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April 18, 2013

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IDEA WATCH: Live-Blogging Learning

IDEA WATCH: Live-Blogging Learning

If you’ve attended a conference in the past 5 years, participated in Twitter, or even watched a sporting or political event (or an Apple product release) online, you probably either watched or have been part of a live-blog or chat. Live-blogging/chatting affords participants the ability to engage with other participants or viewers, discuss the issues at hand, ask questions without disturbing the presentation, and turn what could be a passive experience into an active one.

So why is this an “idea to watch”?

Because live-blogging, which is commonly used for online events, has made only a slow entry into the classroom and into library instruction, despite the fact that research studies are showing evidence that it is an effective learning tool, not to mention a means of communication that students are familiar with.

Slow to Go

In fact, live-blogging has been around a great while. In the 1990s, I participated in a grant with the University of Texas to study the effectiveness of using discussion forums and live chats to support a research unit and classroom instruction. There is a body of research showing the effectiveness of these tools for student learning. For example, in a study of math classrooms, it was found that math students were better able to understand problems and to use the academic language of math after participating in online discussions (Graham, Janet, and Ted Hodgson. “Speaking Math: Using Chat in the Multicultural Math Classroom”; Learning and Leading With Technology, Vol. 35 No. 5; pp. 24–27; February 2008). Online chats can benefit those students who don’t or are reluctant to speak up in class, leveling the playing field in that regard. And because, technically, everyone can speak at once, more students’ voices can be heard during a discussion.

So what barriers are preventing the adoption of live-blogging in library and classroom settings? Lack of 1:1 devices, of course, has an impact—if there aren’t library computer labs or laptop carts, places where these sorts of tools can be used, a live-blog can’t happen. Even though we have research showing the effectiveness of this methodology, it can be spontaneous, and perhaps the unpredictability worries educators (or administrators). Discussion room sites are sometimes blocked by overzealous filtering, discouraging their use (although solutions abound when you approach this tool as significant for student learning).

What Live-Blogging Looks Like

If you are unfamiliar with the concept, you may wonder what live-blogging looks like. It involves using chat tools, instantly updating blogging tools, or discussion forums or tools to discuss an event, a lecture, a film, a video, etc., while it is happening, without disrupting the event verbally. Participants carry on discussions within a chat room, on Twitter, or via whatever tool works best. It can be used in the library and the classroom in a variety of ways: for discussion of a film, for “inner/outer” circle discussions or “fishbowl” discussions, for discussing a class presentation, for brainstorming ideas for research papers, for editing group presentations/projects, etc. Imagine this translated into information literacy lessons, discussions of novels, online author visits, or brainstorming research topics.

In our library, I partnered with our sophomore English teacher to help her students live-blog their research panel discussions. Students were grouped into panels on the basis of shared research topics. They then role-played as various people who might be present on a news panel (parent, teacher, college student, etc.) to debate issues related to privacy and technology. The students in the “audience” used the live-blog to discuss and debate questions, make comments, and discuss issues that arose while listening to the panel presentations. Like the math study mentioned previously, we found that students were much more engaged in the learning, and both the teacher and student panel could look back at the live-blog to see how the audience was responding. We also were able to invite others from outside the actual classroom to participate in the live-blog discussion and to share their input on the issues students were discussing, broadening their perspective and reaching beyond the walls of the classroom.

Live-Blogging Tools has been making fairly common appearances at conference meetings I’ve attended recently. It is an easy-to-use tool for live-blogging a session when you are not concerned about moderating chat comments ahead of them being posted. It can be set up in seconds, and the record of the chat can be stored for up to a year or erased the next day, whatever suits the need of the teacher and class. It can be spontaneously created. Other tools that function similarly include, TitanPad (which also features a writing pad area and a chat area), and chat tools such as For a real moderated blog chat, CoveritLive offers educators a free live-blog space that can be set up ahead of time; comments by students can be “approved” by teachers/librarians as they are made. Even sites such as Edmodo, with its Facebook-like format, can be used for live discussions of events. And in terms of blog sites, now has a tool for embedding chats right into a classroom or library blog.

In terms of logistics, first find a tool that works for your purposes. Then consider the issues of classroom management. Setting the tone and expectations for the chat is important. One strategy some teachers and librarians use to help monitor comments is using graded chats; students are required/expected to make a certain quantity of comments.

Of course, adapting to the openness of a live chat in the classroom can pose a challenge to teachers concerned that the dialogue is “online” (not that there aren’t ways to shelter the content behind “walls” if truly necessary). As our students’ culture moves more and more into the openness of the web, we have to be willing to reconsider how walled our environments are and how maybe it is appropriate to have our students’ academic thoughts online.

But to better adapt to the needs of their 21st-century students, teachers have to seek their own comfort levels with this methodology and understand the researched-based benefits it can have in the classroom. For example, in a study of preservice teachers, while researchers found that instant messaging built relationships between teachers and students, preservice teachers using chat tools had an adjustment to make in terms of wanting to differentiate themselves from students, finding themselves uncomfortable trying to define their “teacher” role in a chat. (Nichols-Besel, Kristen et al. “Preservice Teachers’ Perceptions of Instant Messaging in Two Educational Contexts”; Journal of Computing in Teacher Education, 25.1 [2008]: 5–12. ERIC. Web. 5 Nov. 2012.) But it’s our responsibility as educators to move beyond our own discomfort and put our students first in considering tools that improve their engagement and learning. And as teacher librarians, we can introduce teachers to these tools, support them by acting as a second proctor in the chats, or provide examples of how to facilitate a fishbowl discussion.

Look Around!

When we see strategies such as live-blogging used at conferences, or on CNN, or moving into the mainstream, we should, as innovators and learning leaders in our schools, continually ask ourselves how those tools could benefit our students. Watching how tech sites live-blog Apple events, for example, can give us ideas for how to use these tools effectively for learning in our own schools. With that learning sometimes comes discomfort, but it’s discomfort we have to allow ourselves if we are going to grow and learn alongside our 21st-century (yes, we are a decade into it!) students.

If there are barriers within our schools, we need to help find solutions that allow students to use powerful strategies for their learning experience that mimic their “out of school” learning. We can also help our corporate partners in library instruction/work consider the benefits of these tools: We can ask our vendors to increasingly incorporate these sorts of tools inside their textbooks, databases, and other “school” software.

But we have to be leaders in seizing opportunities to share new tools with our teachers and to encourage our minds to wander and explore how to bring “real world” tools into our classrooms and libraries. We have to be part of the “idea” watch for our campuses.


Contact Carolyn at

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