Increase Your Reach, Educate through Innovation: Blogging for Your Community of Learners
In response to the public health concerns of spring 2020, colleges and universities established remote teaching in rapid fashion and reestablished best practices–based, active education using discussion boards and other means to promote learner collaboration. They made state-of-the-art learning management systems (LMSs) available for institutional learners, and academia in general embraced a new use of web conferencing services for education.
The close collaboration of the academic community also established flexibility in education beyond individual institutions. Webinars reached learners worldwide, and online learning promoted enrolling students from different institutions into nationally offered courses—leading to an exciting exchange of insights and learning. As an example, my home institution, the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell (ZSOM), offered a virtual medical education elective for the first time. But such developments demand accessible discussion forums beyond institutional LMS boundaries. It became obvious that institutions needed to offer ways to help learners flourish in a world where individuals and institutions are progressively more interconnected and interdependent.
The need for barrier-free online education delivery prompted institutions to embrace both social media and educational technology platforms, allowing users to network with each other and share information, ideas, and other content (Qi & Mackie, 2014). Growing awareness of e-professionalism among students and faculty to appropriately use social media and different learning styles has benefits for diverse audiences (Duke et al., 2017). Social media tools may even have a positive impact on learner outcomes in educational settings if privacy and appropriate use are applied.
Blogs disseminate ideas within a tangible, searchable, and interactive medium combined with a discussion forum that creates movement, direction, and inspiration. Most importantly for education, a blog creates a community of targeted readers sharing a common interest, ready to engage with the content. Blogs are popular online forums but are often underused and overlooked in education. They are not only easy to create and maintain but also feasible due to low cost and wide availability. Grounded in the learning theory of connectivism, educational blogs can support content discussed in regular courses, provide a virtual home for a course or institute with schedules or syllabi, and serve as a one-stop shop for announcements and administration (Saichaie et al., 2014; Yousef et al., 2020).
Below are four reasons for academics to start a blog.
To provide targeted content for your community of learners (education-centered blogs)
Blogs function as barrier-free online education delivery systems that promote learner collaboration. Hosted on free website providers such as Weebly or WordPress, some learner-centered blogs can be open to the public but serve the need to support individual sessions through offering specific content. Their versatility supports any teaching style and provides content as a standalone collaborative piece, during a class session (for use in, for instance, breakout groups), or as prework for a flipped classroom–style session. Using the comment section for a discussion outside of class time allows deepening of understanding, increased access to the educator, and collaboration with peers. One such example is ZSOM’s educational blog eLearning Bites (eBites), which offers easily accessible educational topics aligned with needs from the institution’s immediate medical education community. Emphasizing evidence-based, active online learning, eBites finds and merges best practices in medical education with new learning technology. Worthy of its name, eBites delivers quick, tasty faculty development bites to answer the most pressing questions about successful online learning.
To encourage peer-to-peer learning, consolidation of content, and reflection
Blogs establish peer support within courses, and they can bring together learners in ways and from places not possible through traditional educational systems. Not limited by one’s immediate geographic area, a blog can serve as a learning tool and resource for education-related content. Blogging is a great way for learners at any level to develop writing and research skills or consolidate and reflect on content for higher-order learning. As Rachelle Dene Poth (2018) notes, students of any grade level can benefit from blogging through posting and providing feedback to peers. As an example of more complex learning, humanities-elective medical students at Penn State University College of Medicine worked with blogs involving meta-analysis. The students explored blogs developed by patients and their caregivers, and then, in turn, developed and authored their own blog posts and engaged with posts of their peers. As an additional step, the students evaluated blogs for chronic conditions, learned genuine patients’ opinions and experiences, and used their critical eyes to identify misinformation (Oser & Oser, 2016). Taken together, blogs are uniquely suited to jump-start authentic writing and combine peer-to-peer learning, consolidation of content, and reflection.
