Blogging: The Semester in Review

I've been wanting to share all my weblog-related handouts from my Rhetoric 1101 course this semester in case anyone wants a concrete sense of exactly how we used the weblog and in case anyone might find the materials useful. Overall, I feel that the course blogging went very well, given what my goals for the weblog were. My goal was not so much to have a weblog that was painfully obviously just for a grade (i.e. forced blogging); instead, I hoped for something that read like a community weblog of twenty-two first-year college students writing about what was on their minds, loosely guided by the principle that the content ought to be tied in some tacit way to rhetoric. In other words, I wanted the weblog to serve one of my central pedagogical objectives, namely to facilitate a close community ethos in the classroom, and I wanted the weblog to be a place to apply and synthesize the rhetorical principles we were discussing in class (ethos, pathos, logos, informal fallacies, etc.). I offered weekly topics (evaluation forms I'd passed out in a previous class suggested that such topics would benefit students who were having trouble thinking of something to write about), but I encouraged the students to blog about other topics if they liked, which they often did. I drew from the web and from what other bloggers were writing about and tried to offer a broad range of topics and a number of selections each week, and sometimes I riffed off what the students brought to the blog and made topics based on their thoughts and questions.

Reflecting on the experience, I am even more convinced that it's best to, if at all possible, have one weblog for the whole class rather than individual weblogs. All the posts are in one place, which makes it easier for the instructor as well as more interesting for the students, who see new posts and comments every time they hit the site. I believe the novelty piqued their curiosity and caused them to visit the site more often, which is what we all do, right? I know I'm more likely to go to a site that is updated frequently. Also, and I know many won't like this, but I would argue that if the central objective of the weblog is to build a learning community, it works well to grade based on level of participation only and throw out the rubrics. I didn't have any requirements for the posts in terms of word count, linking, or appropriate language; I wanted to try an almost-unregulated space that would allow for a great degree of freedom for different tones of voice and some experimentation. Below is the first handout I gave them. Of course a good bit of discussion and background information accompanied it, but these handouts are what they saw.

Course Weblog ::

Why a course weblog?

The main objective of our keeping a course weblog is to make writing a regular habit. The more you write, the better your writing becomes, and if you share your writing – by this I mean write for a real group of people who will actually read what you write and give you feedback – you’ll take both your writing and your views on social and political issues more seriously. Weblogs allow a high level of interactivity; in your posts, you’ll be able to link to other web sites, other blogs, or other news stories. If you want to respond to your classmates’ posts, you can do that easily as well. Sharing your writing with others in the class and reading what your classmates write is also an excellent way to build community and get to know each other better.

How we’ll do this:

The requirement is to write at least two posts per week. Remember, work that simply meets the requirements but does not exceed them warrants a grade of C, so if you only do your two posts, expect to get a C for the weblog component of the grade. If you’d like to get a grade higher than a C, post comments on other students’ posts, and post more than twice a week. This is easier than it sounds; once we get going, you’ll probably find yourself wanting to respond to what your classmates write. On Mondays, I’ll send out two topics for you to write about, which will often (but not always) be related to the subjects we discuss in class. They will usually entail responding to a brief news story or editorial on a current issue. You are always welcome to write about something other than the topic I send out, or send me topic requests! The topics are only suggestions for when you can’t think of anything to write about. If you’ve got something on your mind, or if you hear about an issue you think others in the class might be interested in discussing, lay it on us!

Two HTML tags you need to know:

[Note: I was having trouble making the tags show up here, so use your imagination.]

These will come in very handy, I promise. The first is how to code a link:
When I need to find something online, I always Google it.
The second is how to make an image show up in your post. If you see an image on the internet and you'd like to display it, get the URL for the image and use this tag:

Then it will show up on the blog as:


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blogs--how to

Thanks for doing this, Clancy. Although I will be using blogs with developmental classes, having a a "hands-on" guide like this will help me situate why I am using them and how to go about it. BTW, cute new format on this blog. How often do you change it and do you have a gallery of the old ones?

Merry Christmas,


Classroom blog

I agree that a group blog for the whole class works far better than individual blogs. Students tend to check frequently to see new posts and comment on them far more often than with a class blogroll. Also, a semester-long class (rather than 8-week summer) gives enough time for this group momentum to build. I chose last spring to tie blogging to the participation part of the grade also, and will continue to do so when I resume teaching after the diss fellowship. I counted up posts, suggested twice a week as a benchmark, and set Drupal for a 25 word minimum for posts. Glad you had happy bloggers, Clancy!


