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Using a Blog to Flip the Classroom

Author(s): 

January Haile, Centre College, Danville, KY

05/16/14 to 05/22/14
Abstract: 

Just in Time Teaching is a technique where students read the material before class and respond to a few questions via an online interface.  The instructor will then develop the class for that material around the students’ responses.  In a first year seminar course, The Chemistry of Food, students were assigned to maintain blogs for the entire 16-day term.  In order to create an online learning community, the instructor’s blog in lieu of a quiz was utilized as a forum to assign the readings and pose questions about the readings.  The comments on the instructor blog, as well as individual student posts, were utilized to develop the classroom discussion; moreover, many of the readings were not discussed in class but entirely online.  Many students who would not normally participate in class were more than willing to participate online; thus, this approach provided the class discussion with more variety and greater input from the students. 

Paper: 

Using a blog to flip the classroom

Learning how to learn is one of the most challenging tasks that students have throughout their college career, and yet, it is the essence of an education.  While the knowledge learned in the classroom may not be retained past the 13-week semester, the process skills acquired will last a lifetime.  In order to develop these process skills in students, my courses integrate Just in Time Teaching methods as first described by Mazur (1996).  Utilizing Just in time teaching techniques, reading assignments are made prior to the next class meeting, and in a typical course, few reading questions are posed in a quiz format on the learning management software, Moodle (Mazur, 1996; Novak et al. 1999).  In CentreTerm, a three-week intense intellectual experience, all first-year students at Centre College take a first-year seminar course.  One of the courses offered in the chemistry program is The Chemistry of Food.  In a previous rendition of the course, I utilized my typical Just in Time Teaching reading quizzes, but these  were not as effective as in the 13-week term. While still employing similar pedagogical strategies, social media was an alternative to the typical method of interacting online with students (Higdon and Topaz, 2000).  The most obvious choice was a blog.  Having never written a blog before, it was important for me to model the product I wanted the students to create.  However, the instructor’s blog (http://fys158.edublogs.org) was utilized more for assignments, reading questions, and as a “home base” for the class blogs.   In addition, other media and assignments typical of a flipped classroom were posted on the blog (Bergmann and Sams, 2012).  For example, short video clips from YouTube and other sites were also assigned on the blog.  Reading assignments for this course were made  in one-week intervals.  Reading was assigned both on a weekly assignment sheet and on the instructor’s blog.  Questions to focus a student’s reading were sometimes posted on the blog or at the end of the previous class.  Focus questions were utilized primarily in the first week of the course.  (FYS 158 is taught during the three-week CentreTerm.)  As the course progressed, I expected students to be able to focus their own reading without the questions.  The last question or after the first few days the only questions was always “what topics did you find the most confusing or interesting?”  Students posted questions and interesting information in the comments section of the blog.  Students, on occasion, answered the questions other students has posed.

The Chemistry of Food courses allows us to discuss a topic we are all familiar with—food. Therefore, students have opinions about a variety of the topics discussed:  organic food, high fructose corn syrup, etc.  A typical class would begin by projecting the instructor’s blog , via a computer and a classroom projector.  Most of the time, I projected the blog directly from a web browser; however, occasionally, I would import comments and questions into a PowerPoint presentation.  We would then discuss the student concerns and interests.  In other words, the student reading and understand (or lack thereof) guides the class discussion and learning for that lecture period.  For example, one student commented, “A side note the in chapter of Culinary Reactions talked specifically about Hydrogen Bonding and referred to them as “weak.” If I remember correctly, last semester in chemistry we learned that hydrogen bonding was among the strongest of the intramolecular forces.”  While only half of the students in the class took General Chemistry I at Centre College prior to taking The Chemistry of Food, this type of confusion is important to our discussion of molecules in food.  Addressing confusion and misconceptions in class is an important aspect of the Just in Time Teaching learning environment.  Since less time is spent defining terms and basic ideas, there is more time to discuss these important ideas.  A first-year studies course lends itself to this type of pedagogy because content is a secondary goal of the course; however, in my more traditional courses, time could not be spent on addressing the misconceptions to any degree without Just in Time Teaching methods.