To serve as an educational home base online
Besides interactivity, blogs can facilitate functions of general training institutions, including education, administration, and scholarly activities. This can include work scheduling, storing contact information and up-to-date information on program events, and deepening the specific learning goals of committed groups (Bagshaw, 2020). Anyone can post information for others to review, creating a virtual home base for the most current news. For asynchronous learning, experiences such as links from conferences can be provided for those who were unable to attend. Thus, from idea dissemination to collaboration, members can share and discuss important information and brainstorm and post possible solutions. These online home bases are especially important for groups within disciplines with inherent specific structures, such as medical specialties and subspecialties that balance high demands and diverse schedules. Here, blogs can provide an academic home and a forum for specialized content for niche audiences (Saichaie et al., 2014).
To establish yourself as an expert, educator, and thought leader
What better way to establish your purpose and intent in your area of education than by publishing a blog? More than just a reflection of your teaching philosophy and best practices, blogs are valuable community boards for problem-solving, innovation, and professional development. Authored by teams of experts or individuals, disseminating insights from the latest developments in the field, highlighting most recent conference reports, or reviewing critical content knowledge for a rapidly growing field or society in general, blogs establish authority and expertise while building community. In addition, blogs either utilizing or based on published evidence acquire a scholarly quality, making them highly relevant for the field. Blogs can target diverse or narrowly defined readers of the respective field or niche (e.g., expats versus global readership) and enable community building on a global stage. The guiding motto “local solutions for global problems” might represent the scope of many blogs in education, providing best practices for the immediate community of readers, which can transfer to other institutions as well. For example, eBites and Hofstra Faculty Hallway Chat both target professional development in higher education with slightly different scopes, medical education (ZSOM) and general education (Hofstra University). Thus, by sharing the most recent developments in an area of expertise—or reflecting on world news affecting the institution and society at large—experts can harness the power of the word, establish a platform of purpose, and reach out to their community as well as to the public.
Anyone with a passion for knowledge in education can start an education-directed blog and post to such a blog. A blog can reflect the pulse and concern of the community while demonstrating caring, connecting shared interests, and building consensus. It is an authentic way for young learners to establish their own individual penmanship and voice while working with content, and for seasoned experts to establish educational leadership. Go for it!
Bagshaw, K. (2020). Student perceptions about critical thinking in online psychiatric nurse education. Doctoral dissertation, Walden University. https://scholarworks.waldenu.edu/dissertations/8260
Boulos, M. N. K., Maramba, I., & Wheeler, S. (2006). Wikis, blogs and podcasts: A new generation of Web-based tools for virtual collaborative clinical practice and education. BMC Medical Education, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-6-41
Duke, V. J. A., Anstey, A., Carter, S., Gosse, N., Hutchens, K. M., & Marsh, J. A. (2017). Social media in nurse education: Utilization and e-professionalism. Nurse Education Today, 57, 8–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2017.06.009
Peck, J. L. (2014). Social media in nursing education: Responsible integration for meaningful use. Journal of Nursing Education, 53(3), 164–169. https://doi.org/10.3928/01484834-20140219-03
Oser, T., & Oser, S. (2016, November). The use of blogs in medical education. Society of Teachers of Family Medicine. https://www.stfm.org/publicationsresearch/publications/educationcolumns/2016/november
Poth, R. D. (2018, October). Collaboration: Bringing students together to promote learning. Getting Smart. https://www.gettingsmart.com/2018/10/collaboration-bringing-students-together-to-promote-learning-can-move
Qi, B., & Mackie, L. (2014, April). Utilising social media technology to raise brand awareness in higher education. In V. Montfort & K.-H. Krempels (Eds.), WEBIST 2015: Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies (Vol. 2,pp. 400–405). SciTePress. https://doi.org/10.5220/0004965804000405
Saichaie, K., Benson, J., & Kumar, A. B. (2014). How we created a targeted teaching tool using blog architecture for anesthesia and critical care education—The A/e anesthesia exchange blog. Medical Teacher, 36(8), 675–679. https://doi.org/10.3109/0142159x.2014.886765
Yousef, A. M. F., Salah, R. A., & Makram, E. M. (2020). Investigating different educational blog characteristics to support collaborative learning based on connectivism learning theory. In H. C. Lane, S. Zvacek, & J. Uhomoibhi (Eds.), CDESU 2020: Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (Vol. 2, pp. 118–129). SciTePress. https://doi.org/10.5220/0009425601180129
Elisabeth Frieda M. Schlegel, PhD, is an associate professor of science education and the assistant director of faculty development and medical education research at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.