A new semester is upon us here at EMU, and that (along with new year resolutions) has me rethinking about blogging again.
In terms of teaching, I’m returning to some blogging assignments. I’m teaching an online version of the undergraduate course “Writing, Style, and Technology,” a course I used to teach A LOT– like four or five sections a year sometimes– but now, for a bunch of different reasons, a course I haven’t taught in about three years. I use blogs in this class more or less as a notebook and pretty much the same way I described it here in my article “When Blogging Goes Bad,” which came out in Kairos almost a dozen years ago and it is still my “greatest hit” in terms of an individually written piece of scholarship. This assignment isn’t a “write whatever you want” sort of space; rather, it’s really just using a blog format/tool to collect and share a series of short (and assigned) writing prompts. It’s sort of like the old “keep a notebook” assignment, but without the hassle of paper and also the added feature that students can read (and comment on) each others’ entries.
For my graduate course, Computers and Writing, Theory and Practice, I’m giving a reboot to a blog assignment that is also kind of/sort of what I was describing back in “When Blogging Goes Bad.” I’m trying to get students to use a blog again as a sort of “writer’s notebook” to “reflect on readings and activities, to make connections to other research, and to give you a space to think about the final short writing assignment for the term.” And just to set up some clear criteria up from the get-go, I’m asking students to post at least 12 times during the term (a little less than once a week) and to comment on other blogs from classmates at least six times.
I’m doing this for my grad class mainly because I think blogging has been a practice that has been important to me for whatever limited successes I’ve had as a scholar. Facebook and Twitter and all of that are fine and they make sharing links pretty easy, but neither of these platforms makes it easy to search previous posts for links and references of various sorts– I assume that’s on purpose. A blog is a much better notebook sort of space for me to keep notes/observations and just keep track of these kinds of links, at least in terms of scholarship. My blog is easily searchable, and I’m using previous entries quite a bit in the ongoing MOOC book project and in other things. Oh, and as an aside: this is why I still use delicious too, though yeah, I’m not that crazy about the way delicious works (or doesn’t work) anymore.
Beyond that, I have had tangible benefits from blogging in that some of my blogging (particularly about EMU and particularly about MOOCs as of late) have lead to some of the most important scholarly and writerly projects of my career. I don’t get a ton of readers here– I get around 2,000 views a month, which is a fraction of what a “popular” blog gets– but I am fairly confident in saying that in an average month, I get more “views” of content here than I have get of all of my published (and supposedly worthy) scholarship in a year– maybe every 10 years. And it seems to me that if you’re a writer (and scholars are writers), you want to share your writing with others. You want and need an audience. I know a lot of scholars and writers who seem hesitant about sharing their writing too early or in a format like a blog, but sometimes I think that goes too far (and if you’re a writer who doesn’t like the idea of other people reading your writing…), and for me, I’d rather share work in progress that helps me think and that others might find interesting. Thus the blogging.
Of course, if I’m going to give an assignment that asks my graduate students to write and read each others’ blogs about once a week, I probably need to up my blog writing game myself a bit this semester/this year. Thus this post.
2 thoughts on “Trying to reboot the blogging thing, a bit”
The challenge as you likely know from experience is that the value of reflective blogging does not reveal itself in the timeframe of a course, heck it can take years. So to all involved, teacher, students, all know that it’s really an Assignment- Post X times, comment Y times, something David Wiley describes as the “Disposable Assignment” (http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975)
What can change this? I have only guesses. Writing about topics that have a personal significance to the student beyond the class. Using the writing as a basis for a larger effort that produces a product for the world or someone else (Wikipedia authoring, group written ebooks).
A big change factor is when students find their work is seen and commented on by someone outside of class, even better if it is from a published author, artist, etc. Sometimes it happens via serendipity, other times, as someone in a network, you can do some nudging to make this happen– but it makes a huge impact on students when they realize they have an audience beyond each others and their teacher.
I gave up on delicious a while ago, and always felt lost in diigo, but am really happy with moving all bookmarking (including stuff back to 2004) to Pinboard.
Actually, one of the big points I try to make in “When Blogging Goes Bad” talks around the issue I think Wiley is bringing up here, at least a bit. I tell two stories in that article relevant here. The first time I assigned blogs in a graduate course, I told students to “just write” in the spaces during the term. That assignment failed. Here’s a longish quote from my article about this:
“Every once in a while, in conference presentations or in essays in journals like Kairos, someone idealistically suggests that writing teachers ought to focus on fostering and nurturing an atmosphere where students can “learn” instead of being “taught,” where students can write not because they are being required to do so by some sort of “teacherly” assignment but because they want to write, where students aren’t required to write old-fashioned essays, but where they can create and explore new forms. And so forth.
“Well, in the nutshell, that’s what I felt I tried, and, in the nutshell, it didn’t work. And when I talked with my students about this, they more or less said that they needed the direction of a teacherly assignment to write, and they weren’t going to “just want to write” in a blog space (or anywhere else, for that matter) just because they were given the opportunity. Perhaps this is common sense, but it is a piece of common sense I think is too often forgotten in ideas about fostering student writing in general, and fostering student writing with various computer tools like blogs.”
And at the end of the day, I think the “lack of authenticity” or the “disposable assignment” or what have you is actually not a bug but a feature of education and student work. Often enough, education is about practice, about trying things in a simulated environment before you have to do it “for real.” I’m not saying that students shouldn’t ever work with “real” projects that are published for an audience beyond the classroom– far from it. I’m just saying that I think making students do things that they wouldn’t normally do isn’t such a bad thing.