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A Better Blogging Assignment

Circle of Life

[This entry is crossposted from 2012 THATCamp CHNM, where I recently organized a session devoted to designing a better blogging assignment. This session generated many ideas, and I imagine its pedagogical goal is relevant to many ProfHacker readers. And so I welcome your thoughts and suggestions here.]

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 want your help in designing 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 ultimate goal is to design 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.

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

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