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.


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
Annotated bibliographies
“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”
Comments posted on direct engagement OR annotated bibliography entries.
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:


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

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


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.