Blogging for the sake of…? 4


This post is a reply to an excellent post from a student in our Presidential Leadership Academy, “Metabloging, pt. 2.” Students who are enrolled in this three year program have one continuous assignment, to blog once a week during the fall and spring semesters. The goal, as you will gather from my comments, is to encourage the students to think reflectively, critically, and in a public forum (thus my willingness to post this discussion here). The vast majority of my readers at Targuman are not only bloggers, but also teaching faculty so I am keen to read your thoughts on the matter.

Thank you August! You may have heard that I talked a good bit about your blog and how we should approach blogging, the assignments, etc. last night in class. I am largely in agreement with your frustrations here, but I would like to step back to gain a bit of perspective.

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As I mentioned at dinner the other night, if we think of the assignment as simply turning in a 1-2 page reflection paper each week I wonder if we would have the same complaints. Last semester most of the junior class did not blog more than 5 times the entire semester and some did not blog at all. Put simply this is unacceptable. Students tell us that they have no incentive to post because they feel no one is reading their blog. Would they have the same response if they were turning in the assignments on paper?

Of course one of the reasons for going to the blogging platform was to encourage engagement with one another’s ideas. But we had not required that. We do require the weekly blog posts with the fundamental goal of getting students to think reflectively and critically about their life, their academics, and the world around them. The ideal of class interaction via comments has not come to fruition as I had hoped, but that should not have been a valid excuse for students not posting. 

All of that being said, we have sought to respond to this concern by creating the rotating system where students comment on three blogs for one week out of the month. Commentating is now a requirement and hopefully will generate further discussion. But as you, August, have pointed out this can be terribly tedious since most students are commenting on the same topic each week. I appreciate your suggestion of a class blog, but a collective forum is not the goal of the blogging project. It is intended to foster personal thought and reflection within an open context. I believe there is a difference (it requires greater discipline and thought on the part of the individual). The wiki is an excellent suggestion for the class project and several students in the current 301H class are considering doing just that. If a few will be curators I think it should work (although as I thought, some were already feeling intimidated by the blogs and the thought of another bit of tech was quite frightening). The point here is that we need different tools for different contexts and goals. The blogs retain an individual element and require a considerable amount of “ownership” while allowing public engagement with author’s ideas. The wiki is a collaborative tool well suited for the group project.

So I come to your concluding comment, citing the article about blogging that we assigned.

As Reid observes in the assigned article, “the nearly inescapable carrots and sticks of the classroom can serve as an impediment to creative thinking” (310).

This is certainly true! I would love to not need carrots and sticks and that was our great hope with the PLA. You were all chosen not only for your academic ability but because you showed yourselves to be leaders and self-motivated. I assumed the relatively simple assignment of a weekly blog would be the easiest of tasks and would require little incentive from us. Unfortunately it seems that we must have carrots and sticks in order to get consistent performance. I would love to be proven wrong.

 

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4 thoughts on “Blogging for the sake of…?

  • Robert Holmstedt

    Chris,

    It looks like what you’re trying to do with blog assignments, I tried to do with assigned Blackboard posts (and required comments) a number of years ago. At least, our goals were very similar.

    I have given it up for undergraduates, though. The only groups it worked well with were Bethel seminary students who went through their program as cohorts and thus knew each other from online and classroom interactions for over a year before I they took the class I was teaching. The posts and comments where rich, thoughtful, and often personal. But when I tried it with undergraduates at Toronto, it simply didn’t work. It would have been better to have paper assignments, because the comments were lifeless and the essays — to a one — were impersonal, even if good.

    Whether or not a pre-existing relationship exists among the students seems to be a determinative factor in the success of something like this, and for undergraduate courses at a large institution, this is difficult to achieve.

  • Chris Brady Post author

    Robert, this group is more like your seminarians in that they are a cohort. Thirty students are selected as rising sophomores and will remain together through their senior year. The blogs are thus not simply a part of a class, they are intended to be the documentation of their journey through the Academy. At the end of their senior year they have to compile choice blog posts along with various other items they feel represent their experience into an ePortfolio.

  • Steve

    Okay, time for me to comment. (And it might even be relatively short…)

    I have been assigning blogs for my “Service Operations” class for several years now. The challenge is quite like the one you pointed out–the writing dropped off when they began to feel that no one (least of all, the professor–me) was reading. My first response was to mandate commenting, similar to what you have mentioned. Of course, that is difficult to enforce, and leads too often to a quick “nice blog–thanks.” type of analysis.

    I have attacked that in four specific ways this semester.

    First, I have created a Google Reader bundle which I distributed to the class (go to my blog to find the link to this bundle–you will enjoy their prose) This addresses the issue of me not getting to all of the blogs–I simply work down the full list every week and find some amazing blog entries! In addition, by giving them the bundle, I have directly connected the students with one another and their writings. That has led to more direct initial engagement. But I suspect that this will not be the “fix” that I hope it to be if there is no way to encourage engagement.

    Second, I have used Google Forms to allow students to evaluate their team members’ blogs. I have given them criteria on which to evaluate the blogs of their team-mates, and;

    Third, while I treat the responses as confidential information, I share the summary information with the class regularly. In this way I remind them that others are reading their blogs.

    Finally, I directly reference their blogs in class, asking the author to perhaps lend more backstory, and then weave their narrative and lessons learned into the content of the course. This works even better when other students are encouraged to share their views on what they took away from reading that blog.

    There are other things that come out of this, and some can be found at my blog, but I promised you short. I lied.