An Update on Research-based Blog Projects
In a previous post, I described the steps I took to introduce a major research-based blog assignment to my students. I included a link to my assignment description as well as an outline of what I expected the blog project to accomplish. I’m happy to report, the projects went very well.
As with any major research assignment, there were students who did very well and students who did poorly. But my worry that those who entered the class with weaker internet skills would not do well on the blog project was unfounded. The lower performing students on the blog project were students who struggled to follow directions on all assignments over the course of the semester or students who demonstrated poor understanding of the content.
In addition, I found that some students excelled on the blog project who had struggled with the more traditional paper assignments. It seemed the post-by-post directions I outlined in the blog project (11 posts were required) enabled them to work in small chunks, yet their understanding of their research topic was allowed to develop with each chunk. Writing and research skills were required for the blog project, yet students did not seem to be as intimidated as is the case with traditional research papers with page requirements.
I also found that the post requirements allowed me to more specifically assign work that called upon previously discussed course content and skills. For instance, in post #7, I asked them to discuss how their topic was an intersectional issue. We’d previously had class discussion on intersectionality, and these posts seemed especially well-done. If I’d assigned a traditional research paper, it would have been difficult to dictate what each paragraph should address.
Only 4 out of 100 points were based on blog organization, which included aesthetic appearance and useful media, yet many students used that opportunity to express themselves creatively through the use of images, videos, links, fonts, templates, etc. It seemed the blog format allowed them to take a different kind of pride in their work, and this pride motivated content mastery. Some even added supplementary posts of videos, links, or images that they commented on.
6 of 100 points for this assignment were based on each student’s comments on another student blog. I required each student to comment on multiple posts written by a single student. This encouraged students to read through several posts on a single blog and find something that appealed to them. These comments were fruitful–especially since each comment was a summary and response paper in miniature. They found this part relatively easy since they had previously had practice writing these kinds of comments on our course blog.
I did have several students come to my office hours to get help with some of the technological skills required to create and modify their blog projects, but most of these office visits also involved discussion of course content or the content requirements of the assignment. I definitely did not feel this assignment overburdened me by requiring I supplement my students’ blogging skills. I also don’t think I overburdened my students by requiring they build/develop blogging skills because they’re skills that they will likely need again. It’s as practical if not more practical than requiring traditional research papers.
One of the drawbacks of this assignment was that I was not able to require they submit the content of their blog project to a plagiarism software site such as TurnItIn. I also teach writing, so I like to think my attentiveness to plagiarism is pretty good. Still, I don’t just want to “catch” folks. I want to motivate them to do the work the first time. I did take a little class time to discuss what plagiarism and patchwriting (poor/lazy paraphrase) are and to emphasize the need for signal phrases and in-text citations, yet, I want to rethink this assignment a little more and see how I might be able to better deter plagiarism/patchwriting.
Overall, I was very pleased with my students’ work and with this assignment meeting the course’s learning outcomes and my pedagogical goals. The best part, I think, is that their blog projects remain standing testaments to their work, and they’ve become gateways to future online-based and social learning.
In my case, I was teaching about feminism and gender studies. My students’ future activism and knowledge production will be much more powerful if they become used to consuming and producing online content. I’m even considering more strongly encouraging the use of Tumblr because that particular platform (more than WordPress.com, Blogger, etc) encourages finding material related to particular topics and/or hashtags, reposting that material, and commenting on it.
If you’d like to see some of their projects, take a gander at the class index of blog projects.
To read my other posts in this series, see: Series on Blogs as Instructional Tools