Lanny Arvan has a post on Inside Higher Ed called Teaching With Blogs. I am always interested with these kinds of posts, hoping to find some new ideas. I didn’t find many ideas, as such, but I was interested by some of his thoughts.
One idea that struck me was this:
In the teaching, however, at best I could ask the students to blog once a week. I gave the students weekly prompts on the readings or to follow up on class discussion.
My initial response was that he was dead wrong. If the prompts were based on the readings and class discussions, why couldn’t a post be required after every class if you wanted? If you want student blogging to be a weekly activity, that’s fine (although I question whether or not students can really become comfortable with it if that is all they are doing). But I can’t see any reason why blogging has to be relegated to the periphery of the course.
Looking at the posts on the student blog he links to in his article, I can see that these posts were complex enough that it would have been difficult for them to write more than once a week. So my argument is not so much with what Arvan did in the classroom as the way he expressed it in his post.
Arvan goes on to say:
Most of the students were quite awkward in their initial blogging. Good students all, … but lacking experience in this sort of approach to instruction, the students wrote to their conception of what I wanted to hear from them. I can’t imagine a more constipated mindset for producing interesting prose. For this class there was a need for them to unlearn much of their approach which had been finely tuned and was quite successful in their other classes. They needed to take more responsibility for their choices.
This echoes my experience with blogs in my classes. My students are used to writing to please the teacher. They want to get the assignment done so they can go on to the next. They don’t want to invest too much time and energy in the assignment. That doesn’t work in blogging. At least not in decent blogging. I know part of the problem has been with my assignments. But there is an attitude in blogging that I need to help my students acquire.
In moving three of my classes completely away from Blackboard this semester. I am going to have students post most assignments to their blogs. Some will be like discussion board posts. Others will be essays like the ones they have turned in for years, with their names, the course name and the date up in the corner. Some of the assignments, in other words, will be the kinds of things I have always asked my students to write. The only difference will be where and how they turn them in.
I have always felt that somehow I was cheating my students if I had them do the same old assignments but “turn them in” on the blog rather than through Blackboard. Now I am not sure sure. Part of this doubt comes from reading Arvan’s post.
If my students learn to take responsibility for their work, if they try to make a writing assignment something they can be proud of rather than something they do for a grade, I will consider my class to have been a success. I believe that blogging can assist students in both those goals.
My thanks to Lanny Arvan for his post and for making me think through this again this morning!