Blogging: The Semester in Review

The comp class blogs didn't go so well this semester. It wasn't a disaster by any means; it's just that the participation was a lot more forced than I would have liked. I attribute this to a couple of factors:

1.) I was teaching three classes, all of which had (group) blogs, and what with my adjustment to my new job and all, I wasn't able to be as active on all of the blogs than I had been before, when I was teaching a 2-1 load. In fact, the semesters I've used blogs in my teaching before had been the ones in which I'd taught only one class. I didn't leave as many comments under posts as I probably should have. I did, of course, leave comments and post to the blog, but not as often as I had before.

2.) Facebook and MySpace. The way I have used blogs in my teaching has been as a type of community-building writing space; that is to say, community building was the primary goal of the blogging activity. I had worked to achieve this goal by suggesting topics for blog posts, but encouraging the students to blog about other topics they were interested in instead, if they chose. The class blogs were, in practice, a very expressivist environment. This worked out pretty well because the major writing assignments were research-oriented, so the blog was a space for personal writing. However, the class blog became superfluous in terms of social software; Facebook and MySpace are the killer apps for that. It bears mentioning that the last time I taught using blogs was Fall 2004. In Spring 2005 I taught speech and only had a blog for making class announcements, and I had a dissertation fellowship in academic year 2005-2006. Needless to say, Facebook and MySpace have really taken off since 2004.

So next semester I'm going to try something different. I have Moodle sites set up for the two classes I'm teaching, and while I'm still definitely going to have a once-per-week posting requirement, it's going to be much more oriented toward the course content. In composition classes, the content is often chosen by the students (depending on how one does it, of course), so there may not be the kind of shared content you'd have with a literature course. The classes I'm teaching next semester are content-driven, so it'll be easier to write weekly prompts that are tightly integrated with the content of the course, with posts consisting of reading responses for the most part.

At least for next semester, then, my course discussion spaces are going to be spaces for discussion about the course topics specifically. Many of us have talked about blogging's becoming domesticated as more and more instructors start using it in writing courses. I think that's probably inevitable. The writing context (the university, the classroom, the GRADE) is, of course, going to determine to some extent the attitudes of students and of instructors in the blog space. That's not at all a new observation. I guess my point is that as long as the writing on course weblogs is going to be determined somewhat by the institutional context, it isn't necessarily bad to go ahead and make it a Writing Space for This Class. There is a writing-to-learn rationale for that approach, after all, and it does help students hone skills in adapting their writing styles for different occasions and contexts.

Making a class blog as much like a regular old blog in the 'sphere as possible, the way I've done before, is fine, but whereas the writing may be more "real" and done with the student's "authentic voice," (quotes definitely intended to scare) the exercise may not really teach them much. Writing for an audience besides the teacher, perhaps, but they learn this through Facebook and MySpace.


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My class blogs didn't go so

My class blogs didn't go so well either, I think for much the same reasons you mentioned. Plus, instead of having a completely separate site for my class, I just created a group on our Drupal site, so we lost that sense of community. I'm not sure how much they learn about writing for an audience from Facebook and MySpace. Most of them don't write the kinds of essay-like entries we require for blogs or papers, for that matter. So while they may know someting about presenting a persona to an audience, I'm not sure they really know how to write to an audience. And that's something I still think a blog can teach them.

Starting class blogs

A year or so ago, when I first started reading some of your posts about class blogs, I planned to start doing so, myself. My first semester at the U of M seemed like a good time to start.

But once I arrived on campus, I heard enough horror stories about disastrous class blogs to make me hold off for a bit. For many instructors here, the students just weren't willing to write in them. So I stuck with traditional journals for the time being. That went well enough, I suppose, but obviously lacked some of the potential that blogs have.

Next semester, I'm teaching only one course (Professional and Technical Writing), and if I can figure out a way to get the students involved, I just might move ahead with this.


2 Board Alley

Round two: the first version of this was deleted by my cat. Aaaaaaarggggggghhhhhh.

Okay. Blogging with basic writers, when each student has a blog is time consuming and I don't have the time to consume. Clancy, you are so right about your teaching load and other professional responsibilities taking time away from reading your students' blogsI wish I had time to write up directions for using Blogger, but I don't, so a large chunk of my time is used helping others get organied.
This semester I have stepped back from blogging in BW largely because of the time issue as well as the experience issue. Although many, if not all, students are familiar with Facebook/MySpace, there are still others who are not, so the idea of blogging confuses them. Those who are familiar sometimes can't distinguish between what is appropriate versus what is not on their school blog.

What has worked this semester has been using the blog for my mythology class--yes, it functions as an electronic bulletin board, but I've been introducing the concept of blogging and some of the practices in small, bite-sized chunks, which makes things do-able for me and for them. In fact, one of my students created an imaginary blog written by a Norse god and which features comments from other gods of other pantheons. I'll link to it. Here's the link to the class blog:


Facebook and MySpace

Two years ago when I last taught "Writing for the Internet," most students had little experience online. I knew that things would be different this time around, so I completely re-designed the course, and made the first month or so focus on online identity and ethics issues, so that we examined head-on the issues of appropriateness and tone. (I also had an e-mail exercise, in which students were supposed to submit samples of a formal and an informal e-mail they had recently sent, and then revise each so that they wrote their formal e-mail with an informal tone, and vice-versa.)

All in all, I think that worked fairly well. But that was a class in which students self-selected. I had a single hypertext assignment in my basic comp class, but because the students didn't actually post that paragraph online anywhere, it was more a theoretical hypertext than a practical one.

Most freshmen do still seem to be new to the concept of a Wiki, but you're very right -- the students are now coming into the class already part of dozens or scores of online communities (even if they are defined only as names added to a Facebook list). So there is less online bonding than there was when I first started academic blogging.

I have responded to this by assigning "richly-linked blog entries," by asking students to post project proposals and progress reports rather than polished documents, and by asking students to blog their notes for informal oral reports (thus encouraging them to cite their sources painlessly by hyperlinking, rather than have them read word-for-word from a Wikipedia printout.)

This term I taught more project-based classes, but next term I'll be teaching more traditional literature classes. That means we'll have common readings -- some of them quite challenging. I'm hoping that students will be motivated to learn from their peers.

Sometimes a student who does not participate in class can make up for it by good blogging. I find that asking students to read and comment on their peer blogs is a good make-up assignment for dedicated students who have to miss class for a good reason. But rather than give X points for writing an entry of Y words in length, I find that asking students to post a persuasive blog entry that introduces the reader to their past few weeks of blogging is a good way to get the students to see the benefit of blogging.

I haven't seen blogs magically motivating the reluctant student, but I do see blogs being an outlet for the top 2 or 3 students in the class, who sometimes blog more than all the other students put together. Even the students who don't blog that much benefit from reading what the top bloggers produce.

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