In my last entry on feminist pedagogy and blogging (part 2) I wrote about how it is helpful to spend some time at the beginning of the semester explaining/demonstrating how (and why) to use the blog. I also wrote about why it is important to make blog posts (new entries and comments) a requirement of the class. In this entry I want to reflect on how to make blogs a requirement by exploring possible blog assignments.
Now I have been using blogs in my courses since Spring of 2007–nine blogs total. While some blogs have been successful, many have also failed. Perhaps part of the problem is that I haven’t given enough attention to thinking about how best to craft assignments that get students excited about using the blog and that most effectively utilize the potential of blogging for feminist pedagogy and the feminist classroom.
I think that one of the most important things to remember when putting together a blog assignment is the same thing you need to remember when putting together any assignment for your course: Always spend some time really thinking about what goals you want to achieve and what purpose you want the assignment to serve. I found a great site–Weblogs: A Powerful Tool for Educators–that offers many helpful tips for thinking about the pedagogy behind blogs. In addition to offering lots of reasons why to use the blog (develops critical thinking/reading/writing skills, gives students a voice and a forum in which to express that voice, fosters community, is an important source of knowledge construction), this site discusses the different types of instruction that blogs support, including: a. knowledge centered, b. learner centered, and c. community centered.
Knowledge centered: Blogs offer students a place to read about new ideas/research and synthesize/articulate their own thoughts about what they have read and what they are studying. This function is central to what I am trying to do with my trouble blog. While it is not the only purpose of this blog, collecting examples of trouble and of books/articles/interviews on trouble is central to TROUBLE.
Learner centered: A course blog enables students to get feedback from the instructor and other students. It emphasizes the role of the student/s as active participant and learner. And it encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning process.
Community centered: Course blogs foster connection and interaction between students and between students and the instructor. Through participation in blogs, “class members can read postings from their fellow students, comment on the value and relevance of the blog entry in regard to their own experiences and suggest additional resources.”
I think it is important to think about these different functions and how blog assignments could encourage them: How might I use the blog to encourage students to chart the progress and process of their knowledge development of a certain topic? What kind of assignments can encourage students to read and implement feedback–both from the instructor and other students? And what could I, as the instructor, do to foster a community of learners on the blog?
This site also offers a chart that distinguishes between blogs for reading and blogs for writing, and between self, instructors, other students and the rest of the web. One thing that I like about this chart (even though it is not the prettiest one I have seen) is that it identifies/represents the different purposes and functions of the blog. And it makes a difference between the blogger-as-writer and the blogger-as-reader. Since the course blog is not just about getting students to write essays-as-entries but to read what others (in the class and around the web) are writing, this distinction is key for developing a wide range of assignments that tap into the potential of course blogs for the classroom. Blog assignments (and assessment of students’ participation on the blog) should not always be developed around the student-as-writer (even though this is a key element). It is also helpful to think about assignments that assess (and draw upon) students-as-readers. One way I have done this in past semesters is by requiring students to comment on each others’ blogs. But, is this the only way to ensure that student closely read each others’ entries?
In her article, “Defining Tools for a New Learning Space: Writing and Reading Class Blogs” from JOLT, Sarah Hurlburt suggests that required comments (which she calls comment quotas) might not be the only way to assess student-as-reader participation. She argues that comment quotas assess the participation of visible readers–those readers who make their presence known on the blog by leaving a trace (in the form of a comment). But, she continues, they don’t assess the participation of silent or invisible readers (lurkers?) who often read entries/blogs very closely but never leave any comments as proof of that reading. I find Hurlburt’s essay to be helpful (especially her distinction between blog assignments that are on the web but could just as easily be in another form and blog assignments that depend on the interactive/networking nature of the web to function properly) but it seems to lack specific examples. When she poses the question, “are there other ways beside comment quotas to enforce student reading?,” she only tentatively answers this question by suggesting that we need to think about visible and silent readers. And she offers no specific alternatives to quotas. So, what are some ways to assess the participation of silent readers? Hmmm….I need to think about this question some more. Perhaps incorporating the blogs into class discussion might help here?
In the process of writing this entry (and of reviewing these sources: here and here), I have come up with a tentative way in which to incorporate the blog into my Queering Theory course. Now, I still have a lot of thinking to do on this assignment, but it might just work. Modeling the assignment after my own blog, I want students to take a theme/concept/term that comes up a lot in queering theory and then track it/trace it/reflect on it throughout the semester–like what I am doing with trouble. Students could track the term through our various readings (how is it addressed/not addressed by our authors?), our discussions, their own research beyond our class readings (how is this term discussed in essay “x” or “y”?) and the popular imagination (representations of it in the media? connections between it and current events?). They would be required to submit weekly entries and present on their findings at some point during the semester. Instead of having one paper due at the end of the semester, they would be evaluated throughout the semester for their continued research on their chosen topic. And, somehow, I want to add in an interactive component–they have to read other students’ blogs on a regular basis? Maybe they should pick a few of the other projects and follow them throughout the semester? I am not quite sure how (or if) this will work yet. More to come…
And, two more questions: What specifically does blogging have to offer feminist pedagogy and the feminist classroom? What makes it feminist teaching as opposed to just good teaching? While I have titled the three entries in this series, “Feminist Pedagogy and Blogging,” I have failed to effectively respond to these questions. I hope that my reflection on this question will happen in the fourth entry in this series.