to flood the internet with posts that are intelligent, honest, and relevant. Educators sharing their voice can change the culture of the conversation and public perception.

Some instructors choose not to implement blogging out of fear that it is a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) violation [8, 9]. Prior to launching my courses I ask students to complete a FERPA form in which I give them the option to blog openly, under an alias, or to remain behind our LMS. To date, I've never had someone request to blog with an alias or within the LMS. All of my students choose to blog publically. I teach them best practices by reinforcing the idea that their blog posts should not look like they are assignments for a university course, but rather reflective pieces on topics relevant to their learning environments. Identifying themself as a student in my course is discouraged but is at the discretion of the student. I also comment on all of my students' posts. Within my syllabi, as well as in my course modules, I explain that when I respond to their posts publically I am doing so as a colleague within the same profession and not as their instructor. I reassure them I never respond in a way that would be evaluative, but I may ask clarifying questions and question their point of view. If you choose to add blogging to your elearning course I'd highly recommend you respond to student blogs. Responding to student blogs allows students to see you as a professional as well as an instructor.

While the focus of this piece has been about blogging in education, this concept has practical implications for any field of study. Being reflective, and public, in any field can only increase our awareness and decrease misconceptions. I challenge you to find where it fits in your profession.

Finally, I practice what I preach. I blog. See my work at


[1] Ingram, L. G. A classroom full of risk-takers. Edutopia. September 14, 2017.

[2] The Aspen Institute. Putting it all together.August 24, 2017.

[3] Danielson, C. The Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument</a>. 2013.

[4] Rabikowska, M. The paradoxical position of self-reflection in teaching and assessment in higher education: How the application of blogging challenges learning habits. The International Journal of Learning 15 (2008), 1-10.

[5] Danielson, L. M. Fostering reflection. Educational Leadership 66, 5 (2009).

[6] Jarvis, J. Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live, 1st Edition. Simon & Schuster, New York, 2011.

[7] Brennan, C. (Review). E-learning: Concepts and practice. Research in Teacher Education 1, 2 (Oct. 2011), 32-35.

[8] Drake, P. Is your social media FERPA compliant? Educause Review. February 24,2014.

[9] Western Washington University. FERPA Toolkit. 2017.

[10] Trust, T., et al. "Together we are better:" Professional learning networks for teachers. Computers & Education 102 (2016), 15-34.

About the Author

Nicole M. Zumpano is a technology integration specialist in a large urban district and an adjunct faculty member for three universities. She has twenty-five years of experience in K-20 education and is a National Board Certified Teacher. She blogs at and can be found on Twitter @nmzumpano.

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