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Class Blogs – Options and Three Strategies

July 25, 2012

Last month, Mark Sample facilitated a THATCamp session at George Mason’s Center for History and New Media with the goal of building a better blogging assignment. The workshop generated a Google Doc, blog posts, and a lot of great discussion. I am going to attempt to summarize key advice  offered up by the group of experienced educators who participated live during the session and afterwards on the blogs. Be sure to check out read the strategies and bibliography at the end.

A new way to write

Students may be familiar with the idea of a blog, but they have probably not written for one. It’s important to help them understand what makes a good post: tone, appropriate length, scan-ability, use of media and links, etc. Students will also be commenting and a LOT of people don’t know how to write comments well (see articles in bibliography).

Sample learning goals

A great blogging assignment starts with clearly defined goals for student learning. A number of possibilities were suggested in the writing generated by the session.

  • Write better
  • Develop a public voice / online persona
  • Explore a new form of writing
  • Collaborate effectively
  • Practice summarizing
  • Prepare for a formal paper
  • Use technology well

Grading techniques

You’ll need to decide if your blog assignment will be high stakes, accounting for a large part of the semester grade. If that’s the case, one option is to give students the option to choose which blog posts they want to be graded. With a low stakes assignment, you might simply grade with a checkmark that indicates a good faith effort.

Using a rubric based on your learning goals will help make your assessment fair, but who will assign the grade? It could be the professor, a TA, or a guest participant. Students could grade themselves or peers. Or perhaps you will choose to assign 75% of the grade, allowing students to use an anonymous survey in assigning the balance.

Timing and organization

There are many effective ways to set up your class blog(s). The rhythm of posting – how frequently students are expected to write – is an important decision.

  • Free-for-all – write a certain number of posts by the end of the semester.
  • Checkpoint – reach a specified number of posts by certain dates in the semester.
  • Weekly – all students or groups post every week.

Your class blogging environment can be structured in several different ways. Here are two:

  • Hub-and-spoke – create separate student blogs that are aggregated into a class blog.
  • Centralized – students post and comment in a single class blog.

Sample strategies

Participants described many blog assignments but three were outlined in detail. Here are summaries:

  1. Curated blog (Dan Greene) – one or two students are designated as experts each week. By Sunday afternoon, the curators post 500-750 words integrating 5-6 pieces of media and expanding on an aspect of the week’s activities. By the morning of the second session, each student posts a 250-word response that has a main point, uses the readings, and addresses the material brought up by the curators. Students should respond to comments on their own posts. By the end of the week, curators need to comment on each student’s post, and the rubric encourages others to comment on others.
  2. Team research blog (“Pippi”) – public writing, developing a topic, preparing to write a paper. On a discussion board, students pitch topics related to the course theme and recruit a team of 3-5 members who want to write about the topic. Students read existing public team blogs to learn how they work, and how members develop a voice. The class discusses what makes a good blog post. Each team member posts once a week, but no one is required to comment. The individual feeds are aggregated in one place, which may prompt reading of others’ blogs.
  3. Collaborative class blog (Mark Sample) – a public space where students participate in a conversation as they consider questions of accountability and audience. It is a way to jump-start discussion and learn what’s on students’ minds before class starts. Each student writes a 200-300-word reading response. They can consider it within a historical or theoretical context, or write about something they didn’t understand – or something jarring. They might post insightful questions and attempt to answer them. Or they can build on or disagree with another student’s post. The students’ roles alternate each week [the role names are mine, not Sample’s]
    • Opener – post questions and insights a day before the first class meeting of the week.
    • Responder – build on, disagree with, or clarify the openers’ posts before the second class.
    • Seeker – find at least one relevant online resource and post a link along with a brief explanation of what makes it worthwhile, unusual, or problematic.
    • Slacker – take the week off, in terms of blogging.

Bibliography

Below is a list of the articles and documents that formed part of the discussion or were cited therein.

Related articles on this blog

Here’s another good one from Georgetown – Resources on Incorporating Blogs & Twitter into Assignments

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