Okay, not quite all. I can never remember centripetal and centrifugal, or rather, which is which. I always start by thinking "fugal" means fleeing (as in tempus fugit--I did take Latin for a couple of years), meaning that centrifugal is tending outwards, but then I see "petal" and think the petals of a flower spreading outwards. Ugh. But my "fugal" hunch is the right one. Centripetal tends towards the center; centrifugal towards the edge. And it's relevant because I wanted to bookmark both Alex's and more recently Clancy's reflections on using blogs for the classroom, albeit in different ways and contexts. Clancy notes, I wanted the weblog to serve one of my central pedagogical objectives, namely to facilitate a close community ethos in the classroom...Reflecting on the experience, I am even more convinced that it's best to, if at all possible, have one weblog for the whole class rather than individual weblogs. This is an issue that Steve talks about as well, in his piece for Kairos. More and more, I think that it's important to distinguish between the centripetal and centrifugal modes of blogging, and to understand how each might occupy space in the classroom. I've got a lot more to say on this than time to actually say it, but for the moment: I'll be doing some of each in my class this spring. Unlike Clancy, I don't...

A word for individual student blogs...

Just putting in a word here for individual student blogs. I think a class blog could work very well in some situations, but now that I've taught three semesters at my present job, and had the opportunity to teach many students multiple times, it's a real pleasure to see their body of work growing. We're big on portfolios here at Seton Hill, and I hope that some students will consider their blogging as part of their academic development. Clancy, how likely are you to teach any of your students again? If you don't expect to see them again, then a class blog might be a good way to build that community. At my tiny school, most of the students already know each other very well, so there is less need to forge a community from scratch.

Setting up an RSS feed so that all students can see when a class member has posted to an individual blog will offer some of the convenience that would be gained from a class blog.

This term, for the first time I had a class blog for each course, but only I had posting rights there... the blog is really a hyper-syllabus. Some students did post their "homework" in the comments attached to assignment blog entries, but they were really asked to post their work on their own blogs.

Not every blogging instrutor is going to be in a situation where it is possible to offer students individual blog hosting, though of course there are the free sites.

Thanks for your reflections, Clancy.

My own rubric for evaluating blogging portfolios is more a guideline for the students' benefit than it is a rigid ruler against which I measure their work. I don't give a "two blogs a week" benchmark, and I continue to resist any such guideline, but I've learned that students who take advantage of my loose supervision of their blogging progress, and who procrastinate, end up complaining that they find blogging pointless busywork. Of course it's pointless, if the class dicsussions and papers that they were supposed to be blogging about have come and gone weeks and months ago, and they are now only blogging in order to fulfill a portfolio requirement. (This happened too often in my non-major lit survey.)

Asking students to blog an "agenda item" on the day the class will discuss a text, asking them to read and comment on peer "agenda items," and then actually calling on students to discuss their agenda items worked well in my freshman comp class, as a way of getting the students to make the transition between being passive recipients of videos and study sheets (as many were in high school) to active contributors to their education (as they are supposed to be in college). While I spent the least amount of time on blogs in my freshman comp class, many students reported that the blogged agenda items were the single most helpful assignment I gave them.

Since blogs were one of the genres we studied in "Writing for the Internet," it made sense to give students their own blogs there. For the amount of blogging my freshmen comp students did, we could have probably used the existing course management software or a single course blog, rather than their own personal blog on

But when students in freshman comp started submitting ".edu" web pages as sources for their research papers, I got to ask them, "Would you trust something you posted on a .edu website?" (Yes.) "How many of you are authors of a page with a .edu website?" (Pause. Blinking recognition.) The fact that they themselves were web authors at "" helped drive that lesson home. I don't think they would feel the same way if they had simply posted to a group website.


Just a quick bookmark post: Collin has a nice round-up of a discussion of "centripetal" versus "centrifugal" blogging. He notes that Clancy's use of blogging in the classroom emphasizes the goal of creating "a close community ethos in the classroom,"...

course blogging

I think that requiring a bare minimum number of posts per week is a good idea for course blogs, as is setting a time-limit before which a weekly blog entry can be posted; otherwise my experience is that students procrastinate until something is due and (like with weekly journals) write all of their entries at once. Which defeats the purpose. For my "social/science/fiction" seminar I require two posts per week, one "substantive" posted before class and one "reflective" posted afterwards; commenting on other people's posts is never required, but is strongly encouraged in my rubric. (I tell the students that their grade for the blogging part of the course depends on a technical merit score and an artistic flair score, kind of like figure-skating in the old days; they get technical marks for posting the requisite number of times and artistic marks for being an active participant in conversation(s) around the course material.)

As for individual versus group blogs, I have had success with whole-class blogs for small courses (e.g. this study abroad program), but for larger classes (and where I teach, "larger" means about 20-25 students) I break the class into blogging groups of 3-4 people and have each group maintain a blog for the course of the semester. This seems to improve whole-class conversations as well as geting people more involved by breaking the class down into a set of local groups.

Ongoing reflections on my public blog, ProfPTJ's Course Diaries. Love to have feedback from others using this kind of pedagogy, obviously.

Thanks for these comments

Everyone, thanks a lot; you've given me a great deal to think about. On 10 February Krista and I are leading a workshop for the UMN Digital Media Center on using weblogs in pedagogy, and your feedback will help us prepare.

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