Classroom Blogging

nIMK48mI’m having my students keep blogs again.  I’m both excited and wary.

Student blogs are a lot more fun to read than papers, but they’re also more difficult to evaluate.  The setup process has gone fairly smoothly so far, but it’s still been a lot of work.  Reading a ton of blog posts every week can be really inspiring, but can also be draining.

The setup for my class is this: Each student will keep a blog.  They’ve been assigned to “blog teams” and are required to comment on others’ blogs as well.  There are minimum requirements they must meet to pass, but if they want to do well, they will have to post more regularly and engage more actively in their blog networks.

I’ve done a few things to ease the burden of reading, commenting on and grading 82 student blogs.

  • I’m requiring students to post only 3 times a month.  However, this is a MINIMUM requirement; a student who wants 100% on this assignment will need to do more than that.
  • I’ve created very detailed written guidelines on possible blog topics, protocols for commenting, and evaluation criteria.  Some students seem overwhelmed by this flood of information at the moment, but I hope they will find it useful as they get into the blogs.
  • Rather than receiving a grade for each post (impossible!) or a single grade at the end of the term (as I did last time; totally overwhelming), students will receive a grade for February (and a face-to-face meeting for feedback), a grade for March, and a grade for April.
  • I’ve decided to set aside a few minutes at the beginning of each class for blog concerns.  Today we’ll go over the mechanics of putting up their first post and making their first comments; next week we will talk about the ins and outs of using images (including copyright issues.)

Their first posts are due on Friday.  Do you have any advice?  I love student blogs, but last time I used them, I thought the workload might put me in an early grave.  What tips do you have for streamlining, responding, tackling problems, and otherwise making this assignment as effective as possible?

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25 responses

  1. This will be the fourth semester in a row that I have had students blogging (am trying it in my Cont. Ed course this semester–we will see how that goes).

    What I like about the way I have the blogging project set up is that students are blogging when they want to blog, and so I am not faced with having to read and mark all of the blogs every week. Last semester I reduced my stress–the workload stayed the same as almost every student blogged the maximum number of times–by looking at my schedule and putting aside one hour every day to read blogs. In doing this, I was (pretty much) able to stay within a two-week ranged of the post date, and never felt overwhelmed or stressed or angry about the task. If I had the time and was enjoying the work, I would sometimes read for a longer period, but I rarely read for less. It worked really well.

    • ALC: so when you say “they are blogging when they want to blog” – do they have any deadlines or time guidelines? I have told students that they must blog a minimum of 3 times a month, and that those three posts must be spread over 3 different weeks; the deadline for each week is noon on Friday. My plan is to begin reading on Friday afternoon and try to finish that week’s posts by Monday.

  2. This is so helpful. I hope to hear more details about how this goes because I want to implement this in my teaching as well, but am leery of the reading it might entail to monitor. Thanks so much. I try and push my students to be actively engaged and this seems like a great way to reward those that choose to be!

    • Danny: it is indeed a lot of reading! Coupled with a 45-book “children’s classic novels” list that they are choosing texts from, I think I may have really messed up my semester. I’m hoping the inspiration and energy will buoy me through the workload.

  3. Siobhan, enlighten us older folks. What is the goal for this class? how does blogging support the goal? would asking questions like that enable you to maybe cut down on the work load? I think I would die if I had to read student blogs for an hour each day, mostly because of all the possible adjustments to my teaching that it could lead to..

    • EB: the aim of the class is to explore questions about what “character” means and how character is explored in children’s literature. Most of the students are Child Studies majors, so one of the functions of the blogs is to allow them to make connections between the literature we are reading, the theories we are discussing, and material from their other courses. It is also the place where they can have preliminary discussions, and/or freewrite in preparation for, their final papers (which will also include all those elements. The blogs are basically interactive course journals. I look forward to the adjustments that the blogs may bring about in my teaching! Because this course is under development as I go, I hope lots of things will arise in their blogs that we can explore in the classroom.

