The Blog Experiment: A Success!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have been experimenting with blog assignments this past semester. While I made the blog a key part of both classes, I really emphasized it in my Queering Theory course. I made the blog/blog-related assignments worth 80% of their grade. The other 20% would be earned through participation/attendance in class.  I remember when I first thought about doing this in August, I was a little nervous. Would students be willing to do the blog? Contrary to popular belief, not all students are tech savvy nor do they embrace technologies like the blog, so I knew that there might be resistance. Well, having completed the semester, I am pleased to write that the blog assignment was a great success. Some of the students were (understandably) resistant, but they all did it–and they did it well. I am extremely proud of my students’ willingness to stretch themselves and to deeply engage with the readings and the ideas of the class. My goal is to write more about the experience in the upcoming weeks. For now, check out my fall 2009 blogs here and here.

Word count: 194 words

Troublemaking and Feminist and Queer Pedagogies: Some Sources

I am fairly certain that I want to devote at least one week to troublemaking and feminist and queer pedagogies this upcoming semester in my Feminist and Queer Explorations in Troublemaking class. But what to include? Here are some sources to consider:

97804159331241. Troubling Education: Queer Activism and Anti-oppressive Pedagogy
by Kevin Kumashiro

I had initially thought about using this in my Feminist Pedagogies course this semester, but ended up going in a different direction. So, why is this book called Troubling Education? The troubling of the title seems to be about more than just education that is in trouble (as in, oppressive, unjust, in need of transformation) or education that makes trouble (as in, challenge, disrupt, transgress). The troubling of the title seems to be about both of these things and, in fitting with this blog, about staying in trouble. Here is what Kumashiro writes in the introduction:

I am curious about what it means to address our resistances to discomforting knowledges, and about what it means to put uncertainties and crises at the center of the learning process (8).

Kumashiro’s goal is to put trouble (in the form of uncertainty and crises) at the center of his own antioppressive pedagogy. Cool. I must read this book soon. I am particularly interested in the final chapter: “Addressing Resistance through Queer Activism.”

97807914732832.  Grappling with Diversity: Readings on Civil Rights Pedagogy and Critical Multiculturalism
Edited by Susan Schramm-Pate and Rhonda B. Jeffries

In this book, the authors are primarily concerned with exploring civil rights pedagogy, tracing how binaries (North/South, black/white, rich/poor) are produced and reinforced, and critically interrogating the concept of privilege. Here are some chapters that sound particularly interesting for the class (and for my own research interests): “Introduction: Imagine No Fences, No Borders, No Boundaries,” “Chapter 3: Horton Hears a Who: Lessons from the Highlander Folk School in the Era of Globalization,” and “Chapter 7: The Impact of Trickster Performances on the Curriculum: Explorations of a White Female Civil Rights Activist.”

97804159898173. Critical Perspectives on bell hooks
Edited by Maria del Guadalupe Davidson and George Yancy

Divided into three key sections, Critical Pedagogy and Practice, The Dynamics of Race and Gender, and Spirituality and Love, this edited collection critically reflects on hooks’ work. In my feminist pedagogies course, we read hooks’ Teaching to Transgress and Teaching Community. I think adding an essay or two from this collection would fit very well with troublemaking. After all, hooks’ notions of talking back and transgressing are forms of making trouble. I have only briefly skimmed the introduction to this collection. What I like so far is their emphasis on critically engaging with hooks’ work instead of merely celebrating it. I also like Michael W. Apple’s articulation of the seven tasks of critical analysis, outlined in the series editor’s introduction:

  1. Bearing witness to negativity: illuminating how policies/practices are connected to exploitation
  2. Pointing to contradictions and spaces of possible action
  3. Redefining research: who does it, how it is done
  4. Not throwing out elite knowledge but reconstructing it to for progressive/transformative aims
  5. Keeping traditions of radical work alive in relation to recognition and redistribution
  6. Relearning and developing of a variety of new skills for working with a wide range of groups and in many different registers
  7. Acting in concert with progressive/social movements

Nice. I have been thinking more about what it means to be a critical thinker: what skills do we need to be critical thinkers? What are the links between troublemaking and critical thinking? What do feminist and queer methodologies offer to critical thinking theories and practices? How can we use feminist and queer pedagogies to teach and practice critical thinking?

