Roundtable at MMLA: Using Blogs in the Feminist Classroom

This blog entry serves as a virtual handout for my contribution to a roundtable at the Midwest Modern Language Association Conference in Chicago on November 5th. I also plan to distribute hard copies of the handout at the actual event.

Sara L. Puotinen (University of Minnesota, puot0002@umn.edu)
Using Blogs in the Feminist Classroom

Some Links:

My personal research/writing blog: (making/being in/staying in) TROUBLE
Feminist pedagogy diablog with Kandace Creel Falcón: It’s Diablogical!
List of my course blogs at the U of Minnesota: An Introduction
My blog workshop (2/2010): Teaching with Blogs and Blogging While Teaching

Why blogging is useful for feminist pedagogy:

  • Shifting/reworking/disrupting who counts as an authority or who can produce/share knowledge
  • Providing students with more ways to engage and express that engagement
  • Enabling students to learn from each other, enabling instructor to learn from students
  • Requiring students to claim more responsibility for the class and how it works/doesn’t work
  • Training students in an important form of technology
  • Giving the instructor more opportunities to engage with students/material and to share their own research/knowledge in creative ways
  • Disrupting the rigid boundaries of the classroom in space and time
  • Encouraging the instructor to experiment with new techniques and strategies
  • Cultivating a space for public scholarship and for connecting with a wide range of people/communities inside and outside of the class and the university

Some Tips:

  • Successful blogs require assignments that are more than just offline assignments posted online.
  • Think about the blog as a location for reading and writing and reflect that in your assignments.
  • Bring blog entries, comments, and discussions into your offline class sessions.
  • In order to get students to use the blog, you must make it worth their while.
  • Spend some time at the beginning of the semester training students on how to use the blog.
  • Spend a lot of time really thinking through all of the details of your blog assignments.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques on the blog.
  • Don’t just assign weekly blog posts to your students that involve responding to your questions.
  • If you want students to be excited about the blog and take it seriously, you need to too.
  • Complete at least some of the assignments that you require your students to do.
  • Blogs work better in the classroom when we read and think more about what kind of teaching/learning practice blogging is (and/or could be).

A few examples of how I use blogs:

An Assignment:
My explanation  Example One: This is a Feminist Issue Because…
The entries This is a Feminist Issue Because…

Organization/Integration:
The entry Day 8: October 27

Interactive Lecture:
My explanation Example Two: Organizing Class Discussion
The entry A Feminist Response to the Arizona Immigration Bill (SB1070)

My Workshop on Teaching with Blogs and Blogging While Teaching

Today I am giving a talk/workshop on blogging for feminist teaching and research. I have decided to post it as a series of entries on this blog so that it can serve as a virtual handout for those attending the workshop and as a resource for those who couldn’t make it. Another reason I am posting this talk here is that I am experimenting with using the blog, instead of powerpoint, as the format for my lectures and talks. Some of the material in these posts has been posted on other entries on this blog.

Part One: An Introduction
Part Two: The Course Blogs
Part Three: My research/writing blog
Part Four: Tips and Things to Remember
Part Five: Some Resources

Teaching with Blogs and Blogging while Teaching, part 3: My Research/Writing Blog

Note: Today I am giving a talk/workshop on blogging for feminist teaching and research. I have decided to post it as a series of entries on this blog so that it can serve as a virtual handout for those attending the workshop and as a resource for those who couldn’t make it. Another reason I am posting this talk here is that I am experimenting with using the blog, instead of powerpoint, as the format for my lectures and talks. Some of the material in these posts has been posted on other entries on this blog. This is part 3. As of 2/22, this entry is still under construction.

HOW I BLOG WHILE TEACHING AND FOR TEACHING

Okay, so I have discussed why I blog and how I use blogs in my teaching. In this post, I will briefly discuss how I blog while and for teaching. As I mention above, this entry is still under construction because parts 1 and 2 took a lot of time and energy to write.

Warning: There are many strategies for managing blogs so that they don’t overwhelm you, but you have to be vigilant in your practice of them. I think this workshop is an example of trying to take on too much in too little time. Perhaps another way to look at my failure to complete this entry is this: In the spirit of the blog, which is a living, always-in-process archive of one’s ideas and writings, I offer you my preliminary thoughts on blogging while teaching. Here are some examples (without my analysis) of how I see blogging while teaching working for me.

