When Blogging Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale About Blogs, Emailing Lists, Discussion, and Interaction

While there were times in which some students wrote longer messages, more often than not, the posts were short, merely links to other documents, or text that was “cut and pasted” from another source. There was very little writing that could be described as reflective, dynamic, collaborative, or interactive. There was almost no exchange or conversation between posters, and no”themed” group writing project emerged from any of the blogs, which was one of the goals of the assignment. It wasn’t even clear if the students were reading other posts. Individuals made their posts in an erratic and inconsistent manner, and then they moved on.

In other words, the experiment failed. —Steven D. KrauseWhen Blogging Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale About Blogs, Emailing Lists, Discussion, and Interaction (StevenDKrause.com)

Everyone learns when an educator reflects on his or her mistakes.

I’ve seen many instructors who are excited about blogs become disappointed when their students don’t share their enthusiasm. I don’t have a crystal ball that will tell me the magic formula that will get all students excited about blogging, but an “experiment” in which an instructor announces, “Let’s all play around with sticks and straw and see whether we can make baskets,” or “Let’s all bang on piano keys and see what happens” is not any more likely to be successful than an experiment in which the instructor says “Let’s all look at some books and put some words on the page and see what kind of critical writing results.”

So kudos to Krause for making such a public statement, which offers pointed and valuable criticism of the unbridled enthusiam we as edubloggers bring to our classroom blogging.

In my present job, I teach only undergraduates, in a program that is mostly female, at a school that only became officially co-educational a few years ago (it used to be a women’s college). So the gender and power relationships that I experience are very different from those that Krause describes. Since the “new media journalism” program I’m watching over is young, I have mostly freshmen and sophomores, most of whom are just beginning to get a grasp on how to think about and work with the kinds of complex texts and ideas that lead to the sort of complex discussions Krause can expect his graduate students to have on a regular basis.

I resist telling students how often to blog or how long their entries should be, because I worry that they may stop writing when they reach the magic frequency or volume. I do see the value in keeping assignment parameters open, but that can create anxiety in students, who feel comfortable knowing exactly what is expected. (This is why I recently blogged a framework for evaluating a blogging portfolio.)

Further, I don’t use blogs as a replacement for the listserv or threaded discussion list… Krause notes at the conclusion of his essay that blogging works well for “individual students publishing texts they own”.

I do give each student his or her own blog, for them to keep after the class is over. I don’t give them any extra credit for personalizing their blogs, and I even warn them that if they fiddle endlessly with their stylesheets instead of writing, they aren’t fulfilling their obligations as student bloggers. Still, one of the early presentations in my “Writing for the Internet” class was on how to personalize your blog, and a blogging veteran has voluntarily posted a personalization tutorial for this year’s newbies.

I’ve spoken with numerous professors who say that in just about any class, for just about any activity, a third of the students will be so excited and eager they will practially teach themselves, and a third will do the bare minimum required, or perhaps not even that. Much of teaching involves setting up an environment in which the middle third has to decide which way to go. (Meanwhile, you also have to challenge the excited third and encourage the disinterested third; I find it very difficult to serve all three groups equally well.)

Perhaps in a course like “Writing for the Internet,” where students have presumably chosen because they like writing or computers or both, I may find a different dynamic. But we’ll see.

I’m beginning to feel more strongly that one of the great uses of blogging is that the hyper-involved students can get a tremendous amount of feedback from their peers.

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