Queer Blogging: Some Sources

It is the first week of the semester. In anticipation of my blog experiment in queering theory, we are reading several essays on queer blogging. While I have spent some time thinking about feminist blogging and have read a few articles about the (specifically) feminist possibilities of blogging for teaching/thinking/activism, I have not given that much attention to all of this in relation to queer/queering. For class today, we are discussing: Jill Dolan’s “Blogging on Queer Connections in the Arts and the Five Lesbian Brothers” (2005), Rahul Mitra’s and Radhika Gajjala’s “Queer Blogging in Indian Digital Diaspora: A Dialogic Encounter” (2008), and, if we have time,  Julie Rak’s “The Digital Queer: Weblogs and Internet Identity” (2005). Here are some notes/thoughts about the readings:

Dolan. “Blogging on Queer Connections…”
In this article, which was written in 2005, Dolan discusses her experiences creating and writing in her feminist/queer/arts blog, The Feminist Spectator. The article is divided into three parts. First, Dolan offers some reflections on why she started her blog. Second, she provides, with only a few minor revisions,  an entry from her blog on a performance in New York City by the Five Lesbian Brothers (here is the original entry from her blog). Third and finally, she offers some concluding thoughts (responses and reflections) on her blog entry and on blogging in general.

Initially I chose this article for us to read for a couple of reasons. First, Dolan offers some brief reflections on why blogging is a useful way to write and think which can be helpful as we try to understand how and why we will use the blog in the course. And second, she provides us with an example of blog writing that doesn’t fit the popular image of blog writing as confessional and purely personal (okay, perhaps we should interrogate what we mean by “personal” a bit more…how do we think about personal/”person”/body in relation to Mitra/Gajjala?).

Here are the reasons Dolan gives for why she started her blog:

1. Immediate critical (thinking) writing: A blog allows her to write in a timely fashion (as opposed to waiting 6 months or much more for an academic article or book to be published). And it allows her to write about performances that don’t usually get much attention. The idea of immediate critical writing is something that I also like about the blog. I really appreciate the fact that I can read an article (like this one) and immediately post my critical reactions to it on my blog.

A note of caution: The critical aspect of this process is crucial. Effective blog writing, for Dolan and for me/my course, goes beyond immediately posting every reaction to an idea or article. Effective blog writing requires critical reflection and the filtering and shaping of your reactions into a coherent and focused response.

In her concluding remarks, Dolan cautions against the dangers of immediate writing in her own blog. She writes:

I’ve found, in my very maiden adventures in blogging, that its immediacy lends it to an aura of risk. That is, rather than running my ideas through an intermediary like an editor, I offer them here with much less outside manipulation and consideration. The freedom of such a venue in which to write appeals to me; at the same time, I worry that I’ve been intemperate, already, in my writing here (505).

I agree with this caution. In previous entries, like here, I have talked about the dangers of immediacy, especially for students who are all fired up at 2 AM after reading a particularly problematic article for class. Here was the tentative conclusion that I came to in that entry:

The trick, I think, is to find a way to balance the benefits of immediate access (to expressing ideas, to connecting with others) with the necessity of posting thoughtful, responsible and accountable entries.

Perhaps one way to create this balance is to find ways to remember that blog writing is always for an audience…an audience that we are (whether we recognize it or not) accountable to and responsible for. I briefly talk about blog audiences here.

2. Freedom. Dolan wants to start her blog so that she can write as much as she wants. In her past experiences writing more immediate reviews of non-mainstream performances for small papers/dailies, she was limited to a very short word count. This prevented her from going beyond the “slash-and-burn, 200-word consumer reporting that too often characterizes arts coverage” (August 25, 2005). Because she wants to “stage a more deliberate, extended, generous kind of conversation about things I see at the theater, at the movies, or on television” (August 25, 2005), she wants to be able to write much longer entries.

