Faculty Story: UBC Blogs for Education

Read about a UBC example of using UBC Blogs, featuring Dr. David Vogt, Adjunct Professor, Master of Educational Technology Program. David uses UBC Blogs to collectively build and curate knowledge.

UBC Blogs Example for Education

David Vogt How did you use UBC Blogs in your course and what made you decide to do this?

I had no significant experience with WordPress or blogs in general. I was simply looking for platforms capable of a number of functionalities not available in Canvas. UBC Blogs is “home” for two of my graduate courses. My WordPress courses are in the online Masters of Educational Technology (MET) Program, specifically ETEC522 (Ventures in Learning Technologies) and ETEC523 (Mobile and Open Learning). Students are generally mid-career professionals working in almost every time zone (making synchronous contexts difficult). There are typically about twenty students in each cohort, although the process is better when there are twice that number, and each new cohort builds forward on the knowledge generated by previous cohorts.

My primary concern with Canvas is that students can’t use it to collectively build and curate knowledge. Canvas is designed for ‘flushing’ student work at the end of each cohort/session. I wanted a place where students could openly publish their work to a global audience online, and where they can study and add value to the work of current and past peers through ratings, recommendations, reviews, and original research.

Current knowledge in my courses evolves very quickly. I want my students to witness this evolution as well as understand their scholarly ability and responsibility to contribute to it.

What has been the result?

I want my students to experience knowledge as a participatory, evolving stream, so our WordPress sites are open for anyone online to read, and student contributions involve collective curriculum development, publishing original posts, curation (review, rating, and recommending), and discussion.

Thanks to some amazing support from the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) and others, my bespoke course platforms in WordPress work in most of the ways I’d like them to. Not all students appreciate having to grapple with and navigate a learning experience that isn’t Canvas.

But most [students] respect that this is a place where the quality of their ideas are meant to have ongoing value, both within and beyond the course itself.

What are some of the challenges and is there anything about your approach that you would improve or change?

The most challenging parts of development with CTLT involved

  1. faceted search functionality (making it easy as possible for students to sift through all previous contributions based variously on date, author, topic, keywords, rating, etc.); and
  2. curatorial functionality (reviews, ratings, recommendations).

Over the two decades that these courses have operated, there have been many experiments—such as the application of badges—that CTLT has been enormously helpful in cooperating with.

As one might expect, to make blogs manageable in a general sense, UBC needs to constrain the enormous diversity in functionality available across WordPress—mostly by restricting the number and kinds of special plug-ins that are generally available. This often makes an instructor feel like their hands are tied in terms of being truly creative or experimental in the learning experiences they might wish to create. My courses are therefore hosted outside of the primary UBC Blogs family.

Additionally, I have no expertise in WordPress, none is available within my Faculty, and I have no independent resources to contract with such experts. So I’m obliged to employ all of my best powers of persuasion (i.e., I beg) with the experts in CTLT to get something to work better. Anything that breaks gets fixed very quickly, but purposeful renovation and innovation is very difficult. For example, I’m well aware that the overall graphic appeal and social engagement contexts of my courses are significantly deficient compared to what I know they could be, but I have no means to address these challenges.

Do you have any advice for instructors hoping to implement UBC Blogs in their course?

If you have a clear vision for how and why you wish to use blogs in learning contexts that are not available in Canvas or other tools available at UBC, I would highly recommend some brave experimentation. My experience is that CTLT genuinely welcomes such experimentation—especially as there is so little scope for such within Canvas—and will support your ideas in every way they can.

Faculty and staff looking for UBC Blogs support, please contact us at the LT Hub.

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