Friday, September 26, 2014

Blogging about blogs

I’ve been writing this kind-of blog for nearly 10 years (it’s astonishing; I was a young man once), covering many topics, but I’ve never written about, uh, blogs.
Time to fix that. A recent conversation on our first-year writing (FYW) listserv at Drexel got me thinking about how I’ve used blogs in teaching, and I contributed a message that included a version of some of the stuff below.
First, I realize I probably haven’t covered this topic because blogs have become almost transparent to me as a teaching practice/approach. I use them for many assignments. As Wikipedia points out, blogs are really just Websites, and you can have students do a lot through the simple platform/genre of the blog. Advantages to me are straightforward; blogs

  • Encourage students to write.
  • Help students heighten audience awareness, especially in terms of multiple audiences, which I think is important.
  • Allow students to explore multimedia.
  • Are easy to share. Having a list of URLs on a simple discussion thread in our CMS makes it easy for me and others in the class to access and share these blogs.
  • Are easy to keep track of as an instructor.
  • Are easy for students to update.
  • Are difficult (maybe impossible) to lose.
  • Encourage post-class continuation of writing work. Many of my students have continued their blogs after our term had ended.
  • Require no paper (they are quite easy to lift).

You won’t need to do much to “teach” students how to create their blogs. They can set up a blog using any blogging application/software quickly. (I once timed a student who was complaining he couldn’t set up his blog. I put him on the clock and it took about a minute; he left with an “Okay, Warnock, you win – this time” attitude.)

I’ve used blogs as a form of journal in first-year writing (FWY) courses for about 15 years. (Lots of people are doing this, even in middle schools.) Mainly, the kind of journals I’m talking about are focused, often prompt-driven. The prompts tend to tie in with writing-about-writing approaches I’m using in the class: Students writing about their own process during a particular project, compiling quotes a la a commonplace book, or even writing down words they learned from our readings. The point is there are not overly personal.

Blogs have been the platform/genre for many other types of projects in my courses. In some courses, I ask them to pursue a focused topic of interest to them throughout the term, blogging several times a week. My students' work -- what can I say? Some of it is now part of the blogosphere. Some of these things are amazing.

I also use blogs a lot for teams. I assign Website projects in both FYW and courses such as Writing in Cyberspace, and students have packaged projects ranging from advocacy sites to class-wide "e-zine" publication through blogs. This appears, among other advantages, as an easy way for them to work together.

During the term, I usually ask students to peer review each other’s blogs for an informal grade. Some teachers worry about privacy, but I don’t do any grading or even commenting in the public space of the blog, although other students use the blog comment functions at times. There is no requirement that students use their names publicly, and I don’t require any personal disclosure as part of their school work.

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