Teaching with Twitter: Thick and Thin Tweets

Ever since I started thinking about using twitter in the classroom (and before I actually used it, which was in fall, 2010), I’ve been following the interesting and innovative work of David M. Silver and his media studies classes at the University of San Francisco. He has a helpful blog that he uses mostly for class assignments. I also follow him on twitter. Yesterday he tweeted to his class about an article that he had written for the Chronicle of Higher Education last May: Twitter Meets the Breakfast Club. He also assigned, via the tweet, another one of his articles from his blog: The Difference Between Thick and Thin Tweets

Here’s his brief description of thin and thick tweets:

thin tweets are posts that convey one layer of information. thick tweets convey two or more, often with help from a hyperlink.

While he encourages students to experiment with all sorts of tweets, he requires that they do thick tweets for his assignments. His blog post offers some great examples and explanations of how thick tweets work. I think this approach might be helpful for enabling students to think more carefully/deliberately about their tweets as forms of communication. I also think his introduction of the assignment, with so many help examples + explanations, is a great model for how to introduce an assignment.

I was struck by something he wrote at the end of his post:

As i wrote above, i encourage my students to use twitter in any way they see fit. but my bias is evident. by requiring them to post thick tweets and by encouraging them to pack multiple layers of information within 140 characters or less, i’m trying to teach my students how to craft creative, meaty, and to-the-point messages that attract other people’s attention.

I wonder, does the point of twitter exercises for class and/or tweets in general, always have to be about “attracting other people’s attention”? What other goals do twitter users have besides attracting attention and sharing information?

Sample Assignment on tweet/blog

As usual, I am experimenting with new assignments for class. This fall, I want to try some twitter/blog combo assignments that are designed to help students with their writing (my class is writing intensive). Since I like to try out assignments before using them and I like to provide students with examples, I thought I’d test out my “feminist example twitter/blog assignment” as I worked on my essay about my troublemaking pedagogy. First, here’s a description of the assignment:

1 Reading example posted on twitter/blog     25 points

You are required to tweet one example from the readings that supports/clarifies your definition/understanding of feminism. You are also required to expand on this example in a blog post.

Here’s the passage that I am using as an example; it’s from Kevin Kumashiro’s Troubling Education:

Critical pedagogy needs to move away from saying that students need this or my critical perspective since such an approach merely replaces one (socially hegemonic) framework for seeing the world with another (academically hegemonic) one. Rather than aim for understanding of some critical perspective, antioppressive pedagogy should aim for effect by having students engage with relevant aspects of critical theory and extend its terms of analysis to their own lives, but then critique it for what it overlooks or forecloses (49).

tweet: students must experience and engage w/perspectives, not just comprehend/understand/accept them; teachers are guides, not experts #femd2011 (138 characters)

blog expansion of tweet: In Troubling Education, Kumashiro argues that teachers need to develop pedagogies that encourage students to actively (and critically and creatively) engage with a variety of perspectives. This engagement necessarily requires that students do more than just comprehend or develop an understanding of any one perspective as the answer. Instead, they need to be guided by teachers on how to negotiate a wide range of perspectives and critically assess them in terms of their own lives.

In thinking about my own troublemaking pedagogy, I find this passage helpful because of Kumashiro’s emphasis on experience and engagement as opposed to comprehension. While understanding a term or concept is important, students (and teachers/scholars/readers) need to do more in order to not passively accept it as the truth; students need to think critically about the perspective, how it is/isn’t relevant and what it ignores or actively suppresses. In critically assessing a concept, students learn to challenge ideas and also that engagement with ideas requires active learning, thinking, and experiencing of a concept. This emphasis on engagement shifts the dynamic between teacher and student. In a typical class, the teacher stands in front of the class and lectures as the expert, providing passive students with the answers. The focus: the transmission of ideas from teacher to student. In contrast, in Kumashiro’s classroom, passive students aren’t given answers by an expert/Teacher. Instead, they actively engage with their teacher and other students, critically and creatively determining how the concept works and fails to work within their own lives.

