A blogging breakthrough?

As I have chronicled in my teaching with blogs section, I have been experimenting over the past year (yes, I have been writing in this blog for almost a year–May 12th is my one year anniversary!) with the blog as a writing and teaching tool. Ever since giving my workshop on “teaching with blogs and blogging while teaching” this past February, I have given special attention to thinking about how to use a blog entry as the foundation for and content of my in-class discussions. I imagine it as an alternative to powerpoint. Why, you may ask, do we need an alternative to powerpoint? Unlike many others, I am not strongly opposed to power point. But for some reason, I have never been compelled to use it. It doesn’t seem to fit with how my brain works or how I want to present and discuss images/video clips, etc. (Note: I am not ruling out powerpoint and am open to suggestions on how to use it effectively. Any thoughts?)

I plan to write extensively about my experiences with course blogs this summer. For now I want to highlight a few entries from this week that have been particularly successful and productive; entries that inspired me to think that I might just be experiencing a blogging breakthrough.

Example One: Thoughts about Happiness, the Unhappy Archives, Gidget, the trouble with dinner, and putting the hap back in happiness

This entry was used as the format for a discussion of Sarah Ahmed’s recent work on happiness in my graduate class on troublemaking (feminist and queer explorations in troublemaking). I used the entry:

  • to reference my own writing on Ahmed and happiness (from this blog)
  • to highlight particular passages from the readings (and questions that I want to discuss)
  • to connect the current readings with concepts/ideas/readings discussed earlier in the semester
  • to post video clips that allowed for further engagement/explanation/complication of some key themes in the readings

I found this format to be a lot of fun (to create and discuss). I am particularly proud of how well the two video clips worked with and against Ahmed’s idea of the feminist killjoy and her discussion of the killing of joy (and the exposing of bad feelings) at the dinner table. I have wanted to do something with Debbie Downer for a while now, ever since I suggested that J Butler might be one in my entry on grief. And I love how bringing in these video clips allowed me to approach the material in a different way–and bring in our discussion about humor and comedy from earlier in the semester.

Example Two: A Feminist Response to the Arizona Immigration Bill (SB1070)

This entry was used as the format for a discussion about the Prison Industrial Complex and “protection: for whom? and at what cost?” in my mid-level undergraduate feminist debates class. The class met this past Tuesday, just days after Gov. Brewer had signed SB1070. The topic of immigration rights, the PIC, and problematic claims of “protection” and “safety” seemed to fit very well with the bill and how it was being discussed by a wide range of bloggers and media outlets, so I decided to make this entry the focus of our class. I used this entry:

  • to provide some context and more information about the bill by summarizing parts of the bill and the discussions surrounding it, and by posting a wide range of links–including a link to the actual bill and to Gov. Brewer’s explanation of it
  • to offer a brief overview of some critical responses to the bill and the implications of it for people living and working in Arizona
  • to connect the reading to an important recent issue and allow students to apply their growing knowledge of feminist critiques of the PIC to current events
  • to post a video clip that encourages students to be curious and to think critically about current events and how they are represented within the news (or the “fake news”–can we call The Colbert Report fake news?)
  • to provide a space, and an example, that could enable students to revisit all of the issues we discussed during the semester and that would encourage them to be curious about the bill

All in all, I think I am figuring out some productive ways for using the blog for my presentation and discussion of key ideas and concepts. In past classes, I have relied (a lot) on extensive handouts. This requires using a lot of paper (especially in classes with 40+ students) and can be overwhelming (and let’s face it, boring) for students. Blog entries enable me to document my notes/ideas/reflections without wasting paper and in a way that is engaging and interesting for many (most?) of the students and for me.

One thing that happened in both classes that I thought was interesting (and cool) was that I didn’t merely read the blog entry from top to bottom. In both classes we jumped around, oftentimes coming back to material again and again. In the feminist debates class the students said several times, “can you scroll back up…I want to talk about how the language was used here or about the idea there…”. The format of the blog made it easy to go back and forth and back again. It also enabled me to jump around, click on links, and bring up new information that related to students’ comments.

One more random thought for today: Does anyone else have problems with boring group (or individual) presentations that seem unfocused and not well-thought out, and that rely too much on powerpoint? This semester in my feminist debates class, I encouraged students to give their very brief presentations directly off of their blog entries (which were a required part of the assignment). So far, the presentations this semester have been more interesting than past classes. A little late in the game (which always happens when I am experimenting), I realized that I should encourage this format even more and give them a sample format. So I posted this entry earlier today. I think that I might require students to use the blog for their presentation next year. I might even provide them with one or two possible formats to use. By making it a structured requirement, I might increase my chances for getting better presentations (that present the material more effectively and that are more interesting). Hmmm….

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