Notes on Class Blogging

I’ve just posted what follows on Machine, the aggregator blog from this semester’s Theories of New Media class. I’d asked the class to post concluding thoughts thinking about the blog exercise, what they’d gotten out of it, how it affected their writing, what they wish had happened differently, and so forth. Their comments provoked some of my own thoughts on what worked and what didn’t, and particularly on what I’ll do differently next time.

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I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you once again for making this semester such a good one; this was a thoroughly exciting class for me, one I’ve wanted to teach for some time. You managed, through your insights, your participation, your blogs, and your amazing final projects, to make the class even better than I’d hoped it could be.

Okay, so the blog thing wasn’t perfect, but I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the process from all of you, and in that sense, the experiment paid off. And it’ll work better next time out, in no small part because I’ve figured out that I need to do several things:

1. Make the $&#$*@! aggregator aggregate comments as well as posts. It was massively frustrating to me, as well, not to be able to track conversations without going individually to 27 different blogs. The other option would be to activate comments directly within the aggregator blog, and have the commenting happen there rather than in your own blog spaces — that I actually could have done this semester, but I wanted your own blogs to have an individuality and integrity to themselves, to stand on their own. Hopefully by the time I do this again, the feed plugin will have been updated, and I’ll be able to aggregate comments, too.

2. Make some of the reasons why you’re bothering with this blogging thing more explicit. My hope was that you guys would just experiment with it, read some other blogs, figure out what kinds of options for entries there were for yourselves, and write what you wanted within your own blogs. This was the reason why I said that one post each week needed to be a reading response, but that the other could be whatever you wanted; I wanted you to feel free to take your blog in whatever direction you saw fit. Some Girl wrote in her meta-blogging post that she wanted more of a sense of what “taking the blog seriously” meant — and that’s certainly fair — but for me, taking it seriously only meant attempting to tease out for yourself what it was supposed to be. (Alas, our educational system doesn’t exactly prepare us for “do whatever you want, but take it seriously.” *Sigh.*)

3. But make the expectations I actually do have really clear. Like that I do want you to read one another’s posts, and to comment on them. Like that I want you to find other blogs that we all ought to be reading, and post links to them. Like that I expect us to behave like a community, both on and off-line. The purpose of the anonymity was not that you shouldn’t know who the other posters are, but rather that you’re protected from future unwanted googlings. Perhaps blogging under initials, or first names only?

4. Provide more frequent quickie tech sessions throughout the semester. In fact, I’m hoping that I can design some such sessions during my leave this spring, 15-minute quick excursions into HTML or CSS or whathaveyou. If there are particular things that it would have been good, let me know and I’ll try to work something up for future generations.

These are the things I know I’ll do a bit differently next time, things I can see right off the bat. There are undoubtedly others.

But here’s the beauty part of the blogging thing, for me: back when I was in grad school, first teaching in networked environments, using bulletin boards and listservs and the like, there was all of this rhetoric circulating about how the internet was helping to create “the 24-hour classroom,” in which discussions could continue after hours, whenever some random thought struck. Mostly, in my experience, this has been oversold — I’ve had classes that have had some good online conversations, but not many. But this one has worked, far better than I could have expected, and far better than I think some of you realize yet. In what class that you’ve taken here did conversations continue after the last day of class? And yet here we are.

Which is the impetus for my final three notes to you: First, I’m leaving the aggregator up. Any of you who care to continue your conversations should by all means do so. I’d love to check in from my leave and see what you’re up to, how ideas from class are continuing to play out for you.

Second, you should all feel free to visit me at Planned Obsolescence. Many of you already are, of course. But comment. Let me know you’re there.

Finally, comments on this post are open (click on this post’s title to get to the comment page); any further thoughts on this blogging thing, and how I can improve it next time out, would be much appreciated…

One thought on “Notes on Class Blogging

  1. Most of the time I use blogging in my classes, my students have the same responses as yours–especially re: expectations and “taking it seriously.”

    The first time I had students blog (a couple of years ago), I was very open-ended about it. The result was that my students felt like they were trying to nail jell-o to a wall, and so they demanded assignments from me, which was fine, but to my mind defeated the purpose, which was to get them to see this new technology as a means of broadening their own intellectual engagements beyond the classroom or the university.

    I only use blogs in one class now–a writing center tutor training course–and only in it because I want to maintain a running “journal” from year to year as I train these tutors. These students have the same issues. They want assignments. They want direction. Word lengths. Topics. They find it immensely frustrating that I want them to take the initiative and engage in this activity on their own; some of them are even a little offended.

    I keep wondering whether this thing they do is actually “blogging” or whether it’s something else. That is, if you take a normally voluntary behavior and require people to engage in it, it ceases to be voluntary–doesn’t it lose something? Doesn’t it become something else?

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