2013 Conference Content Creation

Blog Me Baby One More Time – #TIE2

CatsCan blogging make a difference in the student’s experience? Can it have pedagogical value, or are institutions simply jumping on to something “new and shiny?” In their presentation, Robin Smail from Firebrand Tribe and Audrey Romano, Web Coordinator from Penn State University, gave an overview of the blogging platform at Penn State, which gives all students a blogging platform and incorporates blogging as part of the academic experience.

Among many things, blogs can improve student literacy, motivate students to be more creative, share ideas and resources. Research shows that students produce content that is better organized, longer, and, and cohesive when they know there is an external audience for the material they produce.


Penn State rolled both individual blogs for students and collaborative group blogs for classes. Each of these provided unique benefits to the authors. 

Quality and Engagement in Education: Improved Academic Outcomes

Audience engagement through the blog greatly improves the output as well. When tested with an English class whose assignment was to create an article to submit to a print publication, the students who did their work via a blog than the traditional method had twice as high an acceptance rate. 39% of the paper submissions were objections, but only 8% of the online assignments were rejected.

Reflection: Advancement in Learning and Skills

In another case study, a nutrition class was asked to create a blog on a health topic of their choice. This gave them agency to follow their own scholarly interests and to gain knowledge  in the area and in communicating about that topic. There was some initial push-back from the students in learning to blog, but later outcomes showed that the students were able to broaden their academic learning, and provided material that helped in their later job placements.

Deeper Understanding of Rhetoric, Developing Skills and Digital Literacy

In a Civics class, 17,302 posts were made by 600 students over 2 semesters. At the same time, 22 instructors created their course blogs without direct support.

Authentic Voices: Citizens of a Larger World

Study Abroad students were required to blog about their experiences in other countries as a condition of being able to participate int he program. The blogs were geo-tagged so readers would know where the students currently were and that linked to their most recent posts. The program discovered that the students sold the program without any other collateral – their passion and excitement at what they were doing painted a better picture of the experience better than any non-peer could.


Setup of the initial platform

The initial setup for blogs at Penn State was through MovableType, which proved over time to not be able to scale to their needs. Penn State is rolling out a new platform using WordPress and BuddyPress for the revised platform, which is proving to be easier to use.

Instructor Time

The technology can scale, but instructor’s limited time does not. Penn State developed a plug-in for WordPress to easily organize student posts to make it easier for the instructor to review the student’s work, in order to minimize the extra review time needed to incorporate their blogs with their courses. The plugin also assists in helping users export their content for when they move to another location.

Final Thoughts

The Penn State blogs give voice and authenticity to the student experience in education. It gives them the ability to reflect, while giving them a chance to develop real-world skills.

Photo Credit: mastrobiggo via Compfight cc

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By Jeff Stevens

Deep in north-central Florida, Jeff Stevens leads a dual life. By day, he’s responsible for content strategy, usability, accessibility, SEO, and analytics and metrics for the University of Florida's academic Health Center. By night, he’s Creative Director of Union Design & Photo, a freelance design agency that has worked withover two hundred clients. In between, he dons a cape and plays superhero with his kids and cats. And when he dreams, he’s a singing park ranger somewhere out west.