Another benefit of utilizing the blog as a Just in Time Teaching method that is typical of more traditional Just in Time Teaching methods is how quickly the rapport between the instructor and students is built.  The additional benefit to utilizing the blogs is how quickly the individuals in the classroom became a learning community both in and out of the classroom.  I attribute the lack of anonymity to one of these; many students were logged into the blog site when he or she posted a comment; therefore, that comment was attributed to that particular student.  This type of personal education is necessary in a first-year studies course but often takes the entire term to create.   In addition to developing skills typically seen in Just in Time Teaching, the student blogs chronicles a transformation that occurs in the course.  This transformation was not only in the student’s view of the worlds, but also in the student’s ability to form an opinion with supporting evidence and post a well-written blog that was focused and informative.

Alternatively to viewing the blog comments at the beginning of class,  students were assigned to answer questions at the beginning of class in a short 5-minutes writing, and then we used the answer to foster class discussion.  The short in-class writing assignment countered one of the disadvantages of the blog comments.  Because as described earlier, the blog posts were not anonymous, many of the more difficult concepts were not addressed in the comments.  This allowed for me to communicate with the students that these are common misconceptions and difficult concepts.  In addition, some of these assignments stemmed from their individual blog posts, which aided in fostering an online community.  The development of this learning community is something that is almost impossible to create but essential to creating a successful learning environment for our students.  If students can discuss concepts and material with each other, then oftentimes the classroom discussion is enriched. 

While utilizing a blog for delivery of the reading questions was the initial goal of the project, the most beneficial part of the blogs was not this atypical delivery format for reading questions, but instead the discussion of the readings that happened on the students individual blogs.  As eluded to previously, students maintained blogs for the entire term.  Students wrote 16 blog posts and commented on their peers blog throughout the term.  The grade was based on quality of the individuals posts as well as the quality and quantity of the comments posted to other student blogs.  The students received assigned blog prompts at the beginning of each week; at least five prompts were assigned per week.  After about the first week, an online learning community developed which I also attribute to aiding in developing our classroom learning community.  For example, students were posing questions and answering them on their individual blogs.  Many of these students were writing well written and thoughtful comments about their opinions from the readings.  Many of these discussions were so fruitful that the texts were not discussed during our class time.  In class, I would often comment on students’ blogs, but I did not comment on a individual student blog.  I wanted to students to develop opinions and skepticism apart from my participation.  The key to this rich online discussion was required students to make comments on their peer’s pages.  Therefore, it was not only the professor who was posing questions on the instructor’s blog but also the individual student blogs fostering online discussion between their peers.  In addition, the blogs are in the public domain, which is one of the high-impact practice associated with increased student learning gains.  While I purposely did not comment on the student blogs, student parents and another professor did read and comment on a few of blogs, which increased the quality of the writing.

All of the blogs were hosted by edublogs.org and maintained throughout the semester.  The student blogs were linked automatically to the instructor blogs.  In a subsequent assignment in a different course, Wordpress was utilized for blog hosting.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each service; however, the prevailing advantage to Wordpress is that it is free for the instructor to utilize as a class blog.  However, the advantage to edublogs.org was that it utilized the WordPress algorithms and much of the initial set-up was pre-formatted.  It also allowed the instructor to be able to solve any formatting problems in the student blogs as the student and the instructor have administrative access to the student blogs.  A simple rubric developed by Mark Sample (2010) was utilized to grade the blogs.  Students were reminded that even though the writing was in an online format, proper spelling, grammar, organization, etc. is necessary.

In short, the addition of blogs to The Chemistry of Food course had many more benefits than I first expected.  Student writing gains and creating an online community were the most significant.  While Just in Time Teaching is a preferred pedagogical approach as opposed to a tradition lecture, the method by which the instructor and student communicate has little effect on how the information is utilized.  In short, I would recommend any type of Just in Time Teaching to an instructor of a variety of courses; however, blogs are specifically well fitted to a course that is writing intensive.  They not only foster a learning community online and in the classroom, but blogs encourage students to produce a superior product.  

 

Bibliography

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day (1st ed.). International Society for Technology in Education.

Higdon, J., & Topaz, C. (2000). Blogs and wikis as instructional tools: A social software adaptation of Just-in-time Teaching, 57(2).

Mazur, E. (1996). Are science lectures a relic of the past? Physics World, 13–16.

Novak, G., Gavrin, A., Christian, W., & Patterson, E. (1999). Just-In-Time Teaching: Blending Active Learning with Web Technology (1st ed.). Addison-Wesley.

Sample, M. (2010). A Rubric for Evaluating Student Blogs. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/a-rubric-for-evaluating-student-bl...