I like her point here, but I wonder: Does limiting the number of words necessarily lead to a less thought out entry? Is it possible to engage “deeply” and critically with a topic in 200 words or less? On this trouble blog, I have experimented with this possibility (see here). Does it work? I am not sure, but there is something helpful about learning to communicate an idea/concept succinctly.

3. An outside/outsider space. Drawing upon her training and experiences, Dolan wants to write a blog that deals with gender and race and that is written from a queer perspective. Her blog is aimed at those outside of mainstream media. A blog allows her to stay on the outside, to not be (as) concerned with any “mainstream readership” and what they might think or understand about her queer musing on gender/race/identity.

Questions: Is a blog an outsider space? A queer space? If so, how? Is it always outside? Do you see any ways that a blog can/does perpetuate dominate ideologies or participate in oppressive systems?

4. A specific (friendly) audience. Consider what Dolan writes about her ideal audience:

I was looking for a forum to read friends, colleagues, and other sympathetic readers interested in a discussion about the meanings of the arts in this moment in U.S. culture. I think, in fact, I was looking for a place to preach to the converted through a more in-depth discourse about the interrelationship between the arts, identity, and culture (492).

Questions: Is this the type of audience we want to create for our blog? What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing for sympathetic readers? Dolan links the idea of a friendly audience with “preaching to the converted.” Are these two always connected? Is it possible to write for a friendly (that is, not hostile but respectful) audience that is still critical of your ideas and comments? Should the blog be a safe space or something else?

Later in her opening comments, Dolan indicates that her blog is meant to be widely accessible and aimed at “any reader/spectator/practitioner” or “citizen/scholar/artist” who is committed to the arts (493). I really like this term, citizen/scholar/artist, and her description of what she wants to do in her blog.

What do you want to do in our blog? Who do you want to read it? What audiences are you writing for/to/with?

Mitra/Gajjala. “Queer Blogging in Indian Digital Diasporas”
This essay is a “dialogic encounter” between two scholars (one a grad student, the other an associate professor at Bowling Green State) who do research on and participate in “queering in the Indian digital diaspora” (400). The tone is very different from Dolan and so is the focus. Whereas Dolan looks at her own (individual) experiences of creating and writing in a blog about performance and art, Mitra and Gajjala weave their own performances of blogging (by interjecting entries/comments into their essay) together with other bloggers’ entries and comments and with theorizing about queer Indian identity/blogging, power, and blogs as spaces of situated practice.

Situated Practices: Dolan is focused (almost exclusively) on writing about her own blogging as the (somewhat situated) practice of an individual critical thinker/spectator/graduate program director in the U.S. who writes about peformance and writes to others who value/engage in exploring arts and their meanings in U.S. culture. In her concluding remarks, she does offer a few cautionary words, but her overall tone reflects hope and excitement about the possibilities that blogging opens up for citizen/scholar/artists like her. Mitra and Gjjala are focused on providing a space for thinking about/reflecting on both queer blogging and “the negotiation of online queer Identity” (402). Their intent is not to celebrate the blog as a liberating space for oppressed populations to express themselves, but to examine “how queer/GLBT presences are manifested in blog spaces” (402). And they want to present/perform their own researching and writing of their article as the situated practice of queer bloggers/researchers who are (re)negotiating institutional power in relation to dichotomies of public vs. private, offline vs. online and person (as identity/Queer) vs. practice (non-normative sexual practices).

Personal and the Person: Dolan is interested in distancing her own version of blogging, what she calls “ruminations” and “think pieces” on arts and culture, from the personal (that is, confessional and self-revelatory) online journal writing that she imagines dominates much of the blog writing currently online. Mitra and Gajjala are interested in paying careful attention to how queer performativity as public gets separated from queer sexual practices as private. They are wary of the validation of the Person (as a Queer identity/Subject) over practices (of that queer person) and the promotion of the web as queer because it allows disembodied performances where no one knows who you are or what you do (401). They write:

In this article, we post this question implicitly while further examining the implications of the private and public separations that lead to the separating of sexual practice from queer practice so that particular queered speech and performativity are placed in the public space and expected to stand in for queer formations while specific situated queer practice is shifted to the invisible private space still not to be revealed for fear of consequence (411).