Note: I like this exercise. It’s helpful to spend some time really focusing in on what’s important and then expanding on that focused articulation (the tweet) in a blog entry. Since I’m not completely satisfied with my blog explanation, I want to practice this assignment some more. 

A few links I want to re-read (or reference)…someday

Ever since I got my iPad in May, I use it a lot for my morning internet news reading. For some reason, I can’t figure out how to make bookmarks on my iPad version of safari (which might be a good thing because I tend to bookmark lots of links that I never return to). So instead, I have started emailing myself the links. Now my inbox is filled with them and I’m feeling the need to clean (which doesn’t happen that often–as hard as I try, I usually have hundreds of emails in my two main mail accounts. Sigh).

Since I use this blog as an archive for ideas, I have decided to post a brief “annotated” list of these links/entries/articles:

1. Childhood, Disability and Public Space a blog entry by Angus Johnston at Student Activism
This entry, which links to an interesting thread on Feministe about kids and public space, is about the rights of children and adults with disability in relation to public space. Here’s his conclusion:

Which brings me to my most important point: that the duty to minimize disruption isn’t a duty that the young and the old and those with disabilities have to the robust adults among us, it’s a reciprocal duty that each of us, whatever our condition, has to each of our neighbors, whatever their condition.

Each of us has an obligation to refrain from whining too long or too loudly in museums. But each of us also has an obligation to accept the company of others good-naturedly, and to respond with grace when disruptions inevitably occur.

Why I’m archiving it: This essay resonates with me on a number of different levels–personally (as the mother of two young children who struggles to navigate public space with them and in the midst of other parents who do seem to feel entitled to take up lots of space, and as a daughter who witnessed my mom’s fearful attempts to inhabit public space as terminally ill, slow-moving and fragile without being knocked over or shoved out of the way) and intellectually (I like thinking about the links between public space, children and disruption).

Where I found it: random twitter search on @bitchphd, buried deep on page 2 or 3

2. threadbared a blog by Mimi Thi Nguyen and Minh-Ha T. Pham
Here’s a description of this super-cool blog:

Threadbared is an evolving collaboration between two clotheshorse academics to discuss the politics, aesthetics, histories, theories, cultures and subcultures that go by the names “fashion” and “beauty.” With commentary on how clothes matter, as well as book and exhibit reviews and interviews with scholars and artists, Threadbared considers the critical importance of taking clothes –and the bodies that design, manufacture, disseminate, and wear them– seriously as an entry point into dialogue about the world around us.

Why I’m archiving it: Okay, I’m not really into fashion that much (but maybe after reading this blog, I will be!), however I am familiar with Mimi Thi Nguyen’s work (Alien Encounters and a brief online essay on Mulan from years ago) and I appreciate the ways in which she brings feminist, queer, and anti-racist analyses to bear on pop culture. Minh-Ha T. Pham’s work seems pretty cool too; I especially like her post (which I just found) on why I feel guilty when I don’t blog. And here’s one more reason: this is a kick-ass blog done by academics who are using their impressive set of critical tools (feminist transnational studies, queer theory, critical media studies) to critically reflect on popular (fashion) culture. And it’s a diablog. This is a great model for being diablogical!

Where I found it: Wow, I wish I could remember. Probably twitter again. I think twitter is my new researching BFF. Seriously, twitter is a great resource. I will definitely have to use it in my classes this year.