Comments

Thank you for sharing this interesting approach to flipping your general education course, January.
Were the students were receptive to this innovative method? Do you think that blogging would work with a more traditional chemistry course? How important was student buy-in for the success of your course?
Jennifer

Jennifer,

By the end of the term, the students self-reported liking the blog. However, the blogs were a lot of work for the students. Each student maintained his or her own blog, where he or she posted every day we had class. The students were posting on a lot of outside reading. Many of their blogs guided classroom discussion as well. Overall, it was a good way to communicate with students and have students continually communicate with me and their classmates. Developing communication skills, both oral and written, is a goal of the general education course, and the students were better writers by the end of the term.

As you know, student buy-in is essential for almost anything done outside the typical lecture. I discussed the public nature of a blog and the importance of reading the material all ahead of time. While I am not sure if I had student buy-in initially, the students all participated in the blog. However, participation in the online community was graded.

As far as utilizing this in a general chemistry course, I have thought about it, but I only had 17 students in my first-year studies course. I typically have 32 in a general chemistry class. The volume of blogs and responses I would read is an overwhelming thought. I have utilized Moodle (courses management software) with reading questions in general chemistry, but I do not typically do those for every class period. Perhaps, I could utilize the blog in a similar manner; however, I think students maintaining their own blog is essential for engagement in the online community.

The one complaint that I have had regarding the blog is that everything is not in one place. Students like the centralized nature of Moodle. A blog in general chemistry would most likely complicate things further since we have online homework, too.

I have heard colleagues in the English Department at my institution utilizing an approach similar to what you are describing here. However, they use discussion forums within our LMS instead of blogs (we use Blackboard, but I am sure Moodle has a similar feature).
Using a discussion forum might address the students' complaint about the lack of centralization, but it limits the exposure of students contributions. Students' posts within the forum are public to anyone in the class, but they are not published on the web.

Roy Jensen's picture

I use discussion forums as a place for students to collaborate on the problem sets and to ask questions regarding the course material and related topics (often current events). I strongly encouraged students to answer each other's questions. With 1000 students per term, the forum was used used regularly and successfully by around 100 students. Student responses are not moderated, but I did establish a Code of Conduct. The feedback indicated that the forum was much appreciated. The only criticism being that every post was sent via email to every student, so it filled up their in-box in the week before an exam.

I've never found that students use LMS discussion boards much but have had luck getting students to use Piazza to ask and answer questions. Www.piazza.com

Moodle actually has a blog applet, but it's clunky. I didn't find it very user friendly. So, opted to use a wordpress product. However, Centre is updated Moodle this summer, and the the blog applet may be improved. This is a good suggestion, and I will reevaluate then.

I personally don't like discussion boards; my students just don't participate in a meaningful way.

Hi January,

Thank you for your work and perspective on how Just in Time teaching has allowed for you to flip your classroom. I have a couple questions:

Q1: You talk about how the classroom "changed" and it became very student driven given student responses in the blog and you thought it was a very beneficial change. Did you happen to receive formal feedback from the students and how they perceived the change that you could share? Or, what anecdotal evidence do you have that told you that Just in Time Teaching and Blogging was successful to the student experience?

Q2: A common theme you mention is addressing student misconceptions. Were you able to do any follow-up with the students at the end of the course to determine if they continued to have the misconceptions, especially since we know that clearing/changing misconceptions is often extremely difficult?

As a more general comment/opinion, you mention quite a bit about the rapport and interaction that you were able to create with the students. Additionally, similar sentiments are heard among almost all "flippers" across the education spectrum and I think we are all seeing a huge value/benefit in acknowledging and fostering the human component to learning; the relationship and interaction of the teacher and student.

Cheers,

Chris

Chris,

Unfortunately, I do not have any assessment data on this project. However, I will share my anecdotes.

First, a little background, the first-year studies courses at Centre College are all offered without prerequisites. Students rank their top 4 choices and are then placed in classed. However, a class is rarely full of students who all ranked you first. Moreover, these students have a wide array of exposure to science. Several of my students had yet to take a science course at Centre, while a third of my class had already had one semester of General Chemistry. Interestingly, this composition of students is probably why students learned so much from each other on the blogs and in class. Students became comfortable with their backgrounds and began to work as a community that embraced everyone's strengths and weaknesses.

