A Better Blogging Assignment

phdstudent. Circle of Life. 2006. 11 Jun. 2012. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/phdstudent/141434759/>.I’ve got a pedagogical problem and I want you to help me.

I’m sick of student blogging.

This confession probably sounds strange coming from me, a vocal advocate for using blogs in the classroom, and for public writing more generally. But after two dozen blogs for two dozen classes, I’m looking for ways to reinvigorate my blogging assignments.

Some background: a key component of almost every one of my classes is the collaborative class blog. The pedagogical advantages of blogging are many: it’s a public space that requires students to consider questions of accountability and audience; students begin to see themselves as participating in an ongoing conversation about culture; and participation jump-starts class discussion so that I already have an idea of what’s on my students’ minds before I even enter the classroom.

My blogging guidelines typically look something like this:

Each student will contribute to the weekly class blog, posting an approximately 200-300 word response to the week’s readings. There are a number of ways to approach these open-ended posts: consider the reading in relation to its historical or theoretical context; write about an aspect of the day’s reading that you don’t understand, or something that jars you; formulate an insightful question or two about the reading and then attempt to answer your own questions; or respond to another student’s post, building upon it, disagreeing with it, or re-thinking it.

I’ve tweaked the blogging assignment over the years, in particular experimenting with the overall structure of the blog, the rhythm of postings, and my use of roles.

I’ve tried two overall structures:

  • A hub-and-spoke model, in which every student sets up his or her own blog, and I aggregate their postings on the main class blog.
  • A centralized class blog, in which all the students have accounts on the same blog, and their posts and comments all show up in the same place.

I’ve experimented with different rhythms:

  • The free-for-all model, in which students simply must post 10 (or some other number) of blog posts by the end of the semester.
  • The checkpoint model, in which students must post a specified number of posts by particular checkpoints spread throughout the semester.
  • The weekly model, in which all students (or, if using roles, a subset of students) must post every week.

Finally, I’ve increasingly relied on assigned roles, so that not every student is posting at the same time, and furthermore, so that each group of students has a specific task for that week. For example, most recently I divided a class of 25 students into four groups, rotating week-to-week from one role to the next:

  • First Readers: These students are responsible for posting initial questions and insights about the day’s material to the class blog the day before class meets.
  • Respondents: Students in this group build upon, disagree with, or clarify the first readers’ posts by the next class meeting.
  • Searchers: Students in this group find and share at least one relevant online resource. In addition to linking to the resource, the searchers provide a short evaluation of the resource, highlighting what makes it worthwhile, unusual, or, if appropriate, problematic.
  • The fourth group has the week off in terms of blogging.

I have thought a lot about student blogging. I’m fully committed to this form of student work.

And yet.

I’m tired of reading blog posts week after week, tired of evaluating blog posts week after week, tired of commenting on blog posts week after week. I don’t want off this merry-go-round, but I do want to reignite my sense of discovery and excitement about student blogging. And I want you to help me.

I propose a session in which we design a new model of student blogging—or at least, new to me. Maybe it incorporates elements of the structure, rhythm, and roles that I’ve used before, maybe it doesn’t. I’d like to learn from other teachers who’ve had success with student blogging, and from students too, about their experiences with blogging. My goal for this THATCamp session is that by the end we’d have a fully developed assignment, module, or course component, which any of us could plunk down into a syllabus and be ready to use when classes begin in the fall.

Let’s have students blog, and make it worth their while and ours too.

UPDATE: The collaborative notes for this session are online.

Circle of Life photograph courtesy of Flickr user phdstudent / Creative Commons Licensed

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About Mark Sample

I teach and research contemporary literature, new media, and videogames. Currently at George Mason University but soon at Davidson College. I like to break things and keep them broken.

13 thoughts on “A Better Blogging Assignment

  1. Love it. One thing I’ve always wanted to integrate into a blogging assignment is the need for blogs to build an audience. So: how does one inspire interest and participation? Usually participation is required because we want to model the back and forth of blogging – but most blogs have to make that back and forth happen.

  2. Really useful proposal–especially since I already use Mark’s great blogging rubric (www.samplereality.com/2009/08/14/pedagogy-and-the-class-blog/) when I teach digital literature. This makes my assessment easier, but–especially for blogging-intensive online-only classes–it breaks my heart to not be able to respond in-depth to every blog post, inevitably leaving some good posts with no comment thread of back-and-forth trailing them into the sunset of blogging glory.

    Roger’s idea is great–can we set up networks of DH classes that create a peer audience, or can we teach students to solicit outside feedback (via Twitter, pingbacks?).
    I’d be interested in discussing ways of teaching and assessing non-written blogs (video blogs, comic strip blogs), too.

  3. Great session idea and you’ve clearly devoted a lot of thought and time to this topic. I’d like to learn more about what you and others have done about cultivating readers outside of the course. Last year I arranged for two recent graduates to write comments as guest evaluators for writing produced by a 17-student undergrad seminar — see guidelines and essays. Next fall I would like to try to arrange a peer-to-peer commentary with a similar-sized course at another college. Similar topics would certainly help, but may not be essential, if our goal is simply to inspire better writing on the web.

  4. I love this session idea and it sounds like something we could actually accomplish in 90 minutes.

    To answer Roger’s question, one of the ways I developed an audience for my students’ blog posts last year was to tweet about those that I was reading. Since the course was an Intro to DH, it turned out a number of people in my Twitter network were interested to read my students’ work. And I went out of my way to invite those people whose essays we were reading to come and leave comments.

    I think cross-campus commenting is an interesting idea, but I wonder how easy it would be to leave germane comments if the students weren’t sharing reading. It would be hard enough to be really engaged without the context of the classroom, but without sharing readings, I think it would be almost impossible.

    Another way to plug in to an audience would be to try to get students’ parents/families involved in reading their work. But that wouldn’t spread across the class very well.

    Hmm…let’s knock our heads on this for a while.

  5. This would be really useful. Having done my blogging assignment twice with grad students I’m not quite burned out on it.

    In my case, having each student responsible for blogging about one of the tools and one of the readings over the course of the semester ended up leading to a nice rhythm. That, along with having everyone post one comment on any of the 4-5 posts that came up a week seemed to go well.

    Along with this, I have enjoyed assigning previous student’s blog posts to future students which might be fun to throw in the mix for conversation.

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  11. I just came across a link to this blog on Gradhacker. It looks very interesting! As a student who blogs exclusively about the content I learn in class, I’m a bit ahead of the game (haha!). I wrote a post encouraging teachers to use blogging in their curriculum.


    I hope you can figure out how to get through the problem of people not turning in their work until the last minute.

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