3. May I, Please, Queer Your Kids? The New Queer Pedagogy an online article by Stephanie Jo Marchese in a Special Issue of MP: An international feminist journal
In this article, Marchese opens her discussion of queer pedagogy and the queer classroom with one queer student’s story (Sara) of being deemed a threat by her teachers:

By asserting the contagion of queerness, any school system, any teacher, any student, and any administrator has an increased chance of exposure. Paranoia becomes the vaccine to this social disease. It has seeped into pedagogical practices resulting in the devaluation and disgust with which queer studies is viewed in mainstream educational discussions. In advocating queer learning spaces, educational institutions run the risk of losing all categories, run the risk of leaving all subject matter ripe learning material, and inadvertently allow for provocative and resistant citizens to thrive. In linking this theoretical pondering to my opening example it makes perfect sense that Sara was told to pipe down. Keep it quiet. Don’t disturb your role because you unsettle mine.

Marches argues that queer visibility (and a pedagogy that is queer) doesn’t always have to lead to paranoia and containment; making sexuality visible in the class could allow for more honest conversations about it and the ways in which it gets regulated (through what is normal/acceptable and what is not).

Why I’m archiving it: I am always interested in essays on queer pedagogy and the bibliography for this article seems like it could point to even more sources. Plus, I appreciate her discussion of the queer who unsettles/disrupts as someone who needs to be encouraged (because of the productive, good troublemaking they do) instead of being contained or denied.

Where I found it: I got a mass email through the WMST-L listserv about a call for papers from the MP journal. I went to their website and randomly searched the archives.

4. Twitter for Academia a blog entry by dave on Academic Hack
In this entry, dave provides a list of various ways in which to use twitter in the classroom, including: class chatter, classroom community, get a sense of the world, track a word, track a conference, instant feedback, follow a professional, follow a famous person and more.

Why I’m archiving it: I plan to use twitter in my classes this year (and to teach about how to use it in my feminist pedagogies class) and am always looking for advice and ideas about it. Not only does dave offer some great suggestions, but his post has 46 comments worth of ideas too. Cool. This post should be very helpful. Here are a few that I particularly like:

Track a Word: Through Twitter you can “track” a word. This will subscribe you to any post which contains said word. So, for example a student could be interested in how a particular word is used. They can track the word, and see the varied phrases in which people use it. Or, you can track an event, a proper name (I track Derrida for example), a movie title, a store name see how many people a day tweet that they are at or on their way to a Starbucks. (To do this send the message “track Starbucks” to Twitter, rather than posting the update “track Starbucks” you will now receive all messages with the word “Starbucks.”)

Instant Feedback: Because Twitter is always on, and gets pushed to your cell phone if you set it up this way, it is a good way to get instant feedback. I was prepping for a lecture and wanted to know if students shared a particular movie reference, I asked via Twitter and got instant responses. Students can also use this when doing their classwork, trying to understand the material. Tweet: “I don’t understand what this reading has to do with New Media? any ideas?” Other students then respond. (This actually happened recently in a class of mine.)

Maximizing the Teachable Moment: It is often hard to teach in context, Twitter allows you to do this, but better yet, allows your students to do it for you (a way that others will hear perhaps). Recently someone in my Twitter circle made a marginal comment about a male friend who was dating an older woman. Another person in the same circle called him out this. Perfect, an in-context lesson on gender prejudice.

Public NotePad: Twitter is really good for sharing short inspirations, thoughts that just popped into your head. Not only are they recorded, because you can go back and look at them, but you can also get inspiration from others. This is really useful for any “creative” based class.

Where I found it: I’m pretty sure that I did a google search for twitter and academic use (or twitter teaching?). Sidenote: I used Academic Hack’s blogroll to find ProfHacker, which is great source on the Chronicle of Higher Education for teaching and technology.

Okay, I’m done now. Well, my list of links is not done, but I’m done. I find this entry to be a helpful exercise, one I might try in my classes. It’s more time-consuming than I imagined it would be (it took about 90 minutes, off and on, to write). I need to go rest my brain now and listen to some summer music:

Learning Exercise: Women’s Studies, Curiosity and the Value of Asking Questions

The following is a learning exercise for use in an introductory Women’s Studies classroom. I have constructed this assignment to be brief–only taking up 12-15 minutes. However, ideally it would serve as the introduction to a longer class session/discussion. You can download an abbreviated version of the assignment here.

