A little while back I argued that your next wiki should be a pathfinder. Here’s another argument: major research projects should be blogged.
This week marked the third year I’ve introduced the concept of research blogs to students. This year, the idea is catching on bigtime. For major projects, like our culminating Senior Seminar project, we encourage students to blog their research experience, to share the process, to let us in. In our school, Pennsylvania’s traditional senior project involves: an outside mentored experience, a major research paper, a project resulting from the experience and the research, a presentation of the semester-long exploration.
A project like this cries out to be blogged!
My five big reasons:
1. Blogging inspires reflection and focus on process. Research bloggers share their emotional and learning journey. They discuss what worked, what they might do differently next time around. They discover that experiences like building a thesis might take a bit of time, might be described in several posts. Good projects are not immaculately conceived. Good projects have some provenance.
2. Blogging helps learners organize and manage the process. Students who have used the tools effectively, share that the paper and the presentation virtually write themselves. The categories they establish help them manage the tasks that need to be accomplished. We’ve found that suggesting such categories as operational definitions reminds students to do things they might ordinarily forget, for instance defining unfamiliar terms for the reader. Blogging helps learners catch up. RSS feeds push news in an area of research directly to the researcher. Blog rolls ensure easy access to the links that matter.
3. Blogging is transparent. Along the way, peers, mentors, teachers, and librarians can follow the process, cheer the student researcher on, and help that researcher avert disaster when rescue is obviously warranted. We set up a wiki index of class blogs. Teachers can easily track each student’s progress and love this convenience.
4. The best of these projects create pathfinders that might be shared by other researchers. They contribute to the larger base of knowledge.
5. Blogging inspires interaction, social (constructivist) knowledge building, and the kind of intervention Carol Kulthau saw as critical in the information search process. Teachers and librarians can use the blogging environment to participate in new "zones of intervention" in which they can accommodate, guide, and coach learners. Peers and mentors and teachers and librarians can jump in at any point, make suggestions, offer support, cheer, or redirect, making the knowledge building less chaotic and more social and supportive.
I created a ResearchLogTemplate, a basic organizer for our research bloggers, but I’ve made it clear to students that they should use this merely as a starting point. Blogging categories will vary for each project.
I will ask my students for permission to share their blogs in this blog as our semester progresses. Below is the front page from an old student sample.