EXAMPLE ONE: Critical Reflection
Why did we stop asking questions?
This blog entry was originally published on this blog. I also assigned the essay that is discussed in this post for my feminist debates class and posted an excerpt from the entry on that blog, here. And I posted an excerpt of the entry on my graduate course blog, feminist/queer/troublemaking, here.

EXAMPLE TWO: Critical Essay
Does Troubling Virtue = Valuing Vice? And Other Questions About Vice and Virtue, part 1?

In this entry, I drew upon readings from my queering theory class and reflected on how they connected to my own thinking/research on troublemaking and ethics. Here is the note I wrote at the top of the entry:

Note: Having just finished this entry after almost 4 days of deliberating over how to frame it and what to write, I feel compelled to comment on my blogging process. I am not sure if this entry makes sense, but it has been incredibly productive for me as I attempt to place my own thinking about virtue ethics and troublemaking in a larger context. Writing this entry has enabled me to clarify my thinking, generated a lot of new questions and sources, and has fueled my passion for troubling virtue ethics. Cool. This entry is one reason why I love blog writing.

EXAMPLE THREE: Applying theories/concepts
The Trouble with Alice
I wrote this entry over the summer, while I was in the midst of watching a lot of the Brady Bunch. It was inspired by readings we had done in my Contemporary Feminist Debates course in the spring of 2009. We are reading some of those same essays and discussing some of the same issues in Feminist Debates this week (2/23-2/25), so I decided to post an excerpt of it for the class here.

EXAMPLE FOUR: Critical Reflection
The troublemaker as a feminist killjoy (or an unhappy queer?)

I wrote this entry at the end of last semester. It was inspired by readings from my queering theory and connects to readings for my graduate class on troublemaking for this spring.

EXAMPLES FIVE and SIX: Archiving Research for/while Teaching
Troublemaking and Feminist and Queer Pedagogies: Some Sources
The Queer Child: Some Sources

EXAMPLE SEVEN: My colloquium presentation on Judith Butler and the virtue of troublemaking
My presentation
Is grief our only resource for how to stay in trouble?
In my fall presentation for the GWSS Feminist Studies Collloquium series, I presented on Judith Butler and troublemaking. I read “my presentation” and reflected on parts of “is grief…”.

All of these entries enable me to bring together my teaching and research interests in ways that benefit both my teaching (I often post excerpts of these entries on my course blogs in order to share my research/knowledge with students) and my research (these entries enable me to archive my reflecting on and processing of readings).

Teaching with Blogs and Blogging while Teaching, part 4: Tips and Things to Remember

Note: Today I am giving a talk/workshop on blogging for feminist teaching and research. I have decided to post it as a series of entries on this blog so that it can serve as a virtual handout for those attending the workshop and as a resource for those who couldn’t make it. Another reason I am posting this talk here is that I am experimenting with using the blog, instead of powerpoint, as the format for my lectures and talks. Some of the material in these posts has been posted on other entries on this blog. This is part 4.

Now that I have provided some details about my blogs, I want to reflect on some things that I have learned from my experiences and offer some tips for teaching with blogs and blogging while teaching. Here are just a few tips that help me in my use of the blog.

  • Successful blogs require assignments that are more than just offline assignments posted online.
  • Think about the blog as a location for reading and writing and reflect that in your assignments.
  • Bring blog entries, comments, and discussions into your offline class sessions.
  • In order to get students to use the blog, you must make it worth their while.
  • Spend some time at the beginning of the semester training students on how to use the blog.
  • Spend a lot of time really thinking through all of the details of your blog assignments.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques on the blog.
  • Don’t just assign weekly blog posts to your students that involve responding to your questions.
  • If you want students to be excited about the blog and take it seriously, you need to too.
  • Complete at least some of the assignments that you require your students to do.
  • Blogs work better in the classroom when we read and think more about what kind of teaching/learning practice blogging is (and/or could be).
  • Remember to have serious fun!

TIP: Successful blogs require assignments that are more than just offline assignments posted online.

A blog is a web 2.0 technology. This basically means that the blog is interactive, enabling students to actively connect and collaborate with each other instead of passively reading/receiving information. What does this mean for your assignments?

First, it means that if you want to have successful and productive blogs in your class, you need to think about how to effectively translate your assignments/objectives from the offline (hard copy journals, papers, etc) to the online. How can you add in interactive elements to those assignments? How can students benefit from collaboration and learning from each other?