Because I am always interested in experimenting with different techniques for using the blogs in (and as) the classroom, I decided to put this learning exercise on my blog. Anyone reading this blog is welcome to do the exercise. Try it out and then tell me what you like/don’t like, what works and what doesn’t work. You can post a comment to this entry or any of the 4 parts of the exercise.

Click on the links in order to “do” this exercise.

A. What makes you curious about this image/object?
B. Why aren’t we curious? Feminism and the importance of curiosity
C. What questions can we ask about this image/object?
D. A Final Exercise

POSSIBLE IMPLEMENTATIONS: This exercise is designed for use in a wide range of classrooms.

In a face-to-face classroom, I envision using this exercise as the introduction to a larger discussion about curiosity and some different ways that feminists are curious about the world. In this version, the students could break up into groups after this exercise and discuss their various questions. Then, as a group, they would report on one question (or line of questions) that they find particularly compelling and we would have a large group discussion about the various questions.

In a hybrid classroom, I envision using this exercise as the foundation for students’ engagement with the lesson for that section. Students would spend time on the exercise, clicking on the various links and reading the articles (indicated here on the final part of this exercise) that are related to the exercise and topic of discussion. They would post an entry on their own questions and comment on other students’ post (at least 2). Finally, we would have a face-to-face session in which we discuss the readings and our questions.

In an online classroom, I envision using this exercise in many of the same ways as in the hybrid classroom. However, instead of meeting face-to-face, students would actively engage more with each other on the blog and through online discussions (of their questions and comments). Students might also be required to post their own links to images, blog sites, media examples that connect with their own questions.

One other important note about the design of this exercise: It is designed to accommodate a wide range of students and their various levels of interest, time and ability. I deliberately provide a lot of information for students who want to learn more, but I don’t make reading and engaging with all of that information a requirement of the assignment. Additionally, I provide a wide range of different perspectives on topics, so as to reach as many different students (and their varied experiences and interests) as possible. Whenever I use assignments like this one, I always try to be clear about this aspect of the design so that they are not overwhelmed by the assignment.

What makes you curious about this image/object?

Take out a piece of paper. Spend about 2 minutes writing down as many questions as you can think of about this image. Don’t worry about answering any of your questions, just focus on being curious and asking questions about this image that speak to that curiosity. When your 2 minutes are up, click here for the next part of this learning exercise.

Why aren’t we curious? Feminism and the Importance of Curiosity

Why, you may ask, did I have you write down so many questions about the image of the pink high-top sneaker? In this mini-lecture, I want to briefly consider why we are so often not curious and then why being curious, in the form of asking lots of questions, is central to Women’s Studies and its analysis of power, privilege and injustice.

WHY AREN’T WE CURIOUS?

  • We are afraid to ask questions because it exposes what we don’t know or how we are uncertain
  • It is a lot of work and requires too much energy
  • It stirs up too much trouble and might force us to rethink our most basic assumptions
  • We are trained to receive and accept information instead of questioning it, challenging it or wondering about it

WHO (and what) BENEFITS WHEN WE AREN’T CURIOUS?

  • Those who wish to maintain the status quo and who resist change
  • Power structures—inside households, within institutions, in societies—that depend on our mere acceptance of ideas as “natural” or “given”
  • Those who wish to hide the political workings of terms and concepts that we have been trained to merely accept
  • Those who don’t want us to think critically about how systems and structures work and at whose benefit and whose expense
  • Those who want privilege (who has access to it and who doesn’t) to remain invisible and uninterrogated

WHAT CAN ASKING QUESTIONS ENABLE US TO DO?

