Blogging: Is it Practical/Possible in Intro-Level Courses?

Identifying myself as one of those graduate instructors that fails to effectively use technology within the classroom (beyond my inconsistent, in-class computer-projection set-up), I’ve been trying to determine the appropriate tools and methods in which I can engage 170 students at 8am two days a week. This week’s readings mostly outlined how blogs can be used to increase student engagement both in and out of class, a skill that many of us (definitely including myself) will need to more fully develop if we hope to continue teaching.

In the Halavais article, he highlights how online spaces can effectively use students’ fear of embarrassment as motivators for “better work” via blogs. This is genius! By opening the blogging space to the public, students may also improve the quality of the work they post. I loved the idea behind this, but also wondered whether students might simply fail to post in fear of critique. Perhaps if students were allowed to use pseudonyms (as suggested in the article) they may feel more liberated to post their controversial opinions in a public space.

Mushon Zer-Aviv describes the blog as a central/core feature of the course. I wanted to ask the author, what this class structure would actually look like in a syllabus. I’m not sure whether the Psych Department at Hunter even be okay with an open-access blog, but this reading inspired me to explore this possibility. I also kept thinking, in regards to my mostly freshman students, how do I scaffold the blogging process? Blogging is by all means a skill, but how do you teach it and how much time does it take to teach?

While I generally enjoyed the accessibility of the readings this week, I still felt as though they didn’t thoroughly describe practical approaches to the assessment of blogs. Halavais discusses his technique for assessing blog posts via Google Reader as a way to quickly skim the posts. This sounds doable for a smaller course, but for those of us teaching 100+ students, it seems that this process of skimming could take days. This is especially true if our students have never blogged, since they’ll tend to write more. For those of you that have used blogs, how do you efficiently assess students’ posts? Have any of you used a peer grading system, and if so, was it effective in saving you time?

11 thoughts on “Blogging: Is it Practical/Possible in Intro-Level Courses?

  1. Aleksandra Kaplon-Schilis

    I totally agree with you that we also have to teach the mechanics of posting and creating a blog. The class I am teaching is working on creating a blog as a tool to use with their elementary students to do research in math and science. What I observed was that many students (teachers) are struggling with attaching pictures or hyperlinks to their blogs, while being able to write excellent entries. For that assignment we are using blogger , and since it is not user friendly (especially for the new bloggers), I create cheat-sheet and spend some time during my lecture to go over the basic features and the mechanics of creating a blog.

  2. Karyna Pryiomka

    @mandiberg–I have to agree with Christina that there is a difference between writing an academic paper and writing a blog. With a paper, particularly in upper level courses, we are talking about discipline specific writing, aimed at mastering the conventions of particular discipline, such as language use, format, argument development, etc. Yes, there are things/concepts that are transferable from paper to blogging, such as the idea that plagiarism is bad and that you have to cite your sources. But, I don’t quit envision a detailed blog post outlining someones research proposal in APA style.
    I feel like blogging can be used as a scaffolding tool for larger paper assignments. For instance, you can ask students to post their process notes or draft paragraphs for specific sections of the paper and encourage them to comment on each others ideas. But this is in no way a substitute to a well-written academic paper.

  3. Hamad Sindhi

    I use blogs with my Media Theory class of 35 students. However, I use a Team-Based Learning approach in the class (all assignments are done in teams of 3-4 students) as well. So I have the students write team-based blogs (collaborative blogs?) on our central class WordPress site. I then grade the blog as a unified post using this rubric: I also look at the individual student’s participation on the team discussion pages and their comments on other blogs to assess their participation grade on a weekly basis. It’s a bit of work, but grading 11 blogs is much easier than 35 individual posts or HW assignments.

    As to teaching how to blog – this is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to. Though many of my students said they had blogged before for various classes, I soon found out that they could not even do basics like hyperlinking and tagging, let alone source images appropriately. And so I tailored these skills into the weekly assignments as scaffolding. One week I would grade them on properly hyperlinking, one week on posting featured images, etc. Sometimes I make these into bonus competitions – best featured image, best blog title, etc. The challenge I have faced is how to make these skills a sustainable practice, because as soon as I stop making it a requirement to hyperlink or tag, the students stop doing it in future posts (which, come to think, defeats the purpose of scaffolding).

    I also think that the question about blog writing versus academic paper writing is well-worth exploring. One of the goals I have for my class (other than collaborative work) is for students to figure out how and when to use different sources. Questions like – is hyperlinking better for sourcing journal articles behind firewalls, or should they include a ‘References’ section at the bottom of the blog with just web-addresses (I corrected this impulse as soon as I saw it). And what about in-line citations – can these replace some hyperlinks, and when is that more appropriate? In some ways, these are still the same questions we ask when students write static academic papers. I want my students to see that writing blogs can be both ‘informal’ and fun, as well as ‘formal’ and academic at the same time. The balance that I have to cope with is how much control to give to students so they can be creative and have fun and how much guidance I should give so that the students are prepared to write informed (if not academic) blogs ‘in the real world’ and be taken seriously.

  4. Maura A. Smale (she/her)

    These are real, sticky questions. I’m not giving anything away by saying that we should definitely talk this over with our guest tomorrow, Prof. Jody Rosen, one of the Co-Directors of City Tech’s OpenLab.

    I’ll say for myself that although I typically only have 20 students in my class, I do tend to assign a lot of blogging, on the order of 20 posts/comments per semester. I’ve adapted a rubric from Mark Sample, formerly of George Mason University and now at Davidson College, to make the grading process go fairly quickly. Details are here:

    Kelly, how have you found it when you’ve stopped commenting on students’ posts? With some groups of students I’ve found that I need to be in there more often to keep the conversation going, but others are more self-sustaining in their blogging/commenting.

  5. Michael Mandiberg (they/them)

    @Christina can you clarify what you meant by “Blogging is by all means a skill, but how do you teach it and how much time does it take to teach?” Are you talking about the mechanics of posting to a blog? Or are you talking about writing for a blog as being different from writing for a short paper?

    Also, your concerns about blogging in a large 50 person course are reasonable. I could imagine peer grading and peer review as potentially workable scenarios. How much can one borrow from the MOOC model? If there aren’t clear examples, then it seems like an experiment with a 50+ person class blogging via peer grading/review might be a viable I.S. project for someone do to.

  6. Kelly Aronowitz

    I use blogs, but my class has 20 students. As is, I skim and read quickly thru their posts. I did comment at the beginning of the semester but not anymore. I do comment in-class on their posts, so they know I do read them.
    I do wonder if I had a bigger class what I would do, probably divide the students into sections, so 20-30 post per week, and everyone else comments…, or 20-30 blog per week and another 20-30 comment.
    some form of moderating blogging…

  7. Pamela Thielman (she/her)

    I have not used blogs in my classes, in large part because of their size. I teach two 50-student sections, and I am extremely dubious about the assertion that blogging can be effective with groups of up to 100 students. I’mt not saying that it is impossible, just that the kind of effective skimming that Halavais describes as an assessment tool is a skill like any ony and it would have to be well learned before scaling up to larger classes. As someone for whom 50 students is the smallest section I will teach on my campus, I can’t imagine jumping into blogging at that level. I’d love to be challenged, though. I’ll second Christina’s call for weigh-ins from those of you who use blogs.

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