Second, it means that if you really want to tap into the potential of the blog for your class,  you need to envision new assignments that reflect the three key purposes of educational blogs (which I came across on this helpful site, Weblogs: A Powerful Tool for Educators):

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. And it is central to tracking issue assignments in Queering Theory and feminist debates.

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 purposes 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?

TIP: Think about the blog as a location for reading and writing and reflect that in your assignments.

If you want students to engage with each other on the blog, you need to create assignments that require that engagement. It is my experience (in my classes and as a writer and a lurker-reader), that students are reading each other’s posts. However, unless you require that they demonstrate that they are reading and engaging, it is hard to know when and if it is happening.  The easiest way to get them to demonstrate that engagement is by building required comments into their blog grade. I noticed that students’ public engagement on the blog and their cultivation of community has increased A LOT ever since I started making comment posts a part of their required assignment.

I believe that comments aren’t the only (or sometimes even the best) way to encourage public engagement, however. 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. So, how do we address the problem of the “silent reader”? This leads into the next tip:

TIP: Bring blog entries, comments, online discussions into your offline class sessions.

As I mentioned above, requiring comments as part of a student’s blog grade is not the only way you can ensure that they are engaging with the blogs as readers. You should also try to bring up blog discussions in class. This provides students with more opportunities for engaging with each other, for responding to blog entries that they read but didn’t have time to comment on, or for blog posters to explain their positions to each other face-to-face. It also enables students to demonstrate they are reading the blogs (even if they aren’t actively posting comments or follow-up entries). While I am not quite sure how to assess this in-class participation (make it part of their more general participation grade?), I am trying to do this in my feminist debates class this semester. As a result, we have had some lively, productive discussions. Here are a few ways that I am incorporating blogs into (offline) class discussion:

  • Using blog entries as my “notes” for an in-class activity. This enables students to comment on the notes in class or online.
  • Devoting time to discussing questions/issues that the blog posts are raising for the students.
  • Breaking them up into small groups so that they can discuss a particular post.

TIP: In order to get students to use the blog, you must make it worth their while.

You must build blog assignments into your course syllabus and make the entries worth points. While students might be excited about the prospect of sharing their thoughts with each other on the blog, when the pressure of other course work and readings hits, blog writing-that-is-voluntary is the first thing to go. Students will more often than not prioritize work that is graded and/or that affects their final grade.

For evidence of the need for grading and for student’s reluctance to volunteer entries,  just compare two of my blogs for the same class, here and here. Can you guess which one had blog assignments built into the syllabus? One additional note: Making blog entries as an option for earning points (but not making it the required way in which to earn those points) doesn’t work that well either. When given the choice, students–even the ones who excitedly proclaim on the first day that they LOVE blogs, especially feminist ones!–will pick the other (non-blog) option.

TIP: 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 . 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).

TIP: Spend a lot of time really thinking through all of the details of your blog assignments.

Many of my course blogs have been moderately successful, but it wasn’t until I developed detailed and well-thought assignments that I really started to witness what blogs can do for the classroom. Some of the details that you need to think through are:

  • What types of assignments will inspire and energize students?
  • What types of assignments will help encourage students to engage with each other?
  • How can I make this blog manageable? How will I keep track of all of their entries?
  • How will I evaluate them (point totals? feedback?)
  • How do I give them structure without inhibiting them?
  • How can i encourage creative and critical thinking?
  • What types of assignments will encourage students who are nervous about or resistant to the blog?

Spending a lot of time before the semester begins thinking through the logistics of your blog is invaluable. If you don’t have a good sense of how the blog will work, when things will be due, how you will grade it, you can get overwhelmed. I am strong believer in the mantra: worker smarter not harder. You can do this by:

  • Getting students to do some of the work. Have them track their own entries and comments. Then require that they print them out and submit them in a folder several times during the semester.
  • Not creating too many assignments and by thinking about spreading them out in a way that doesn’t make the blog too unwieldy.
  • Not participating too much. It is not possible to comment on every single blog entry that your students post. Experiment with ways to comment that don’t require you to spend every waking minute (and every minute you should be sleeping) responding to their questions, problematic statements, etc. One strategy for dealing with this issue is to make it clear to the students that they are responsible for responding to each other and that they have the opportunity to teach each other through their blog posts/comments.

TIP: Don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques on the blog.

