August 6, 2004
Many people teach with blogs these days, and there are a number of approaches. For example, Liz Lawley’s mt courseware helps one make a cool, faculty-authored blog out of the course website. (A nice example of this in use is Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s Computer and Text.)
I used blogs with my students in Spring 2003 (I didn’t teach during 2003-04, instead opting for the carefree life of the “Traveling Scholar”). My approach to teaching with blogs was a bit different, organizing the class blogging around a mini-blogsphere (each student having an independent blog, for which the course might be one of many subjects blogged). I’ve never written it up before, but now have in preparation for the Blogging Tutorial that Matt Webb and I are doing in sunny Santa Cruz, CA next week.
My goal last year (or really in late 2002, when we did the technical work) was to create an approach to blog courseware that assumed students were full members of blogging communities. Here’s a breakdown of the approach.
First, Brown installed MovableType (this was before the controversy). Each student got an MT blog. This blog wasn’t tied to the class (under a class directory, or only for the life of the class). Instead, each student was given a blog tied to their Brown username, which it was agreed they could keep until graduation (whatever Brown thought of our blogging experiment).
Second, each student blog was given a set of categories. If students had already had blogs before class began, these categories could have been added to their existing blogs:
- ewriting: agenda item – outside reading
- ewriting: agenda item – student assignment(s)
- ewriting: assignment submission
- ewriting: general discussion / announcement
- non-ewriting (for students who did not create other categories)
Third, an aggregator (Blagg) was used to pull category-specific RSS feeds from each of the student blogs, and my faculty blog. (My faculty blog had a category for “ewriting: assignments” as well as the “general discussion / announcement” category.) Then we created a blog that displayed all the class’s blog posts in that category in one place. So the aggregation-driven blogs, as you might imagine, were:
- EWRITING | AGENDA: READING
- EWRITING | AGENDA: STUDENT WORK
- EWRITING | SUBMISSIONS
- EWRITING | GENERAL
- EWRITING | ASSIGNMENTS
- EWRITING | ALL (which included the posts in all ewriting categories)
This approach allowed blogging to be integrated into the rhythm of the class and take up a number of the course management functions. It worked like this:
- I would post each week’s work to my blog, under the “ewriting: assignments” category. Students could look at the “EWRITING | ASSIGNMENTS” blog to see all the assignments to date. Students could also comment and ask questions about the assignments. The work each week included:
- reading work by outside authors,
- reading work by other students in the class,
- doing their own creative work, and
- developing two agenda items for the in-class discussion: one item for the discussion of outside readings, one for the discussion of student work.
- Students would post their assignments to the “ewriting: assignment submission” category of their blog two days before class. This would give other students time to read it and make comments. (And comment they did.) Students could look at the “EWRITING | SUBMISSIONS” blog to see all the submissions that had come in so far.
- Six hours before class was the deadline for students to submit their agenda items for class discussion (using the appropriate categories).
- In class, each phase of the conversation would begin by opening the appropriate aggregation blog (“EWRITING | AGENDA: READING” and “EWRITING | AGENDA: STUDENT WORK”). We would look over the headlines of the agenda items and choose one of them to start with. Sometimes we’d follow the link to that item (if there was something special on the blog page) or just ask the student to elaborate a bit. We’d make sure we hit each agenda item before the end of the discussion. (Of course, had the workshop been larger, students might have only been assigned agenda items in each category every other week.)
- The “EWRITING | GENERAL” aggregated blog also hosted some fun link-sharing (especially, as it turned out, of things people had mentioned in class and others had wanted to know more about).
There was only one hitch, which you might encounter if you try something like this. We couldn’t get the MovableType plugin for Blagg to work. So we had to write to the MT aggregation blogs using Blagg’s Blogger plugin and MT’s support for the Blogger API.
Of course, it might all be done a bit differently these days (different blog software, different aggregator, etc). And I imagine others have taken different approaches to using blogs for courseware which are similar — that is, predicated on the assumption that each student has a blog that can exist independent of the course (so, the course is one of the student blog’s subjects, but not the only one). As I gear up for teaching again in the Fall (and for the aforementioned tutorial) I’d be eager to hear folks’ thoughts.