In considering this question, they want to attend to the specific ways that persons (particularly queer Indian bloggers) negotiate power online and offline. They devote the second half of their article to a discussion of three different ways that the dichotomy (public/private; Person/practice; online/offline) gets constructed and reinforced: 1. offline marginalization–can they be “out” and visible as queer? acceptance as Queer as long as queer acts are invisible (414-415), 2. online queer representation–issues of access to technology, to language, to proper queer behavior (415-417), 3. Being anonymous–confession and highly individualized construction of self and readership online (417-419).

Blogging and the Individual: This brings us to the individual and to Julie Rak’s article, “The Digital Queer.” In addition to giving a helpful overview of the history of blogging, Rak provides a detailed discussion of the rhetoric of queer blogging (this is something that Mitra and Gajjala take up explictly at the end of their article). Her main argument: blogging = some form of liberalism which = the Individual (their value and rights) + freedom of expression (172). In this equation, bloggers are individuals who are able, through technology, to freely express themselves and communicate to a wide range of others. They can do so anonymously (173), and while deliberately and carefully negotiating the public and private (173-174). Their blog posts are intended to honestly and accurately represent who they are; the blog allows them to be “real” (174-175). Their blog posts also enable them to connect with other, like-minded bloggers.

Rak sees two problems with this liberal ideology for queer blogging/bloggers. First, in representing themselves as a “real” individual who deliberately negotiates the web, bloggers are reinforcing their own (blog/queer) identity as essential and fixed. This identity gets further reified through the process of categorization and the classifying of specific blogs as “queer.” Rak writes:

The act of classification is a social act in the blogger community that works to create recognizable subjects who do not shift. Therefore, queer blogging does not feature the kind of subjectivity described in queer theory or in cyberculture studies as these areas have been influenced by postmodernist ideas about identity (177).

Second, the reification of Queer (as an identity, as a category for blogs) flattens out the differences between those who identify as queer and engage in queer practices. And it focuses (almost exclusively) on the practices of one version of queer experience–living in the U.S., American, English-speaking, located in large urban area, left-wing or liberal in political beliefs. For Rak, it seems, queer blogging is a privileged activity (179-180, also cited in Mitra/Gajjala, 420). This particular queer experience also seems to be conservative in terms of sexual identity, sexual practice and writing style. None of the blogs that Rak read experimented with representation in a “postmodern” way (what does she exactly mean by this?) (179).

Rak concludes her essay by discussing how the technical process of categorizing/classifying blogs through keywords contributes to the lack of differences among/between queer bloggers.

Questions: What are the politics of keywords and tag clouds? Are they useful or problematic or both? How could we use tag clouds to organize our blog in ways that don’t overemphasize similarities at the expense of differences?

How can blogger/bloggers experiment with the representation of themselves in a “postmodern” and/or queer way? What might a “queer” subject (not just in terms of content but in terms of subject formation/representation) look like?

Blog Assignment: An Experiment

So, the semester begins next week and I am in the process of actually crafting (as opposed to only thinking about) a blog assignment for my Queering Theory course. Since I have spent so much time this summer using the blog, I have decided to really go for it and make the blog an integral part of the course. Here is my description of the blog assignment as it appears in my syllabus:

Class Participation 20%
Blog Entries 20%
Blog Active Engagement 20%
2 Presentations (2 @ 10% each) 20%
Final Wrap-up 20%

Assignment Description
The bulk of your assignments this semester (blog entries, blog participation, 2 presentations and your final wrap-up) will be organized around the development of and participation in our class blog. Once we have worked out the details together in the first and second weeks of class, I will distribute and post on our blog a more detailed handout.

