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Religious Narratives and Networked Learning Spaces: Using Blogs to Connect Individuals to History

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Presentation at AOIR 2017 (Tartu, Estonia).

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Religious Narratives and Networked Learning Spaces: Using Blogs to Connect Individuals to History

  1. 1. RELIGIOUS NARRATIVES AND NETWORKED LEARNING SPACES: USING BLOGS TO CONNECT INDIVIDUALS TO HISTORY George S. Williamson Vanessa P. Dennen Florida State University
  2. 2. Study Context: History of Religion Course ■ Upper level undergraduate elective course ■ Mostly history majors, a few religion majors ■ Modern European religious history, Enlightenment – post 1945 ■ Expansive treatment of “religion” (includes Protestantism, Catholicism, Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism, aesthetic and political “religions,” spiritualism and the occult, secularist or scientific “worldviews”). “Confession” as key analytical term.
  3. 3. Why blog? ■ Issue: Course topic is potentially sensitive – Students have personal narratives related to overarching topic – Individual students benefit from exploring the relationship between personal religious narratives and historical ones – Students benefit from practice with academic writing about topic before completing formal papers and tests ■ Solution: Blogs – Provide students with outlet for sharing their personal thoughts about religion and history – Space to practice writing about historical narratives of religion
  4. 4. Research Questions 1. How did students perceive the use of blogs to explore personal connections to the readings and course material? 2. How did the use of a semi-private networked public space contribute to the students’ experience? 3. How did the blogging assignment contribute to student learning outcomes?
  5. 5. Method Participants: 34 students in course Data collection: 1. Student blogs 2. Student grades 3. End-of-term survey (response: 25 / 73.5%) 4. Instructor reflections Approved by ethics board, and students provided consent.
  6. 6. Blogging Assignment ■ Instructor created “disposable blogs” (Pimpare & Fast, 2008) – Edublogs – Pseudonyms for all – Not indexed – Not shared (unless student chose to do so) ■ Requirement – 2 posts per week (1 on readings, 1 self-selected) Pimpare, S. & Fast, J. (2008). The disposable blog: Using the weblog to facilitate classroom learning and communication. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 8(1), 3-12.
  7. 7. Example: Blog Post and Comment ■ Student: Recently in one of my literature classes I made a connection that I most certainly would not have if not for our “Formation of European Christianity” lecture. One of the assigned readings for my English class was Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Recognizing that Edwards was a Calvinist, I began to familiarize myself with the text much more quickly than I would have if I knew nothing about Calvinism. … ■ Instructor reply: I’m glad you were able to draw that parallel. It would be interesting to know just how big a role the “hellfire and damnation” rhetoric characteristic of people lke Jonathan Edwards played in early Calvinist thought. Certainly there were very few “revivals” among the early Calvinists (which is how Edwards made his reputation).
  8. 8. Example: Blog Post and Comment ■ Student: After learning what the term “theodicy” meant in class on Monday, I began trace my thought process regarding God’s omnipotence and goodness. As a child I could never understand why bad things were happening to me at certain times if God was always watching out for me. As I grew older I began to train myself to think that it was all part of molding my character, or a sort of test. ■ Instructor: I’m glad this topic struck a chord with you. It has certainly been a stumbling block for me in my attempts to understand history and the role (if any) of divine providence within in it. It is also interesting (to me) that this event provoked not only a deep reconsideration of theodicy but also so many different responses to this problem.
  9. 9. Example: Student Sharing Personal POV I agree with the statement: “Now that there no longer is and never again can be an exclusive national religion tolerance should be shown to all those that tolerate others, so long as their dogmas contain nothing contrary to the duties of a citizen.” I think that if a nation wants to expand its territory a battle should not involve religious prosecution. The battle should involve each nation on a strategic defense and offense situation and thats all. If there is not a national religion then the beliefs of each individual should be kept to themselves and they should praise their god how they believe they should. Too many times other countries prosecute one another for not having the same religious beliefs. This shows a man ignorance and selfishness.
  10. 10. Example: Student tying in outside sources While scouring the internet to fulfill one of my duties as a student (time-wasting,) I came upon this small excerpt about European religion. http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Religion_in_Europe As might be assumed based on our previous readings, it shows a drift towards an atheistic belief. However, I found it interesting that some countries didn’t seem far off from the United States, and that maybe looking at as US vs. Europe is skewing the religious score in our favor. The link above states that the United Kingdom has around a 70% Christian population while having 15% state they have no religious affiliations.
  11. 11. Findings: Student Impressions of Blog Assignment (Overview) ■ T-test showed NSD in interest in blogging from beginning to end ■ At end, 17 students (63%) were interested in blogging and 19 (76%) reported enjoying the experience.
  12. 12. Findings: Student Impressions of Blog Assignment (Positive Elements) Comments: I do not like to speak in class so I liked how I was able to share my ideas and thoughts about different topics we discussed I enjoyed writing on whatever I wanted related to the class I liked being able to use technology in an effective manner and utilize a virtually untapped way to learn Getting to explore the readings in connection to ideas not necessarily pertinent to class discussion but that interest me I liked posting my thoughts in general on religion and getting instructor feedback on them
  13. 13. Findings: Student Impressions of Blog Assignment (Positive Elements) Summary of open comments related to learning / studying: Pushed to read more deeply (n=15) Reinforced class sessions (n=4) Practice writing on course topic (n=3) Pushed to keep up with readings (n=2)
  14. 14. Findings: Student Impressions of Blog Assignment (Negative Elements) ■ Workload was too much (11) ■ Forgot to do it (4) ■ Challenge to come up with topics (4) ■ Should not be graded (4) ■ Interferes with Wednesday night hangovers (1) ■ Inconvenient to do when pet hamster died (1)
  15. 15. Findings: Use of Semi-Private Networked Space ■ Five students shared their blogs with others (friends, dating partners, parents) ■ Three students were uncomfortable with the assignment ■ Clear sense of writing for audience ■ Enjoyed and expected response from instructor Instructor Reflections: • Students need to share their personal experiences “If you don’t allow a space for that to happen, it’s still going to come out some way.” • Lessened student use of class discussion as platform for sharing personal religious beliefs
  16. 16. Findings: Blogging and Learning Outcomes ■ Positive correlation between blog grade and final exam grades – R=.657, n=34, p=.01
  17. 17. Discussion ■ Blogs provided a direct student-instructor connection not present in the classroom ■ The semi-private, pseudonymous nature of the assignment was sufficient to provide most students with a safe space for sharing their thoughts ■ The blogging format encouraged greater reflection than is present when commenting in class and all students had a chance to articulate ■ Students were able to explore intersections of personal narratives and religious thoughts alongside historical narratives being taught within the course ■ Blogging is time-intensive for students and instructor – needs to be accounted for in course structure
  18. 18. Contact Info ■ George Williamson – gwilliamson@fsu.edu - @george_s_w – Department of History, Florida State University ■ Vanessa Dennen - vdennen@fsu.edu = @vdennen – Department of Educational Psychology & Learning Systems, Florida State University

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