Incorporating Student Blogging in Your Course

This week’s Digital Pedagogy workshop, “Incorporating Student Blogging in Your Course,” will occur Tuesday, September 29, from 4:30–5:30 pm, with a repeat on Wednesday, September 30 from 11:00 am–noon. The location is the library computer lab (Abell 208).

Is blogging really “key to the future of higher ed?” Even if you’re not prepared to go quite that far, you might see some value in helping students to write and work in a space on the web that facilitates peer interaction and the possibility of a broader and more authentic audience. The rationale for faculty blogging discussed in the previous post applies just as well to students…maybe even more so. As the college explores strategies to enhance student writing and digital communication skills, the encouragement of student blogging at Austin College could help create a wider and more visible culture of writing in our academic community.

I am aware of at least two AC faculty members who currently  include student blogging among course activities. Brett Boessen (media studies) has done so for a number of years; for example, see this description of blog assignments in his recent course, “Elements of Media Making.” And in “Student Blogging in PSYCH 101,” Ian MacFarlane reflects on his adoption of student blogging in that course:

Students are required to make an introductory post, which provides some background about themselves and their interests regarding the class, and to post a comment on a classmate’s blog. Over the remainder of the semester, students are responsible for posting seven more times on their own blog and seven more comments on their classmates’ blogs. Every Monday, I post two prompts related to the content we either have just covered or will cover the coming week (for an example see here; for the complete series of prompts, see here), so there are always options for students.

Ian considers the practice “moderately successful” so far and notes, “While I continue to work on ways to get students to be more engaged with each other, I’m also working on generating traffic to their blogs from people outside of the class to provide students a wider forum to discuss their ideas.”

The chance to give students “a wider forum to discuss their ideas” strikes me as a really worthwhile goal. Derek Bruff, mathematics instructor and director of the center for teaching excellence at Vanderbilt, gives a compelling account of the value of publishing student writing on a course blog:

Last fall , for my first-year writing seminar on the history and mathematics of cryptography, I posted my students’ expository-writing essays on our course blog. The assignment had asked students to describe a particular code or cipher that we had not already discussed—how it came to be, how it works, how to crack it, who used it. They described more than a dozen codes and ciphers. It seemed a shame that I might be the only one to read such interesting content, so I asked the students to read and comment on two papers of their peers. The course blog provided an ideal platform for that task.

About a week later, one of my students arrived at class excited. He had Googled his paper’s topic (the “Great Paris Cipher”) and saw that his paper was the third result listed. He said, with a little trepidation, “Some high-school student is going to cite my paper!” Another student asked if I had seen the lengthy comment left on his blog post by a cryptography researcher he had cited. “That’s pretty cool that the guy in my footnotes read my paper,” he said….

Developing a successful course blogging practice requires a willingness to experiment with, reflect upon, and revise one’s course design. Mark Sample, director of the digital studies program at Davidson College, has been chronicling his ongoing pedagogical experience with student blogs and public writing at the ProfHacker blog, and describes a threefold framework for thinking about blogging assignments in terms of the overall structure of the blog, the rhythm of postings, and the use of different student 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.

As you can see, there are many possibilities and approaches to incorporating student blogging in your course. So join us for more conversation and demonstration at this week’s workshop.

Curated Resources:

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