Responding to the 'Forced Blogging' Paradigm: Good Practices for Weblogs in the Classroom

My “Computer Connection” section (in a distant corner of the main exhibition hall) was more interactive than I had expected, so I didn’t get to cover all my material — notably this list of “good practices” for using blogs in the classroom. Since a “real” weblog is a license to write whatever and whenever you want, an instructor who assigns the topic, frequency, or length of blog entries (in order to facilitate grading) violates the spirit that draws voluntary bloggers to their avocation.

The “forced blogging paradigm” is the resistance that results when even voluntary bloggers feel hampered by the imposition of academic rules and standards. It’s also the resistance that results when students who don’t really want to blog at all are forced to do so. Here are a few strategies I’ve found helpful.

In Class, Refer to Student Blogs. In the minute or two before class starts, I sometimes chat with students about the content of their blogs. Of course, the best bloggers will tend to get the most attention, and the result is that the infrequent bloggers will feel marginalized. That‘sthe way it is in the blogosphere outside of academia, but it makes good pedagogical sense to recognize the achievements of less committed bloggers, too.

When asking a student to repeat for the class the contents of a particularly good blog entry that I feel might be useful in sparking a discussion, I find that students sometimes need their memory jogged if they are expected to talk about something they blogged in the wee hours of the morning or maybe a couple days ago. Calling the blog entry upon on the screen, saying a few words about why it seemed significant to you, and then inviting the student to click through their weblog seems to be a good strategy.

Begin Oral Presentations from Blogs. I ask my students to blog their notes for their oral presentations. In my upper-level course, peer pressure encourages students not to identify this kind of forced blogging as an assignment — students just casually mention a thought that occurred to them while reading Plato, and then launch into their subject from there. Since I encourage them to link to their sources, it’s easier to encourage them to emphasize their own ideas, rather than spend most of their oral presentation summarizing what they find on SparkNotes or other curiousity-killing “study guide” websites.

Give Flexible ?Forced Blogging? Assignments. Requiring students to post X comments of length Y every week may force some middle-of-the-road students to write a little longer, a little more frequently; but it will also encourage the Type-A students to stop when they have reached the magic number. That can kill the dynamic of a weblog, which feeds off of the feverish productivity of the A-listers. I might also ask students to write a short response to the assigned text, but give them the option of blogging it (if they have a lot to say and want to make it public) or just hand it to me on paper. Even if only or two students blogs a reaction essay, those will probably be at least mildly interesting.

Blog During Class. Not all the time? but whenever the site is sagging a bit, asking all students to blog for 15 minutes can help perk things up. Sometimes I suggest that they post only comments that contain questions for their peers, rather than create new entries.
Responding to the ‘Forced Blogging’ Paradigm: Good Practices for Weblogs in the ClassroomCCCC 04)

While my suggested prompts regarding John Donne’s Holy Sonnets and The Secret Life of Bees sit ignored, during the time I was giving my presentation on blogging at the 4Cs, and while I show the audience the SHU blog, I see that debate is currently raging on the subject of athletics at Seton Hill University.

Blogging puts students in the driver’s seat. There’s a great community of bloggers at SHU. The ride can be bumpy — particularly if some students feel left out or attacked. But sometimes, the best thing an instructor can do is sit back and trust the students. They’ll work this out, and they’ll do it through writing.. what more can a writing instuctor ask?