As far as student blogging being successful, it is difficult to say if it was the blogging or the course material. Having to articulate their experiences in the course forced students to document how their views and knowledge was transformed. Communicating that to their colleagues improved their writing and enhanced class discussion. Having only taught this course one other time, my anecdotes are limited. However, in general, this group of students worked together better and created a learning community much faster than any class I have taught. I think that the variety of students in the class only makes this fact more exceptional. This goes along with your comment about instructor rapport with students.

In this course, students took several quizzes that focused on basic chemical knowledge. Overall, those scores where higher than the previous time I taught the class. I attribute this to the blogs. Without the blogs, I would not have know that several of my students could not define solubility or intermolecular forces. Students were forced to articulate their knowledge of some basic chemical concepts, and with that, I learned a lot about what they did or did not know. So, perhaps, the blogs were more to help me see my misconceptions about student knowledge as opposed to student misconceptions.

I think this is the most beneficial aspect of flipping a class. Until I ask a question before class, I have no idea what my students know or think they know. It is why I will always have some flipped component to any course I teach.

Often the term flipped classroom is synonymous with the use of instructor-created video that students watch before coming to class. What inspired you to use this novel approach?
Jennifer

Jennifer,

In my brief experience, instructor-created videos are time intensive and do not necessarily prepare students for a discussion of reading material. Instead, I prefer students take a more independent role in preparing for class. Students need to learn how to learn, and learning to read and prioritize material from a textbook and/or other material is an essential skill. The blogs force students to read material and then write about it either as answers to questions that I posted or on their own blog sites.

While I see the need for videos particularly is a general chemistry course, I often use them as a response to student struggles rather than a teaching tool before class.

January

Bob Belford's picture

Hi January,

I have two questions.
First, did you have any problems with plagiarism? Years ago I had students contribute to a Wiki, and I quickly realized I had to cover the topic. I even had a student argue that you do not need to cite something from Wikipedia, because you do not know who the author is.

My second question is you mentioned a grading rubric for blogs (Mark Sample - 2010). I found this link, http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/a-rubric-for-evaluating-student-blogs/27196

Is this what you used? Could you comment on it? What advice do you have for other science faculty who would venture into grading student writing, ... while trying to cover the rigors of a science like chemistry?

I am also going to venture into a series of questions on the class, and what is CentreTerm? Am I understanding that this "Chemistry of Food" was a course was taught over Christmas break? Or the first 3 weeks of a semester? If the later, what did they do during the rest of the semester? How long was the course? How many credits? You also teach this course in a normal 13 week semester, but this is also a freshmen experience class? Pardon my asking, but I guess I am confused over the concept of CentreTerm. What is it? Do you think the fast course makes it easier or harder to teach in this fashion? Have you tried this in any other classes?

Thanks for sharing your work with us.

CentreTerm is a three week winter term, typically the first three weeks in January. The typical class meets three hours a day for 16 days. So, the Chemistry of Food is the only course these students are taking. The course is 3 credits, and it is not offered in a typical long term. The first-year studies classes at Centre are not your typical introduction to college classes. They are meant to be broad yet discipline specific. The learning goals do include developing communication skills, which is where the blogs were particularly useful.

As far as whether or not the fast course makes this approach easier, I'm not sure. CentreTerm is a whirlwind of student engagement, preparing for class, and grading.

Thanks,
January

Bob,

Due to the nature of the blog posts, I didn't have any plagiarism issues (that I know of). Students often were reflecting on a reading, a field trip, etc. There were not scripted correct answers. And when responding to a question, they made good efforts to use their own words and descriptions.

I used a rubric that I modified based on the article in the link you provided. It gave students enough information about what I expected without me having to account for every point. I think it is an adequate if not good way to grade blogs. I needed to provide more editing in the beginning though.

Science faculty at Centre College all grade student writing. Centre does not have an English composition course; instead, we teach writing across the curriculum. For example, students in General Chemistry write a research paper, and students in Organic Chemistry write numerous lab reports and a research paper. The biggest surprise to students is my knowledge of grammar and spelling. They are often shocked when I correct grammar, etc. I even correct syntax on exams from time to time.

In my experience, teaching writing is difficult because of the time it demands from the professor and the students. To save me some time, I utilize a rubric for almost all of my assignments. I also only edit the first page or so of the paper. My colleagues in the English program encourage all faculty to read the paper one time without a pen then make comments. I find this difficult, but it does allow me to focus on the content and not the grammatical errors, typographical errors, etc. In addition, students need to remember that regardless of their career choice, they will have to communicate their work in written format.

