Friday, April 17, 2009

Synchronous Blogging Research

All Research by Jason Clarke

Please see for further discussion and examples of Synchronous Blogging Prompts and student comments.

Instant Gratification - Synchronous Blogging

In talking to teachers about class blogs I've found that a number of people have experimented with them, but that a lot of us have not had much success keeping them going. I've also found, in trying to come up with new names for my class blogs, that there are a lot of class blogs out there with one or two posts and a few scattered comments that have died an ignoble death and lie floating in cyberspace unloved and known only by those who wish we could take their domain names. I think that unfortunately this lack of success is causing many teachers to turn away from the technology before they realize that there is a better way.

One mistake that many teachers make is that they make the blog an out-of-class assignment and then they stretch the discussions out over a period of weeks, or even an entire semester. While I think that this can be valuable, and in the right circumstances it could work, I think that one of the keys to a successful class blog is instant gratification.

The thing that makes chat rooms, instant messaging, and text messaging so appealing to this generation is the instant feedback that you get when you're communicating live with another person or, better yet, a whole group of people. When you post a comment to a class blog as homework nothing happens other than your post going up on the page; it may be days or weeks before another student responds to you (if they ever do), and by then you've long forgotten about your comment anyway. And if the blog does eventually pick up some steam, when it's your turn to post there's usually a lot of reading to do just to get caught up with the discussion and it starts to feel like a chore to read all of the previous threads. Students end up just making up a random comment to fulfill the assignment that doesn't do much to further the conversation. That is a major reason that so many class blogs die in their infancy--they're pretty boring for both teacher and students and eventually everyone loses interest and gives up on them.

By setting up a silent discussion you can have thirty students in a computer lab all communicating in a way that allows for instantaneous feedback and no-waiting participation. You don't have to wait for the teacher to call on you, and you don't have to wait days for someone to respond to your message. You can have five or six conversations going on in the same class, all at the same time. It's all instant, it's all online, and perhaps best of all, it's all silent.

Gender Differences

This summer I conducted a review of literature focused on quantitative research regarding the relationship between online discussions and student performance. Obviously, student performance is a subjective term and it is operationally defined quite differently from study to study, but overall there is overwhelming evidence of a clear correlation between online discussions and increased student achievement.

I have written up my findings and I plan to go over some of the more interesting aspects of the research here in this blog over the next few months. But in the mean time I wanted to share one particularly interesting finding.

Building on the overwhelming evidence that women are underrepresented in traditional classroom discussions, which tend to be dominated by male voices, Caspi, Chajut, and Saporta (2006) conducted a study in which they examined the relationship between gender and participation in both face to face and online discussions. Relating overall participation to the baseline attendance ratio they were able to determine whether women were underrepresented or overrepresented in terms of their contribution to discussion in each environment.

Not surprisingly to those of us who have run class blogs ourselves, women were significantly underrepresented in face to face discussions and yet were actually overrepresented in terms of their contributions to online discussions. Why females prefer the online forum is not yet entirely clear, but the implications for anyone wishing to run an equal-opportunity classroom are obvious. Though neither is a perfect forum for discussion, providing opportunities for both types of discussion to take place in a classroom is the best way to ensure the greatest number of voices will have a chance to be heard. Relying only on old-fashioned face to face discussions in a classroom is simply not a recipe for equal participation.