I’ll be facilitating a workshop on “Designing Productive Blog Assignments” in the Georgia Tech Writing and Communication Program’s DevLab today. The workshop grows out of my mixed experience with blog assignments, which have been a key component of my courses since Spring 2013.
In the past, I’ve had my students use blogs in a variety of ways: as a place to construct an ad-hoc poetry anthology, as a place to stage writing in progress, as a low-stakes way to respond to readings, and as a place to showcase polished writing and presentations. I like blogs because they make readerships real and prompt students to think about writing as a sustained public activity, not a private task to be done once in a while. Blogs, moreover, promote a different kind of discussion and help constitute the classroom as a community of discussion that takes place both in person and in writing.
Of course, blogs come with their drawbacks. Mark Sample has written about the challenges of faithfully reading—and grading—coursework on blogs, and he has also written about how that exhaustion builds up over time. Now that I’ve taught with blogs four semesters in a row, and especially now that I’m teaching more students at once, I’m having some of the same trouble with maintaining motivation and integrating blogs well into my classes.
Today’s workshop hopes to think through some of the lessons my colleagues and I have learned about blogs in the classroom and to take up Sample’s call to design “A Better Blogging Assignment.” Some of the issues we’ll think about:
- What kinds of blogs work best for what purposes? Should students host their own individual blogs, should they form small-group blog communities, or should the whole class post to a single blog?
- How can blog discussions be better integrated into classroom discussions? Sample uses a model in which various students have various roles each week, and my most successful student-blogging semester involved “student leaders” organizing their thoughts and bringing blog discussion into the classroom.
- What are comments sections for, and how can we use them to promote genuine discussion? This is one of the hardest aspects of blog assignments, in my experience. It’s hard to motivate students to comment productively, and even harder to figure out how to assess comments.
- How do instructors manage the logistics of a course blog? This is, again, extremely difficult. There’s a lot of reading to do and a lot of different moving parts to manage. How do we keep up with course blogs, and how do we, in the end, grade them?
I hope we’ll all leave today’s workshop with a clearer sense of answers to some of these questions and some new ideas about how to make our blog assignments better. After the workshop, I’ll post some of our conclusions here and on TechStyle, a collaborative blog written by Brittain Fellows at Georgia Tech.