One of the things I love most about course blogs are how they encourage me to be creative in my presentation of class materials. I am constantly using them to try out new approaches to the teaching and engaging with the class. Even though I try to spend a lot of time developing detailed (and, in some ways, highly structured) assignments, I always leave room for experimenting with new categories or new ways to post. In addition to experimenting with my entries (I have tried vlogging and posting scans of my hand written notes), I like to experiment with developing new categories. Some of my favorite categories were created as the result of a desire to try some new way to engage, categories like: Queer This! or Who is… or How we Think.

TIP SIX: Don’t just assign weekly blog posts to your students that involve responding to your questions.

I say just here because I continue to assign weekly direct engagements. I see a lot of value in requiring students to critically reflect on the readings in a structured way (that is, in a way that is guided by instructor questions). However, there are many other ways that students can engage on and with the blog that weekly prompt assignments fail to address. Here are just a few. You could require that they:

  • Post examples from the media/their lives/current events that relate to the class and that they want readers to analyze
  • Track an issue or a term by posting informal annotated bibliographies about that term
  • Post youtube clips or news articles that are relevant
  • Post local/regional/national/international events that are relevant to the class
  • Post questions about terms, concepts, readings
  • Provide feedback on the class or on what worked/didn’t work in assignments

TIP: If you want students to be excited about the blog and take it seriously, you need to too.

So, what does this mean? Here is what I have done to demonstrate that I am serious about my course blogs:

  • Devote considerable time to blogs at the beginning of the class (training them, reading about blogs, going over the blog assignment)
  • Write in my own blog so that I could practice what I preach/teach
  • Discuss the blog frequently in class
  • Make it a central part of the course (in terms of assignments, engagement)
  • Participate a lot (through entries and comments)
  • Develop thoughtful assignments which demonstrate that a lot of time was put into considering how to make the blog work for the class

TIP: Complete at least some of the assignments that you require your students to do.

Here is what I wrote about this issue on my “about this site” page on this trouble blog:

Even though I have used blogs in the classroom (and lurked on many a blog myself!), this is my first attempt at my own blog. I developed this blog to practice what I preach (I mean teach). I wanted to know what it felt like to write entries on a regular basis and I wanted to experiment with possible assignments for my students next year and beyond.

While I am really enjoying writing in my own blog, you don’t have to start up your own blog in order to experience what it’s like to post entries (although it helps). You can start by simply posting more of your own entries (beyond class announcements or handout links) on your course blog. Or you can create assignments in which you post an entry too (like posting a response to “who am I?” or “what are your top 5 favorite things?” or “what’s on your playlist?). Here are some reasons why your participation can be extremely helpful:

  • The more you know about how it feels to write on the blog, the more successful your assignments and student participation will be.
  • You can gain the students’ trust.
  • Your participation on the blog demonstrates that you take it seriously and that you intend it to be a central part of the course.
  • In writing your own blog entries and comments, you can model for the students the types of engagements/critical reflections that you want them to post.

TIP TEN: Blogs work better in the classroom when we all read and think more about what kind of teaching/learning practice blogging is (and/or could be).

At the end of her essay, “The Little FemBlog that Wasn’t,” Shira Tarrant discusses the value of blogs in feminist classroom for “open[ing] possibilities for a democratic learning process” and “help[ing]to achieve feminist goals in the virtual world.” She argues that we need to discuss how feminist pedagogy and internet technology can work together. And we need to think about how engaging with blogs (through writing entries and reading/posting comments on others’ entries and blogs) could help to encourage feminist critical practices, develop a feminist classroom, and foster feminist communities.

This is an especially important point. Students and teachers need to explore (and think critically) about how and why to use blogs. Blogs aren’t just online journals that are used to record the “excruciating minutia” of our lives or our thinking about an idea or text. They aren’t just cool and trendy ways to demonstrate to students that we, as teachers, are hip and relevant. And, they aren’t just distractions (and a lot of extra effort) from the real (as in serious, academic, important) work that goes on inside/outside the classroom. I see tremendous potential in using blogs in my teaching, both in the classroom, and as a way to encourage students to think critically. To develop that potential, feminist teachers need to spend some time creating blogging strategies, theories, and assignments. And they need to share their ideas with others. That’s what I am trying to do here. That’s what Tarrant is doing in her essay. And, that’s what these authors are doing here and here.

Teaching with Blogs and Blogging while Teaching, part 2: The Course Blogs

Note: Today I am giving a talk/workshop on blogging for feminist teaching and research. I have decided to post it as a series of entries on this blog so that it can serve as a virtual handout for those attending the workshop and as a resource for those who couldn’t make it. Another reason I am posting this talk here is that I am experimenting with using the blog, instead of powerpoint, as the format for my lectures and talks. Some of the material in these posts has been posted on other entries on this blog. This is part 2.

