Blog Overload

So I admit it. I got caught up in all the hype about blogs — about their potential for communication, for creating global connections, for expressing oneself, for extending face-to-face discussions, and for building community in online environments. In most cases, my initial excitement has not borne fruit.

I don’t fault my students. I am the instructor. And given my background in pedagogy and education, I should be a good leader. But when it comes to blogs, I have not been.

Still, I am not going to give up on blogs. What I am going to do is become a much more critical user. And so I offer some thoughts as I prepare to revamp the integration of blogs in my courses. —Kara M. DawsonBlog Overload (Chronicle)

Most of my students treat their blogs like any other homework assignment. Now that most students are doing their social networking on Facebook or MySpace, the blogs are fairly business-oriented. I have faced many of the problems Dawson mentions. One way I have responded is to get students to prime the pump early by posting a very brief entry that contains a direct quotation from the assigned reading, and then ask them to bring to class a half-page reflection paper that responds to something they read on a peer blog. I invite them to post that half-page reflection on their blog, but most don’t. And that’s fine, since if they just think of it as a homework assignment, it probably won’t make gripping reading. I also ask students to post two to four comments on peer blogs. Since students can choose to stop at two, every comment after the second is a gift. That cuts down on the number of “I agree” posts that count as comments.

The blogging portfolio rubric I use is very open ended. It has a category for “timeliness” and a category for “depth,” so that students may approach their blogging by posting it early and getting it over with, or by posting thoughtful reflections after the class discussion is over. There’s a category for being the first post on a peer blog entry, and there’s a category for participating in a discussion on a peer’s blog.

While I do occasionally teach small upper-level major courses where all the students are dedicated and involved, in most large classes about a third of the students will do their best on just about any assignment they get; about a third will do the bare minimum, if that; and about a third could go either way. Some students who are painfully shy and don’t like speaking up in class can find a way to express themselves through blogs. Some students do their best work in the comments they post on peer blog entries. And the small minority of super-dedicated bloggers quickly gain an audience within the class; even if only three or four students carry on the discussion after the class is over, those students can still feed off of each other’s enthusiasm, and the whole class can benefit.

Just as some students can’t stand group work, or oral presentations, or revising multiple drafts, or face-to-face draft consultations with the instructor, or discussion prompts, or lectures, or workshops, some students won’t like blogs, no matter what the instructor does. It took me a while to find a structure that I could fit into the structure of the course, and it took me longer to teach that structure to students in such a way that they aren’t too overwhelmed by how different it seems at first. I’ll keep making adjustments and seeking ways to improve the experience, and I’m glad to see Dawson is doing the same.