  • To ask why something is the way it is is to suggest that it could be otherwise or that it shouldn’t be the way that it is
  • Enables us to pay attention to how things really work and how those things may serve to reinforce unjust power relations between people, communities, nations, institutions
  • Enables us to explore those things that we are afraid to question or to think about
  • It opens up a connection, a space, for engagement between us and the object of our questions or between us and the others to whom we ask the questions
  • Allows us to move beyond merely receiving information, to critically engaging with it
  • Trains us to wonder, to pay attention, and to be engaged in the world
  • Encourages us to reflect on how power and privilege work and how they contribute to oppression and injustice

Additional Readings. For more on questioning and feminist curiosity, check out some of the readings that inspired this mini-lecture:
Enloe, Cynthia. “Being Curious about our Lack of Feminist Curiosity
Bornstein, Kate. Gender Outlaw
Butler, Judith. “A Bad Writer Bites Back
Freire, Paulo. “The Future of School” and Learning to Question

And some of my blog entries:
Why did we stop asking questions?

Judith Butler wants us to disobey. Why? Exactly.
Questions, Questions and more Questions.

Once you are done reading this entry and clicking on the other readings/blog entries, click here to go to the next part of this exercise.

What Questions Can We Ask about the Image/Object?

There are all sorts of ways to be curious about this image/object from the perspective of power, privilege and inequality. Here are just a few questions that feminists (and you, using feminist concepts and ideas can) ask:

Labor: Who makes this sneaker? Where is it made? How is it made? How much does it cost to make? How much is it sold for? How much of the profit is given to the worker that made the shoe and how much is given to the company who produced the shoe? Does the making and selling of this sneaker lead to an unequal distribution of labor and profit–between worker/producer or between communities/regions/nations? If so, how? At whose expense is this sneaker made? For whose benefit?

Marketing: How is this sneaker, and other sneakers for women, marketed? How do advertisers encourage us to buy their products? Do their methods work to reinforce harmful stereotypes about women? If so, how and which ones? Do sneaker advertisements ever objectify women? What about these two commercials (see right below)—what are these advertisers suggesting about women? How are the attempting to get women to buy their shoes?

The Consumer/Consumption: Who has access to these sneakers? Who can buy them and who can’t? Why and how are the products that we buy important to our various identities? What do these sneakers say about us when we wear them/buy them? What kind of status and/or privilege do they afford us? What happens to this sneaker when we are done wearing it? Where do discarded sneakers go? Here?

The Worker: Who makes this sneaker? Who manages the workers who make this sneaker? Why are so many of the workers who make these sneakers women from Indonesia, Vietnam and China? What are their working conditions? Who are these women and what are their stories? Why is it important to think about and listen to their stories?

The bodies that wear them: What kinds of bodies should/do wear this sneaker? Who shouldn’t, or who can’t, wear this sneaker? What are you expected to do when you wear this sneaker–are they for engaging in sports, like running or basketball or something else? Check out these images–what clues do we get about who is/should be/most likely will wear them? What types of bodies (in terms of race, size, ability) are included/excluded from these images? Why? Is it acceptable for older women to wear these sneakers? Why or why not? What about men? Does the color of the sneaker (pink) suggest who it is for?

How might these questions, and the strenuous process of asking and engaging with them, enable us to think about how power and privilege work? For more on this last question, click here to proceed to the final phase of this activity.

A Final Exercise

Being curious and asking questions about ideas and objects is an important method for uncovering and critically reflecting on how power, privilege and injustice work. Moreover, as Cynthia Enloe argues in her essay, “Being Curious about our Lack of Feminist Curiosity,” it enables us to pay attention to and take seriously the lives of women. She writes:

…a feminist curiosity finds all women worth thinking about, paying close attention to, because in this way we will be able to throw into sharp relief the blatant and subtle political workings of both femininity and masculinity (4).