HOW I BLOG IN MY TEACHING

Now that you know why I blog, let me tell you how I blog. The following is a description of two blogs that I have used/am using this year. While these blogs have had some problems, I would consider them to be successful (here successful = productive, fun for the students, shifted many students’ perspectives on blogging, enabled me to learn more about my own teaching and the limits/potential of blogging in the classroom, raised productive questions for future reflection and research).

QUEERING THEORY: upper-level undergrad seminar, 12 students, all but one had taken many GWSS courses, fall 2009

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 instructor or the authors of our “scholarly” texts, but the students as blog authors/posters).

Overview of the Blog: Some key aspects of this course blog include: the categories and links sections, my “about the categories” page, my active participation on the blog in posting entries and comments, the active participation of other students in posting entries and commenting on other entries, the wide range of ways that students critically engaged with the materials on the blog.

How I used this Blog:

How the students used the blog:

The students and I were able to engage with the blog in so many ways primarily because of the detailed and varied blog assignments they I created. Here is 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 DEBATES: intermediate (3000) level undergraduate lecture course, 44 students, roughly 50-60% have never taken GWSS courses, 3 high school/post secondary students, spring 2010

Brief summary/background: After my success in using the blog so extensively in my queering theory course in the fall, I decided to experiment even more with how to use the blogs in my courses this semester. Admittedly, I was nervous as I thought about how I could use the blog in such a big class. The blog worked well in Queering Theory, but that class was small and filled with very savvy and experienced GWSS students. How could I manage a blog in a class that had so many more students, many of whom were new to the department?  I imagined experimenting with the blog in this type of class would enable me to again push at the limits of what a blog could or should do. Right now, as I give this talk, I have completed 1/3 of the class.

Overview of the blog: Some key aspects of this blog include: the categories and links sections, my pages for “about this blog,” “how to blog, a primer, ” and “blog due dates,” my increased participation in posting entries and comments, the wide range of perspectives on feminism that students offer in their “this is a feminist issue because…” entries, and my approach to managing the large number of students participating on the blog.

How I am using the blog:

How students are/will be using the blog:

Again, what I think is crucial to the students’ involvement on the blog is my detailed assignment and the different ways that they must engage on the blog (as readers and writers). Here is the official assignment for the class, which you can download here:

PART ONE: GENERAL PARTICIPATION     230 points

ENTRIES
3  direct engagement entries
1  example for “this is a feminist issue because…” category
1  agenda

COMMENTS
2  on others’ “this is a feminist issue because…” examples
6  on others’ direct engagement entries
2  your choice

PART TWO: TRACKING YOUR ISSUE      120 points

1 entry on historical background
1 entry on local impact/importance of your issue
2 entries on academic sources
1 entry of your choice
1  entry summarizing tracking

Summary:  In groups of 2 or 3, you are required to track a specific topic related to the larger
issues of the class.  You and your group members will be responsible for tracking (researching,
reading about, following) an issue and then presenting a series of entries in which you
document that tracking. Your tracking entries must all be posted on the Friday before the
week in which we develop agendas for your topic. Your summary entry must be posted
by Monday of the week in which we develop agendas for your topic. The purpose of this assignment is twofold. First, tracking a term related to one of the issues enables you and your group members to learn more about an issue that is important to feminism.  Second, in posting your tracking on our blog and presenting on your findings to the class, you serve as a teacher for the rest of the class, educating on us on why your chosen issue is important and guiding us as we develop feminist agendas.

Just like in my Queering Theory course, I am using a detailed worksheet for students to track their own blog entries and comments. You can download the worksheet here. One important difference between the Queering Theory blog assignments and the blog assignments for this course is that this time, because I had so many more students to contend with, I had to find ways to make the blog manageable (for students reading it and for me grading it). I decided to spread the direct engagements out so that not everyone was posting entries each week. (I should note that this is also different from last year, when I taught Feminist Debates–see the blog for that course here. In that course, students had to post entries 5 times and post comments 5 times.) I divided the class up into 4 groups and then created three 4-week cycles–one week: Entry, another week: Comment, a third week: Comment, a fourth week: Rest).

This strategy has worked well so far. Each group has about 9-12 students in it. That means there are only 9-12 direct engagement entries posted per week and 18-24 comments on those entries. I will have to post an update to this entry after the class is over so that I can discuss whether or not this system ended up being effective.

