Planning a Course Blog
I’ve used course blogs before to be a quick and easy way to share information and a much more detailed repository of photos and media. But those blogs were one-way communication devices. One of the great things about blogging with students is that they become just as significant producers of knowledge as the instructor.
But let’s be real: successfully getting students to blog is not going to magically work out without a lot of planning. In my experience, the best route is to assume that your students will only post or comment if you specify exactly what, how, and by when a post or comment must be made. And even then, they’ll only do it if each component is graded.
My GWS class
This semester, I’m teaching a Gender and Women’s Studies course at UIC with 40 students. I started out teaching them how to use our course blog. I added them each as blog authors and asked them to create an introductory post. I gave them step-by-step instructions for how to do this. Normally, I’d reserve a computer lab so I’m able to assist them, but this semester it wasn’t possible. Those who were able brought their computers, but we mainly relied on my demonstration in class. I later had a couple students come to my office hours to walk through some steps they were having difficulty with.
They each have 3 short response papers and 1 small creative project due during the first half of the semester. These 4 assignments become their 4 blog posts. I require them to turn in paper copies, which I grade and critique, but they also have to post them on our course blog.
I try to be picky about requiring they use specific tags/labels so we can view all Paper 1s and all Creative Projects by simply clicking the appropriate tag (see image above). Encouraging tag use also helps them more easily find others in the class who’ve written about similar topics.
If Paper 1 is due Monday, their post on our course blog is due Friday. Then their Blog Post Responses are due the following Wednesday. They’re required to post two responses for each blog post assignment. I specify what kind of comment counts as an official response, and I encourage them to do more than what is required (though they usually don’t). Here’s the assignment description for the Blog Posts and Blog Post Responses.
Notice I have specified exactly how their posts or comments will be graded. This is not about content. It’s about just doing it. The content will come naturally if they follow the format.
I’ve done something similar in a literature class of about a dozen students at Truman College. The level of technological preparedness for this type of assignment was not as high at that community college, but even those students who had difficulty seemed to appreciate the skills they’d learned over the semester. They also got a kick out of being able to see their work on the web.
I would not recommend a course blog for all classes. I teach freshman writing at a private 4-year institution (Loyola University Chicago) and at a community college (Truman). Freshmen need to be challenged, but I worry about challenging them too far out of their technological comfort zones. I could imagine challenging my Loyola students in this way, but not my Truman students. I think it would really depend on the basic internet and blogging skills you think your students could be ready for.
One final note
I emphasize to my students that their work, images, and names are going on the internet, and they cannot be taken back once sent out. I encourage them to use their real names and images, but I also tell them I support their use of initials, pen names, and non-identifying images.