Here I would add that a feminist curiosity may also enable us to expose the visible and invisible political workings of power, privilege and oppression as they function through gender and its intersections with race, class, ethnicity, sexuality and much more. To have a feminist curiosity about the world is to persistently ask questions and wonder why and at whose expense/for whose benefit certain ideas, institutions, or systems function in the ways that they do. Of course a feminist curiosity is not the only thing that is necessary for taking the lives of women (or of all species, human and non-human, for that matter) seriously. However, it is an important part of the process and it provides a compelling way to bring a wide range of issues into conversation with each other.

Now that you have made it to the end of this lesson, I have one final assignment* for you.

  1. Pick one of the questions that you wrote down or one of the questions I posted in the previous entry that makes you curious and that you feel engages with issues of privilege and/or power.
  2. Now, spend a few minutes writing down as many questions as you can think of that relate to that first question and that guide your thinking towards a reflection on how power and privilege work. Hint: you can use one of my sets of questions (like those grouped under labor or marketing) as your guide.
  3. Once you get to a question that you are particularly interested in thinking about (and that you think really gets at how power or privilege work) then stop.
  4. Don’t spend too much time on your questions (just a few minutes), but do this exercise every day for the next week. Your questions don’t all have to connect to or follow from the initial image of the pink sneaker. Just make sure that they are guided by a feminist curiosity–the desire to take women’s lives seriously and to expose invisible and visible workings of power and privilege.
  5. At the end of the week, post a 200 word comment to this entry that includes one set of your questions and your thoughts on the experience of asking so many questions.

*This final assignment is a modified version of Kate Bornstein’s “The Ten-Minute Gender Outlaw Exercise” from My Gender Workbook.

2 Possible Additional Readings for exercise:
Enloe, Cynthia. “Being Curious about our Lack of Feminist Curiosity
Bailey, Alison. “Privilege

An Assessment of my fall 2009 blogs: two strategies

A couple of days ago I posted the details of my blog assignments for Queering Theory and Feminist Pedagogies. In this entry, I want to write about how I implemented these assignments. Here are two strategies I used:

1. I demonstrated a commitment to the blog.

I showed the students I was serious about using the blog by spending considerable time training them and thinking with them about what a blog is and how it is useful. Way back in August, when I was writing about teaching with blogs, I offered the following suggestion:

Spend some time at the beginning of the semester training students on how to use the blog.
If possible, demonstrate how to: log in, write an entry, create a link, upload an image, embed a youtube clip, comment on other blogs, find helpful blogs (other things I am forgetting?). You should also spend some time discussing what blogs are, how they can be used, and how/why they will be used in your class. Although this reading is a little dated (from 2005), it might be helpful in getting your students to understand what blogs are and why they are useful. And, it might (but not always) be helpful to have students reflect on blog rules (how to comment on others’ blogs, etiquette, etc).

This fall I took my own advice; in each class we devoted an entire week to training and thinking critically about blogs and how they could/do function in feminist and queer classrooms. In my queering theory class, we read essays on queer blogging by Jill Dolan, Rahul Mitra and Radhika Gajjala, and Julie Rak (you can read my discussion of them and find links to the full citations here). We also devoted a lot of time to thinking about blogging in relation to queer theoretical issues (is the blog a queer space of freedom? what sorts of queer subjects are constructed through blogging? how do blogs challenge and/or reinforce liberal notions of the Subject/Person and the personal?). Reflecting on blogs in this way–queerly and as an important topic for queering–established from the very beginning that the course blog wasn’t just going to be extra (busy) work for the students to do; the blog was going to be a object of study and where they could practice their own queering of theories/ideas/experiences, etc. In my feminist pedagogies class, we read Blogging Feminism: (Web) Sites of Resistance and my three part series on feminist pedagogy and blogging (here, here, and here) and we discussed how blogs can be used (and abused) in feminist classrooms. In both classes, I gave them a tutorial on how to blog in the media center. I also posted (and discussed) this blogging primer.

