Summer Course Planning

Some of you already know, but in case not, I'm teaching a class this summer: Rhetoric 3562, Technical and Professional Writing. That's Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:35-12:30. Yes, three-hour class meetings, twice a week. I must have lost my mind! So now I'm trying to visualize how the class meetings are going to go. I definitely want to have my students do collaborative/group work in class, and I'm thinking I'll have each student keep a blog, and at the end of class each day, maybe during the last fifteen minutes, I'll have them do "progress posts"--sort of a "what I've learned, what I've accomplished" thing. That will help the students to synthesize concepts from class, hopefully. I want them to use the blogs to post about whatever they want, too, but ultimately I want the blogs to help the students with their projects. Please give me any other tips you have about having students keep blogs! Do I ever need them.


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Process Writing

I guess one big question would be, how are you planning on evaluating the writing? I would assume that you probably wouldn't use the same criteria as you would with an essay, in the hopes that students might feel more at ease and relaxed in their posts. I've never had students keep blogs, but I've done similar things with journals and bulletin board posts; what worked for me was to set it up as a forum for low-stakes public writing.

I've found that when I've asked for "what I've learned" type things, I get a lot of very similar responses that sound like they're often trying to anticipate what I want to hear, so I've turned it around and asked them to write about the process of writing: what's working for you when you're writing? Where do you get your ideas? Do you write all at once or in bits and chunks? And, perhaps the best questions for eliciting responses and inter-student discussion: where are you stuck, where do you need help with your writing, and, after you get un-stuck, how did you get un-stuck?

And if you're requiring them to read & reply to one another's blogs, that's one way to open it up for interaction. Another thing to do, since you want them to post about whatever they want, is make the responses part of the evaluation criteria: ask students whose posts get the most responses, and why? What kinds of responses work the best? (That's almost asking for a /. style mod up/down system.)

Finally, one useful ongoing topic -- since your course description seems to indicate a very genre-focused class -- would be to ask students to identify the generic characteristics of, and post links to, documents "in the wild," and discuss what qualities make them effective or ineffective in the genre. (I'm imagining student discussions like, "Here's site X, a business plan. Do bullet points in the intro work, or should the author have kept to a more narrative style?")

I'd be interested to hear what works and what doesn't. I find low-stakes writing to be great for helping students get into the habit of writing regularly, but sometimes it's like pulling teeth -- they really need to be convinced that, like anything else, writing gets better with frequent practice, and sometimes just doing it a lot is enough.



Thank you so much for the thoughtful feedback! I bet you're a great teacher. I do definitely believe in, as you put it, "low-stakes writing," and for years now I've had my students do one-page response papers, but now I think I'll have them do blog posts instead. I really like your idea of posing those questions about the writing process.

By the way, I'd like to blogroll you, but not without your permission, since you are masking your identity in your weblog. Let me know if it's okay!


It's definitely okay; please, blogroll away -- and thanks!

As far as the identity issue goes, I'm not sure what to do, and would welcome any feedback: on the one hand, I know I'm kinda wary about folks online who aren't up front about who they are, and on the other hand, I think if I were ever going to talk about students online, or if I were to open up into a multi-authored class weblog, I'd want to make sure their anonymity was protected. This is especially true if I'm planning on doing a qualitative research study that'll have to pass IRB muster. . . Any thoughts on research ethics & identity issues re blogs?

Mike |


You might learn something from high school teachers on Block Scheduling. Blocks are typically 90 minutes long so you could think in terms of two blocks.

I think application when I think of long periods of time. I think process modelling. I think new ways of bringing people together for new purposes. I think in terms of whole class projects that reinforce the forms and skills taught in class. I think in terms of lots of forms of presentation. I think cooperative learning (please don't give group grades). I think of collaborative forms like Wikis, FAQ's, weblogs, and other forms of publishing.

I would like to think in terms of added value for the students, projects that might be spun off into the future, projects that serve "client" groups (client=types of students and what they will use your content for). Answer these questions: what can I teach in this longer format and what can't I teach.

Nice Exchange

I don't have any advice to add, but I do like the exchange here between you and Mike, Clancy. It made me think of some things about teaching, which I wrote about at Teaching Writing in an Online World.

Computers and Composition

I met you at Computers and Composition at Purdue. As I told you there, I am writing about blogs as a new genre of life narrative. This looks like it is going to be very helpful although I am inexperienced.

My nephew Nathan Hobbs in St. Paul has had a blog for years. He is a law student at present. Most of what I am learning is on the web although I have collected some journalistic pieces.

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