      • I had the same question as EB. I was required to create a blog (in WordPress if I didn’t have one) for a nonfiction writing workshop last February. He only graded us for one week and we had to post 5 times and the writing had to be nonfiction. I have since expanded this blog to build a platform for my writing career. It’s been a great experience, even though I have all of 46 followers.
        To make it easier to assess, you could give a specific topic for the three required blogs. Maybe a specific character trait and how it is displayed in any of the literary characters they’re studying. The hardest part for my blog assignment was that it was anything goes as long as the post was 500 words minimum. Or you could choose a specific theory and let them give evidence that proved a certain character could be defined by that theory.
        I think it’s good to require they comment on other blogs because that’s a great way to build community in the classroom. Of course, I think the post they make should be graded separately from the comments they make. The post will be a better measure of their synthesis of the information.
        I have a feeling you might be pulling your hair out in a month, but I think you have a great idea that will benefit your students in multiple ways.

        • Sharon:
          These are interesting suggestions.
          The kinds of topics you suggest are exactly the kinds of topics we’re discussing and writing on in class. I have made clear to students that the blog topics must be distinct from the topics for in-class exercises. However, each week I give them a couple of suggestions for suitable topics. For example, this week we’re looking at the qualities that Paul Tough identifies as important for children to develop, and I’ve suggested that on their blogs, they write about whether they possess one or more of these qualities, how they developed them, etc. The blog topic suggestions will always be more personal, in hopes that they can take these abstract theories and fictional texts and latch on to them more tightly.
          It had never occurred to me to grade their comments separately from their posts. I’m not sure I can change things up that way this term, but I will definitely think about it for the future. It is listed as a separate criterion on the evaluation, but in the end, it is all calculated into one grade.
          Thanks for your thoughts on this!

    • And, of course, one of the goals of every course is to give students skills they can use in the world and the work force. Not all students will be required to keep blogs in their professional lives, but I hope their familiarity with the medium will transfer to other online domains that they may need to navigate in the future…

  4. Siobhan, This is very timely! I’m teaching creative writing this semester and have decided to create a class blog for the first time. I’m approaching it as an online literary magazine where they need to write, revise & such before posting. I’ll look forward to hearing about your progress and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for mine.

  5. My students are required to blog in an Introduction to Journalism class. The grading will be primarily on writing quality, but they do have to meet journalistic standards–cite sources, treat facts as facts. The difference is that they can reflect and opine in blogs. I have multiple goals for the assignment, but one aspect of it is that students often do not think of their school papers as “public” writing, and a blog is a way for them to potentially get exposure, and get used to seeing their writing read and commented on. Anyway, I require one post a week, and leave the topic open-ended with the caveat that their blogs are being linked to a student newspaper site and have to avoid problems (libel, copyright infringement) that would cause the blog to be removed from that site.

    • Joe: the “public” aspect of blogging is important to me too. There’s something so strange about the academic essay as writing: in what other context other than the very personal do we write something for an audience of one? Blogs encourage students to think of writing as what it really is: a mode of communication.

  6. Phenomenal read! I really love the idea of students blogging! Personally I feel that blogging is something that more people need to do and introducing it in school is a good way to promote that. As far as you responding to them all, I’m reminded of that scene from Bruce Almighty where he sets the computer to ‘auto reply’ all of the prayers. Humorous as that is, it would definitely be easier, I’m sure.
    Seeing as I don’t have much to say other than my appreciation for your post, I’ll leave with another heartfelt thanks for your writing! Provides s smile every time I read.

  7. I would love to share ideas on blogging. We are keeping a blog for our Writing class,
    which I am excited about. I’ve kept one for Socials 11 before I really knew what I was doing. There’s lots to think about!

  8. I love them too, but so much work to grade. I gave up on them after one year, but I may have to try them again someday. I just have to work on the grading because with 225 students, I might loose my mind if I try it again.

    • TG: I am seriously considering asking to set up a course that is purely a “blogging” course and is a hybrid online/in class format. If I have two seconds in the next few weeks I am going to draft a proposal. I’m hoping that would allow me to manage the time…

  9. i wish i could take your class. anyway, the only solution i can think of is using a program that tracks activity, i.e. time logged on, times links are clicked, character count, etc. other than that, ???

  10. I find this both interesting and helpful. I’m still reflecting on how my blogging project went last spring, and the changes that I want to make next time I do it. (I teach math though, so there’s a whole extra basket of issues, starting with students who don’t think it’s possible to write about math.)

    I really like the idea of having monthly grades for it (I did one big grade at the end too), as well as Sharon’s idea about a grade for comments.

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