2. I was an active participant on the blog.

In addition to spending some time at the beginning of the semester for training and thinking about  blogs, I also participated in the blogs with the students. I posted entries in which I reflected on the readings, offered up an example for them to analyze, made announcements about interesting events or resources, and linked to my own blog when I had written entries that seemed relevant to the class. I also occasionally commented on their own entries. With all of this posting, I definitely increased how much I participated in my course blogs. In past classes, I averaged about 10-15 posts per semester (which consisted of announcements about class or weekly questions for them to respond to). In my queering theory and feminist pedagogies classes this past fall, I did 88 entries combined. While many of these entries were about course management (announcements, additional readings, links to handouts), overall I was more creative in my use of the blog. Here are some examples of how I participated on the blog. I posted

The blog can be an amazing (and perhaps overwhelming, at times) resource for students as they engage with the material, with me and with other students. I really enjoyed exploring so many different ways to facilitate (and encourage) that engagement. Okay, so I have run out of steam on this entry. These are not the only strategies I used for implementing the blog. In future entries, I want to write about using the blog in class discussions, a few blog categories that I am particularly proud of, and my struggles with comments.

An Assessment of my Fall 2009 Blogs: the Assignments

It is January 6. In 13 days my spring semester begins. Remarkably, my syllabi for Feminist and Queer Explorations in Troublemaking and Contemporary Feminist Debates are in pretty good shape. Time to reflect on what worked/didn’t work in my course blogs this past semester. If you recall (if not, see here), one key reason I started writing in this blog was to practice what I preach/teach. I imagined that actually participating in what I assign for my students would help me to create more productive and engaging blog assignments. It would also help me to understand the limits and possibilities of using the blog. And, I hoped, it would help me to understand better how blogging can contribute to my feminist pedagogical goals. It did all three of these things. I strongly believe that my development of and participation in this trouble blog has contributed greatly to the success of the blog assignments in Queering Theory and Feminist Pedagogies. But, before I get to how these assignments were successful (and also where they could be improved, because isn’t there always room for improvement?), let me start by describing the assignments for each class.

QUEERING THEORY: upper-level undergrad seminar, 12 students

Brief summary/background: When I started putting the syllabus together last July, I knew I wanted to make the blog a central part of the course. The last time I taught Queering Theory, in spring of 2008, the assignments were fairly effective and we (both me and the students) enjoyed the semester. We had a blog that we used, but not that much. This time, I was ready to mix it up and really push at the limits of how blogging could (or should?) be used in the classroom. A class about queering seemed perfect for such an experiment. By making the course rely so heavily on the blog, the students and I could work to challenge/unsettle/disrupt/queer the course. We could potentially disrupt where (not just in the seminar room, but wherever our computers were) and when (not just during the officially scheduled class time, but at 2 AM if we wanted) class engagement occurred. We might also be able to unsettle what counted as academic engagement and rigorous writing (blog entries instead of formal papers) and who counted as an expert (not just the professor or the authors of our “scholarly” texts, but the students as blog authors/posters). Here is part of the official assignment that I distributed to them a week or two into the semester:

ENTRIES: 30% or 300 points (15 total @ 20 points each)

7 Direct engagements with the readings
3
Annotated bibliographies
5
“Queer This!” posts

ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT: 10% or 100 points (10 total @ 10 points each)

3 Comments posted in response to the query in “Class Summaries and Queries”
4
Comments posted on direct engagement OR annotated bibliography entries.
3
Comments posted on any blog entries

* NOTE: While you are encouraged to post as much as you are able, only 2 entries and 1 comment per week will count towards your overall grade.

Included in the official handout was a more detailed explanation of each type of entry/comment. You can download it here.  I recognize that the amount of detail I give for the blog entries might seem overwhelming (which I think it was for some of them), but it also demonstrated that I was taking this whole blog thing seriously–because I had put so much thought into the assignment, they could trust that I knew what I was doing. As one student pointed out in her final blog entry, trust (between me and her, her and the other students) was central to making this blog experiment a success. A week or so after distributing and discussing this handout, I gave them a worksheet and more instructions about how to keep track of their participation. You can download that here. Here is a screen shot of page 1 of the worksheet.