Teaching with Blogs and Blogging while Teaching, part 1: An Introduction

Note: Today I am giving a talk/workshop on blogging for feminist teaching and research. I have decided to post it as a series of entries on this blog so that it can serve as a virtual handout for those attending the workshop and as a resource for those who couldn’t make it. Another reason I am posting this talk here is that I am experimenting with using the blog, instead of powerpoint, as the format for my lectures and talks. Some of the material in these posts has been posted on other entries on this blog. This is part 1.

Have you ever wanted to use blogs but felt overwhelmed by learning new technologies and techniques? Have you tried using blogs in your classes but found that the students didn’t really engage with the blog or each other? Are you looking for new strategies for implementing feminist pedagogy?

These are just some of the questions that I will be addressing in my talk/workshop on blogs. In addition to discussing why blogs are valuable for both teaching and research, I will provide some strategies for using blogs in the classroom and offer a brief, hands-on tutorial on some blog basics. So, whether you are already using blogs in your classes or you aren’t even sure what a blog is, this workshop is for you!

My Background
I have used blogs in my Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies classes for three years now. Although many of these blogs were not that successful (a few, especially this and this, were great), they have helped me to learn a lot along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely not an expert (or even close). But, I do feel that I have picked up a thing or two about how and, more importantly why, blogs are helpful in classrooms–especially queer and feminist ones. The goal of this workshop/talk is to share some of my experiences using blogs. I am not interested in telling you, “this is how you should blog,” but in sharing my own experiences with blogs and facilitating a reflection (offline and online) on the benefits and drawbacks of blogging in the feminist classroom.

Here is a link list of the blogs that I have created/managed at the University of Minnesota through UThink:

2007
Pop Culture Women

International Feminist Theory

2008
Queering Theory

Rebels, Radicals, Revolutionaries
Introduction to GLBT Studies
Feminist Pedagogies

2009
Contemporary Feminist Debates

Feminist and Queer Explorations in Troublemaking
Feminist Pedagogies
Queering Theory

2010
Feminist Debates
Feminist/Queer/Troublemaking
Queering Desire
Feminist Pedagogies

2011:
Feminist Debates
Politics of Sex
Queer/ing Ethics

In addition to using blogs in my classes, I started writing in my own blog in the summer of 2009. I envisioned it as a tool for writing and teaching, a way to demonstrate and explore connections between my academic training and the “rest of my life,” a way to promote critical thinking and to persistently and passionately argue that it exists everywhere and should be practiced all of the time, and an archive and resource for my own research on troublemaking. For a full explanation, see my “about this site” page. In the summer of 2010, I added two more blogs: It’s Diablogical! A Collaborative Project in Feminist Pedagogy and Unchained.

Why Blog?

Having used blogs in my courses for over three years now, I see how valuable they can be for:

  • Developing connections between class members
  • Enabling students to engage with the material and each other in different ways
  • Encouraging students to really think about and process the readings/course topics
  • Helping all of us to organize our thoughts and ideas
  • Establishing a central location for posting information and handouts
  • Extending the space of engagement and learning beyond the physical classroom
  • Getting the students excited about the class
  • Providing a space for students to track their own ideas and engage in critical thinking, learning, community building and knowledge production

I have found blogs to be particularly helpful in my own development and implementation of feminist pedagogical practices, like:

  • Shifting/reworking who counts as an authority or who can produce/share knowledge
  • Providing students with more ways to engage and express that engagement
  • Enabling students to learn from each other, enabling instructor to learn from students
  • Requiring students to claim more responsibility for the class and how it works/doesn’t work
  • Training students in an important form of technology (access)
  • Giving the instructor more opportunities to engage with students/material and to share their own research/knowledge in creative ways
  • Disrupting the rigid boundaries of the classroom in space and time
  • Encouraging the instructor to experiment with new techniques and strategies
  • Cultivating a space for public scholarship and for connecting with a wide range of people/communities inside and outside of the class and the university

And writing and managing my own blog while teaching has been very valuable for my own scholarship. Writing in this trouble blog has enabled me to:

  • Continue writing and researching while teaching 2 courses per semester
  • Find unexpected connections and develop new directions for research as I critically engage with course materials on my blog
  • Maintain my writing/researching skills as I regularly practice them on my own blog and the blogs for my courses
  • Share my work in progress with other scholars, students, folks outside of the university
  • Archive my findings in a way that is accessible for future work
  • Document my writing/researching/thinking process