Best Practices for Using Blogs as a Student Engagement Tool
By Emily Gomez and Katherine Nobles
Blogs are an excellent tool for connecting and engaging with digital natives on the topic of career development. Digital natives are those who have interacted with digital technology from an early age and may include K-12 students, four-year college students, community college students, and even private practice and government agency clients. In our career development work with an undergraduate course and student organization, we found that blogs increased shared knowledge among students, allowed them to learn and utilize new technology, and enabled them to collaborate easily outside of class. Testing out new technology can sometimes feel like a daunting task, but the following tips may prove useful as practitioners consider adding a blog to encourage student engagement.
Designate student/client ownership of posts. As the creator of the blog, counselors and facilitators have the ability to set blog permissions so that students can be authors. Giving students the ability to write original posts, comment on others’ entries, and edit the blog independently compels them to take ownership of their work. Additionally, students can then see what others are posting and ask peers follow-up questions about common career interests.
Use different types of media. Blogs allow counselors and students to get creative. Think beyond long, written posts, and instead consider adding photos, infographics, prezis, and videos that add visual interest. Students not only learn from viewing information in different ways, but also acquire the valuable workplace skills of creating new media and becoming increasingly comfortable with technology.
Hold a training session and provide reminders. Counselors can enlist their school library or communications department to provide an introductory blogging “how to” session for students. They can also create or commission short videos or step-by-step instructions for common functions (e.g., adding a new post or picture). If students aren’t using the site each week, they will likely need a reminder on how to post—facilitators should make it easy for them to access help!
Utilize Wikis for multiple editors. Wikis are collaborative documents that can be edited simultaneously by different editors. Counselors can consider adding a wiki as a way for discussion to continue beyond face-to-face meetings. For example, students in our class were able to share key “take-aways” from course lectures about resumes, interviewing, and personal branding via the online wikis.
Promote sharing and follow-up among students. In a classroom setting, facilitators should encourage students to share their posts and findings with one another. For example, in addition to writing a recap of an informational interview with a professional, our students also gave short presentations on this topic. Sharing in class exposed students to a wider range of careers, but they were also encouraged to read more about various professions through the blog thereafter. Requiring students to comment or discuss information shared through blog posts encourages further learning and increased awareness.
There are many best practices, sources of inspiration, and resources available as counselors consider adding blogging to their student engagement efforts. For example, the vast Smithsonian network has a number of blog platforms where students share their projects and internship experiences, including http://www.smithsonianofi.com, which is media-rich and full of descriptive, yet succinct posts. These blogs are a great way for prospective students to understand the vast opportunities available to students and researchers. Another helpful blog, The Savvy Intern, shares a wealth of information on how to make the most of an internship experience. The site itself is a blog and the authors often link to relevant career-related posts or professional development-type articles. American University’s Career Center features student interns through blogging. Interns share about their internship experience and perspectives on what they are learning. This provides a great tool for other students to see what internship possibilities may exist and how they can grow from the opportunities. Finally, Dr. Mark Sample of George Mason University and Davidson University has been utilizing blogs in his classes for years. He posts basic course logistical information such as course calendar, contact information, and guidelines to the blog. In addition, he has used blogs to encourage and continue learning beyond the brick and mortar classroom by having students post on course-related topics. These examples and others show that there are many ways to connect with digital natives on the topic of career development, encouraging them to expand on what they learn in the classroom and share what they discover in the real world.
Possibilities for utilizing blogs in career development work are wide and could be taken in many different directions. Counselors should consider employing a blog to engage students or client groups, whether the purpose is:
To enable group discussion beyond face-to-face sessions
To share knowledge with clients in a 24/7 format
To organize a course or training
To showcase experiences or knowledge from group members
No matter the overarching goal, blogs are a great way to use technology to engage with clients or students in an interesting way and take the conversation online.
Emily Gomez, M.S., serves as a Career Counselor for all students, and particularly enjoys working with transfer and veteran students within University Career Services at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition, Emily works collaboratively with diverse student organizations to assist in their professional development and in connecting them with employer partners and was a finalist for 2014 National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Diversity and Inclusion Award. Emily earned her B.A. and M.A. in Anthropology, prior to completing her M.S. in Counseling at California State University, Sacramento. You can connect with Emily via email at email@example.com.
Katherine Nobles, M.Ed., is currently the Assistant Director of Social Media & Branding for University Career Services at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to taking on this role, she served as a Career Counselor at UCS. Katherine has presented at state, regional, and national conferences and was a finalist for the 2013 National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Innovation Excellence Award for Research. Katherine earned her B.A. in Communication from Virginia Tech and M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from The College of William & Mary, where she served as a Career Center Graduate Assistant. You can connect with Katherine via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.