By the third week of course you will be required to pick one of the suggested topics related to queer and queering theory. These topics are listed at the end of this description. You will be responsible for tracking this term throughout the course of the semester. By tracking I mean that you will be required to pay particular attention to your topic as you are reading, discussing and thinking about queering theory. You will be required to post weekly entries in which you critically reflect on your topic and: a. how it is addressed in our readings or discussions or b. how it is relevant to current events or c. how it is represented within popular culture (television shows, movies, music, on the internet). You are encouraged to be creative in your tracking of the term. You can draw on a wide range of sources and post your blog entries in many different forms.

In addition to posting your own entries, you are required to actively read other blogs and other students’ entries. Your active engagement will come in the form of commenting on other blogs, creating links within your own entries, and incorporating comments from other entries/blogs into your in-class participation.

Each of the suggested topics is explicitly related to the readings for one class session. You are required to do one brief (roughly 10 minute) presentation on your topic on the day that we are explicitly reading about and discussing it. You are also required to do one (slightly) longer presentation on your topic/blog participation in the last week of the course. Details about your presentation (including the date of your first presentation) will be listed in the detailed handout.

Finally, you are required to submit a final wrap-up on your experiences tracking your chosen topic and on helping to develop and participate in the blog. This wrap-up can come in the form of a lengthy blog entry (or series of entries) or a separate (more formal) reflective essay. Please see me if you have other thoughts on how to organize/develop/articulate your reflective thoughts on your topic and your experience with the blog.


This trouble blog serves, at least partly, as an inspiration for the assignment. I have found tracking the term “trouble” through readings, popular culture, and current events to be extremely helpful in organizing my thoughts and enabling me to engage in critical thinking from a feminist and queer perspective. Hopefully, the students will also find it useful to track their terms throughout the semester.

I have decided to work out some of the details, like how many entries and what kind of entries, with the students in the first couple of class sessions. But, how? In the past, I have found that giving students too much of a say without guidelines or structure to be too overwhelming for them (whether they are first years just starting college or grad students who are almost finished with their course work). So, I need to give them some concrete options for how to complete the assignment (that’s something that I will be working on today).

Note about active engagement: In the third entry in my feminist pedagogy and blogging series, I raised the question of how to create assignments that assess the amount of engagement (active or silent) that students are having with the class blog and with other related blogs. I think I have come up with some tentative strategies for assessment in my syllabus description that will enable students to demonstrate their engagement in a number of different ways. Again, here is my description:

In addition to posting your own entries, you are required to actively read other blogs and other students’ entries. Your active engagement will come in the form of commenting on other blogs, creating links within your own entries, and incorporating comments from other entries/blogs into your in-class participation.

As I have mentioned in earlier entries, the usual way in which to assess (and encourage/demand) student participation in other students’ entries is to require a certain number of posts per semester. Last year in one of my courses, I required that the students do 10 blog assignments altogether, with 5 of them being comments on other students’ posts. This approach was fairly successful; it generated a lot of participation by students and helped foster a strong sense of class community. But after reading Sarah Hurlburt’s comments about the invisible/silent reader here (and which I discuss here), I began to wonder about what other possibilities might exist for encouraging students to actively participate (and really read/reflect on others’ entries) on our blog. I am excited about my above description because I think it does offer alternative ways to participate. Instead of requiring students to always comment on each other’s blog entries, they can demonstrate that they have read (and have really thought about) them by incorporating ideas/thoughts from those entries into their own entries (with proper citing, of course) or into their comments in class. Hopefully this will expand the opportunities for students to actively engage and lessen their anxiety about coming up with an insightful comment.

My own experiences writing in my blog this summer, particularly my failure to post very many comments on other blogs that I have been reading and my dismay at the shockingly poor quality of  blog comments on many blogs and news sites (especially newspapers–hey, Star Tribune, I am talking to you), prompted me to really think about the usefulness of comments. Do they create community? Well, they can but often don’t. Do they demonstrate a rich engagement with the ideas of the original entry? Sometimes, but not always. Should they be the only way to engage in a blog as a reader (as opposed to a writer)? No. At some point, I would like to write more about how comments function (and fail to function). Until then, here is an interesting take on blog/web comments and the failure of internet discussion.