The writing is done almost entirely outside of class; so, it doesn't affect the content covered in the class. The Chemistry of Food is first and foremost a first-year studies class; so, the rigor is in the process skills and the content, but it not as quantitative as a general chemistry class. This curriculum is flexible and lends itself nicely to assignments such as this.

I hope that at least begins to answer your questions.

Best,
January

While I'm thankful I don't have to grade writing (750+ students/semester), I am eternally grateful for all the writing I did while at Centre!

Class size is an important point. In my Chemistry of Food course, I have about 16 students. In a typical chemistry course, the maximum class size is 32 students.

Hi - I tried a similar type of project at my previous institution, with the intent of students contributing to a public wiki as part of their grade, but was warned that making graded student work public might be infringing on FERPA. Did you have any comments on this, since your students' blogs were in the public domain?

I've actually noticed that when students write for an audience that is broader than simply the instructor, they pay more attention to their writing. I have students writing articles in Wikipedia in one of my classes. Our Center for Teaching and Learning had a session in March that was devoted to this type of writing assignments (http://ctl.centre.edu/pedagogy-luncheons.html). The CTL session points out that students can be more motivated when they know their work is visible to the public. It's not a FERPA issue because the student grades and instructor feedback are not released publicly.
Jennifer

DelmarLarsen's picture

As many of you know, I am the director of the ChemWiki, which is a collaborative project combining faculty and student effort toward developing Chemistry textbook alternatives. While making student writings public is not a violation of FERPA as mentioned above (if done properly), there are factors that need to be addressed regarding other legal aspects. Since all not-for-hire writing is technically copyrighted by the author, student must transfer their copyright before it can go public to satisfy future legal issues. I have all students fill out a form indicating this when they contribute. Other aspects involving copying and pasting of copyrighted materials also needs to be confirmed (this is outside of an ethical plagiarism aspect). We do this in part via existing plagiarism checkers which run random snippets of text through Google/Bing to identify potential problems. This doesn't work so well for paper bound source (that are not in the Google book project), which we rely on more traditional mechanisms.

Delmar

Bob Belford's picture

Hi Delmar,

Your post leads me to ask two questions.
First, who is the author of a wiki? I am totally confused on this one. If I create a wiki page, am I the author, even if someone comes in, changes it to the opposite of what I said? But seriously, could you tell us more about these issues.

Second, you say you use existing plagiarism checkers. Are any of these open access? Do you have any recommendations, or advice/thoughts/opinions on the ones you have worked/experimented with? I realize I could do a Google search, but would certainly appreciate your input on this.
Thanks,
Bob Belford

DelmarLarsen's picture

Bob:

Authors: Technically anyone that authors the page counts (under the Contributors section); some more than less of course. If the content is contributed from a faculty member, they get the primary authorship. If I or my team edits lightly we do not claim authorship (I have my name on only one page, but have over 5,000 edits this year). If we add or remix significant content then new authors are added (or subtracted). I rarely accept and integrate new content under the promise of no future remixing as that conflicts with our philosophy.

Checkers: I use the open access ones and typically use 5-6 different ones simultaneously (some work better than others). I always forget the names of them though and need to look through my notes. A simple search for "plagiarism checker" will find the big ones. I have not touched the commercial ones.

As an example of how I do this for a grad class. I break the assignment (25% of grade) into three phases under the goals of teaching the students about the content of the class (spectroscopy) and what the operative process is for publishing a paper. Phase I (construction phase): student write their page(s) from scratch and then "submit" to the editor (me). Phase II (review phase): I assign three peer students (reviewers) randomly to evaluate the Phase I paper. They use the JACS review evaluation protocol and they have to use the plagiarism checkers along with manual checking with known textbooks from the library. Phase III (resubmission phase): the original authors read the reviews (Anonymously) and have to write a rebuttal (I emphasize very professional text) after addressing the reviewers' comments. This process has the students do a lot of the manual labor in evaluating plagiarism as part of the Phase II effort; I also dock major points if the miss obvious plagiarism. Hence, they are great bloodhounds.

Delmar

Delmar,

Thank you for sharing your insights about copyright, etc. My students owned their blog; I required all the images to be cited and have a creative commons copyright. We briefly discussed copyright infringement.

On another note, I think your wiki assignment sounds great.