using student blogs

Next semester, I’m going to teach a souped-up version of my Travel Literature course, and I’m interested in using student blogs as a major assignment.

Here’s my idea: I’d like to organize my students into “blog circles” of 6-8 people, and have them keep individual blogs and respond to each other. I have two possible approaches: either I’d like them to keep a semester-long “travel journal” in which they write about their ordinary lives as though they were visiting tourists, or I’d like them to use their blogs much as they would use reading journals, to respond to their texts etc. I guess I would keep a blog as well, although I haven’t clarified my own role yet.

I have no idea how to set up a blog network of this complexity, and am technologically inexperienced (I haven’t even figured Power Point out yet), so I’m a bit nervous that I’m biting off more than I can reasonably chew. Also, my experience with out-of-the-box projects is that they always go badly the first semester, so I’m prepared for this one to be a disaster the first time around.

However, I’m still up for it, but I need advice. Does anyone do these sorts of activities with their classes? Do you know of hosts that are specifically set up for student blog projects? Do you have suggestions for making such a project run smoothly? Any and all advice would be much appreciated.

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11 responses

  1. Hi S–
    Yes, lots of experience. In the last couple of years I’ve used blogs as the ‘semi-public’ means for students to publish their work. I teach a graduate writing course. We usually have 20 or so people in courses, so I put them in 4-person working groups. Throughout the term they take their writing through a process that involves 1. writing and responding to each other’s work (between them, as a foursome, online or in person outside of class), 2. posting their early drafts to a closed facebook site for the remainder of the course members to offer feedback, support, edits, and suggestions form all 20 of us, and then 3, by mid-term, each will have set up her own blog and added all of the other 20 of us to her blog roll. The blogs are semi-private. On their individual blogs they begin to post their final drafts of pieces (as well as other items they think pertain (photos, writing links, resources, tips, etc.). The blogs as they emerge comprise their final writing portfolio (writing in a range of genres). I read all the work as it is posted, write publicly-suitable comments as responses on the blogs (it’s a steady process) – I also write the student privately if necessary (the piece still has some huge problems, or they’ve missed cosmetic or mechanical details that need to be corrected and reposted.

    This process has worked extremely well now for two years and I’ve noticed several things: having a facebook ‘trial run’
    for drafts opens up feedback to everyone and improves the writing (I have to be explicit about HOW to respond to other’s writing–teach that early in the term). The chance to have a working group keeps them feeling safe. Posting final drafts on to a blog that will have 20 readers ups the quality dramatically, and — this is perhaps not a surprise — not a single piece of writing had even the whiff of plagiarism…perhaps they knew the semi-public venue was too risky to try anything or perhaps they just had more support and more investment in their work.

    I’m going to do this from here on in because it also frees me from piles of student papers. I respond regularly (daily) to the postings (including to the dry-run facebook drafts) and so I know the work as it evolves. I finish responding to all the portfolio/blogs by the end of the last class. Then, they are free to change their blog’s privacy settings, open it up to family, or shut it down. My course evaluations these last two years have indicated that they love this approach, they find it tough and scary, and they learned more than they ever have about writing in the process. These are graduate students, remember, so they have a level of maturity that may factor in here….

    Whew…I got so excited when I read your note I perhaps have overwhelmed you. Feel free to write me on email if you want to discuss further…

    lorrineilsenglenn@gmail.com

  2. Lorri: thanks for this! This is really helpful. I will definitely be in contact with you about some of this stuff. The closed Facebook page is very intriguing…

  3. Pingback: Professional Development Meme 2009

  4. My course is only a month long course but my students were required to create a blog, complete a certain number of blog posts, and leave so many comments (on any blog, but if it was not on their classmates’ blogs, then they had to notify me of the blog so I could see the comment). We have only had one week of classes but I am really pleased with what they have done so far. You can see them at https://edex122.pbworks.com/Class-Blogs

  5. Thanks Pat! I’d love it if you’d keep me update on how this goes over the semester (maybe on your own blog? I’m sure lots of people would be interested…)

  6. Thanks, Kate! I’ve bookmarked Kuropatwa’s post and will return to it. It looks like he’s using a class blog as opposed to individual blogs for each student, but I expect there are still some useful tips in there.

  7. Just to add to the pool of examples, here are the blogs that my students created in the last first-year writing course I taught: http://www.shrieves.net/engl101/blogs.html

    I used contract grading, and students were required to write one post on their blog and one comment on a classmate’s blog per week. Blogging served as an informal writing assignment in addition to the more formal writing assignments that they turned in – I intended it to be a space for them to get their writing juices flowing.

    In terms of suggestions, here are a couple observations I have from using blogging in the context of first-year writing courses for several semesters:

    – I’ve tended to use Blogger, just because it has a fairly easy learning curve, and works well “out of the box.” My students (primarily 18 year old college freshmen) still have some problems understanding the technology, and require lots of reiteration of instructions. For example, my students find it inexplicably tough to understand the difference between “saving” and “publishing” in Blogger.

    – I’ve also noticed that students need some instruction in how writing for the web (and blogging in particular) is different from writing essays meant to be printed. Two common problems that may occur at first: they may write these long “block of text” entries, because students are used to writing “papers” for their classes, or they may go to the opposite extreme and view blogging as a totally informal brain dump (e.g. incoherent ramblings about the party they went to last night). I think it’s helpful for them to look at other websites and/or blogs, then come up with their own style guidelines and note where those rules differ from printed style.

    For students, I find that blogging requires a delicate rhetorical balance. I don’t want them to write a bunch of formulaic miniature “papers,” but on the other hand I don’t want them to feel that they can just blurt out any old thing. My goal is something like “polished informality.”

    Well, I’m rambling on here, but hopefully these reflections might be helpful! I’ve definitely learned something from these comments myself: I like Lorri’s suggestion of a closed Facebook trial run as a site for peer review before putting a post up publicly!

    Best of luck!

    – Katie

  8. Thanks Katie – I love hearing how this works out for others. It’s very encouraging, and helpful in letting me know things to watch out for!

  9. I’m working on introducing student blogs as well, and have found “Blogging in the Classroom” at http://www.dedicatedteacher.com a big help to a blogging newbie like myself. I’m still working out the logistics and am developing lessons to maximize the technology. I love your idea of blog circles though, and may have to steal it from you. Good luck!

    • Tracy:
      I have added “Blogging in the Classroom” to my Amazon cart; thanks for the tip! I will be putting my list of class guidelines for the blogs together next week, and will share them here and ask for feedback, so I hope everyone will weigh in with suggestions.

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