Feminist Pedagogy and Blogging, part 3

In my last entry on feminist pedagogy and blogging (part 2) I wrote about how it is helpful to spend some time at the beginning of the semester explaining/demonstrating how (and why) to use the blog. I also wrote about why it is important to make blog posts (new entries and comments) a requirement of the class. In this entry I want to reflect on how to make blogs a requirement by exploring possible blog assignments.

Now I have been using blogs in my courses since Spring of 2007–nine blogs total. While some blogs have been successful, many have also failed. Perhaps part of the problem is that I haven’t given enough attention to thinking about how best to craft assignments that get students excited about using the blog and that most effectively utilize the potential of blogging for feminist pedagogy and the feminist classroom.

I think that one of the most important things to remember when putting together a blog assignment is the same thing you need to remember when putting together any assignment for your course: Always spend some time really thinking about what goals you want to achieve and what purpose you want the assignment to serve. I found a great site–Weblogs: A Powerful Tool for Educators–that offers many helpful tips for thinking about the pedagogy behind blogs.  In addition to offering lots of reasons why to use the blog (develops critical thinking/reading/writing skills, gives students a voice and a forum in which to express that voice, fosters community, is an important source of knowledge construction), this site discusses the different types of instruction that blogs support, including: a. knowledge centered, b. learner centered, and c. community centered.

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. While it is not the only purpose of this blog, collecting examples of trouble and of books/articles/interviews on trouble is central to TROUBLE.

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 functions 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?

Picture 2This site also offers a chart that distinguishes between blogs for reading and blogs for writing, and between self, instructors, other students and the rest of the web. One thing that I like about this chart (even though it is not the prettiest one I have seen) is that it identifies/represents the different purposes and functions of the blog. And it makes a difference between the blogger-as-writer and the blogger-as-reader. Since the course blog is not just about getting students to write essays-as-entries but to read what others (in the class and around the web) are writing, this distinction is key for developing a wide range of assignments that tap into the potential of course blogs for the classroom. Blog assignments (and assessment of students’ participation on the blog) should not always be developed around the student-as-writer (even though this is a key element). It is also helpful to think about assignments that assess (and draw upon) students-as-readers. One way I have done this in past semesters is by requiring students to comment on each others’ blogs. But, is this the only way to ensure that student closely read each others’ entries?

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. I find Hurlburt’s essay to be helpful (especially her distinction between blog assignments that are on the web but could just as easily be in another form and blog assignments that depend on the interactive/networking nature of the web to function properly) but it seems to lack specific examples. When she poses the question, “are there other ways beside comment quotas to enforce student reading?,” she only tentatively answers this question by suggesting that we need to think about visible and silent readers. And she offers no specific alternatives to quotas. So, what are some ways to assess the participation of silent readers? Hmmm….I need to think about this question some more. Perhaps incorporating the blogs into class discussion might help here?

In the process of writing this entry (and of reviewing these sources: here and here), I have come up with a tentative way in which to incorporate the blog into my Queering Theory course. Now, I still have a lot of thinking to do on this assignment, but it might just work. Modeling the assignment after my own blog, I want students to take a theme/concept/term that comes up a lot in queering theory and then track it/trace it/reflect on it throughout the semester–like what I am doing with trouble. Students could track the term through our various readings (how is it addressed/not addressed by our authors?), our discussions, their own research beyond our class readings (how is this term discussed in essay “x” or “y”?) and the popular imagination (representations of it in the media? connections between it and current events?). They would be required to submit weekly entries and present on their findings at some point during the semester. Instead of having one paper due at the end of the semester, they would be evaluated throughout the semester for their continued research on their chosen topic. And, somehow, I want to add in an interactive component–they have to read other students’ blogs on a regular basis? Maybe they should pick a few of the other projects and follow them throughout the semester? I am not quite sure how (or if) this will work yet. More to come…

And, two more questions: What specifically does blogging have to offer feminist pedagogy and the feminist classroom? What makes it feminist teaching as opposed to just good teaching? While I have titled the three entries in this series, “Feminist Pedagogy and Blogging,” I have failed to effectively respond to these questions. I hope that my reflection on this question will happen in the fourth entry in this series.