Central to the blog assignment was the tracking of a particular theme related to queering theory. Students were able to pick which theme they wanted to track. Their direct engagements and annotated bibliographies were required to engage with that theme. They also had to read an additional essay related to their theme and present on it. Finally, they were required to post (or submit) and briefly present on a final wrap-up in which they defined their term and reflected on the experience of blogging. In total, the blog assignment was worth 800 points out of 1000 total points (300 points for blog entries, 100 points for comments, 150 points for presentations, 250 points for the final wrap-up). That’s right. 80% of their grade was the development of and participation in our course blog. As I have stated before, I am amazed and impressed with my students’ willingness to engage in this risky experiment, especially since only two of them had taken courses with me before.

FEMINIST PEDAGOGIES, graduate seminar, 14 students

Brief summary/background: This past semester was my second time teaching Feminist Pedagogies. When I taught it the first time I had always hoped that the blog could be a productive site for engagement with the ideas. We used it but, just like in my first queering theory blog, we didn’t use it that much. It wasn’t a place for us to engage with ideas, only a place to post notes or additional resources. When I found out that I would have 14 students and that the time for my class had been cut from 2 1/2 hours to 2 hours 10 minutes, I knew that the blog would be essential for allowing us to discuss all of the material. So I decided to emphasize the blog as one of the places where students would raise questions and discuss readings/pedagogical theories/teaching. Just like with the queering theory course, a course on feminist pedagogies seemed to be a fitting place to experiment with blogging. Here is the assignment that I gave them:

REQUIRED BLOG ENTRIES:

You are required to actively participate on our course blog. In addition to posting your pedagogical question on the blog (worth 50 points), you are required to post 10 posts (either as new entries or comments on other class members’ entries) over the course of the semester (worth 15 points each).

Pedagogical Question:
Each session will begin with a wrap-up discussion of pedagogical questions that are first raised by several students on our course blog. The questions can be theoretical and/or practical in nature (e.g.: How do you deal with students who don’t “get it”? How do we create community in big classes? What characteristics should a feminist classroom have?). It could also stem from your own experiences as a teacher or student. We will spend approximately 10-15 minutes on the discussion as we brainstorm responses. Each week, several students will be responsible for posting their questions on our course blog. The questions should be posted by Monday evening.

10 Required Posts:

5 direct responses to pedagogical questions
2
related to the development of your syllabus/reading list
3
your choice on feminist pedagogies

Direct responses: These 5 posts can be comments posted directly on the original pedagogical question post, or they can be new entries that directly engage with and respond to the pedagogical question. Your response should be thoughtful and draw upon course readings, discussions and/or your own experiences in the classroom as a student or teacher.

Syllabus-related posts: The purpose of these 2 posts is to enable you to chart your progress as you develop your syllabus. Your posts can be about anything related to that process: questions about possible readings, mini annotated bibliographies on sources that you are planning to use, reflections on figuring out your topic, readings, or assignments. The only requirement is that one of these “syllabus progress reports” must be posted by November 4 and the other one must be posted by December 16.

The remaining 3 posts can be about anything related to the course and feminist pedagogy. You could post questions about the readings (what certain terms mean, etc) or mini annotated bibliographies with sources on feminist pedagogy or teaching. Or, you could share images/ideas/examples with our class that might be useful for teaching. You could even post your critical reflections on why blogging is/isn’t effective in the classroom or offer another direct response to a pedagogical question.

You are required to make 5 posts by November 4.
The remaining 5 posts should be completed by December 16.

There you have it, the blog assignments for each course. In upcoming posts I want to write about how these assignments did/didn’t work. I also want to write about how they reflect my pedagogical vision and values. And I want to offer some advice for anyone else wanting to experiment with blogging.