As the semester nears (about 3 weeks away now!), I am continuing to think about how I can use blogs in my teaching and how that use can contribute to the development and maintenance of a feminist classroom. Here are some more thoughts on how to get students to use the blog:
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). I always struggle with whether or not to provide rules. I sometimes wonder, do rules encourage bad behavior? Does it set a restrictive tone that makes students shut down (they become scared to do anything for fear of breaking a rule) or a hostile tone that provokes them to act out (they resent the restrictions and respond by breaking the rules). Two suggestions that I have tried: 1. Introduce the rules after (and only if) a problem occurs. 2. Discuss the rules after students have been posting for awhile. As a class, you could reflect on how/why following these rules is important.
Giving students information about blogging at the beginning of the semester can help ease some of their worries about not doing it right, etc. I am always surprised to find out that my students (who are supposedly in the generation that blogs/facebooks/emails constantly) don’t know how to blog. They need a tutorial. Spending just a little bit of time early on can save a lot time later (although even if you create a brilliant handout/tutorial that anticipates and answers every possible question about blogs, students will still ask you–usually when the semester is over half finished: “Umm…Professor…How do I blog, again?). Spending just a little bit of time early on will also demonstrate to your students that you think blogs are important and that you take them seriously (and they should too).
Make blog posting (entries and comments) a requirement.
As I mentioned here, students rarely use the blog if it is not required. After all, blog writing requires effort (something I have learned this summer in writing this blog. I have invested a lot into these entries) and, that effort needs to be worth something. Students have a lot of things to do–and not just school-related. They have jobs, families, and many other obligations and they constantly have to juggle between all of them. Assignments/activities that aren’t graded and/or are only optional are the first things to go when students are overwhelmed. So, if you really want to make the blog work in your class, you must require that students post on it weekly. And not just their own entries. You should require students to post comments on other students’ entries as well.
When I asked my students last semester (when we were discussing blogs at the beginning of the term) whether or not they liked blogs, several of them said they were too frustrating. “Nobody reads what I write,” one student complained. “I spend all of this time writing an entry and then nothing. Not one single comment. What’s the point?” So, that semester I tried something new. Instead of making the students post 10 entries over the course of the semester (worth 20 points each), I made them post entries for 5 weeks and comments for 5 weeks. They got to choose which weeks they posted entries and which weeks they posted comments. Aside from a few grumbles, it worked really well. Check it out here. Many students commented on the strong sense of community that they felt because of the blogging.
*Note: There is a danger, I suppose, in making blog writing a requirement. Suddenly, it is work that is graded. I have heard people argue that “once you make it a requirement, no one will actually want to write in a blog.” Not only is it class work, but it is graded class work. As a result, students have to take it seriously! And, because it is graded, students believe that there is one way to do it right (the way that earns the most points). It stifles their creativity and their desire to experiment with ideas on the blog. I can appreciate this argument. However, I have found that the alternative (not requiring blogs as work and then having no one do them) to be much more of a problem. I also think (or I hope) it is possible that instead of making play into serious work, blog writing for class makes work into serious play. Sorry, is this turn of phrase just a little too “cheesy”? Like my father I have a weakness for wordplay.
Okay, that’s it for now. I will continue this thread with my thoughts on what blog assignments to use (and not use) in an upcoming post. I want to end this post with one reflection on what makes all of this blog “stuff” important for a feminist classroom. In The Little FemBlog that Wasn’t, Shira Tarrant argues that using blogs in our teaching can contribute to feminist goals because
Using blogging in the classroom means that a) we are committed to leaving no woman behind when it comes to Internet technology; b) that women and feminists are active agents in making sure information technologies are “directed towards enhancing human well-being rather than strengthening existing power monopolies”; and c) that feminist classrooms encourage “greater freedom of spirit and of the experience to be creative.”
While I don’t known if her assessment completely meshes with my own reasons for using blogs and thinking of them as central to practicing feminist pedagogy, I do appreciate Tarrant’s comments here. As I work on an upcoming presentation on troublemaking, blogging and feminist pedagogy for NWSA this November, I hope to provide my own reflections on why blogging is so important for feminist pedagogy (and why it might differ from Tarrant’s). Look for my thoughts on that presentation in this blog soon.