Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Meta-Blogging 6. Using Blogs in Classrooms

I've been meaning for awhile to track down the posts of Eszter ( the most under-appreciated contributor to Crooked Timber) on requiring her students to maintain blogs in her classes. Here is her syllabus for her undergrad "Internet and Society" course. Sample:

Blog portfolio

Your blog portfolio makes up 25 percent of your final grade. You will submit a blog portfolio by 10am Monday March 7th, 2005. Your blog portfolio will include:
- 5 blog posts
- a list of all blogs on which you posted comments throughout the quarter

Five blog posts: Print-outs of five blog entries from your blog from throughout the quarter. It is up to you to choose the entries you think are of the highest quality.
Five comments: Print-outs of five comments you made on other people's blogs. It is up to you to choose comments that you think best engaged in discussions with others in the class. List of blogs on which you commented: A list of all blogs and post titles by classmates on which you posted comments throughout the quarter.

It's probably important to point out to anyone reading this who is not a teacher that such "journal" requirements are not at all uncommon. Many university level courses now have online components, although my class online message-boards are heavily encrypted (and slow). What is different about the blogging format is its publicness. Eszter's syllabus has some wonderful assigned readings, many of which are hyperlinked.

She posts publicly on the course project twice: once at the beginning of the project, where she thinks through some of the issues that such an assignment might entail:
As to why require blogs in the first place, here are some reasons. First, I like the idea of asking student to keep journals. It is hard to get students to do class readings, but requiring constant reaction to the readings and discussions should help. Second, I think asking students to maintain blogs will help convey some points to them about the potential of the Web to help people reach wide audiences. Of course the particular point there is that simply having a Web site in no way guarantees that someone suddenly has a wide-reaching public voice. But I think this will be easier to convey if students experience it first hand. On the other hand, the blogs will be public and it may be that people not associated with the class find them, read them and comment on them, which could be an interesting experience for students. (I have specific plans in mind to encourage such outside involvement.) Finally, knowing that one’s peers are reading one’s writing seems to encourage more serious reflection on the part of students than simply handing in assignments to an instructor so the overall quality of writing should be higher. That’s more of a hunch than a claim I can back up by any systematic evidence.

At this point she isn't quite sure how to reconcile the privacy rights of students with publicness, and so her tentative plan is to suggest that they use pseudonyms.

At around the middle of the semester, she writes again about how the assignment panned out in practice. Sample quote:
Judging from midterm feedback, it sounds like most students are enjoying the blogging experience although some find commenting on others’ blogs a bit tedious. At the same time others find it disappointing that they are not getting more feedback so it’s hard to satisfy everyone. Having students blog about the readings is certainly helpful for an understanding of how they are processing the material. Their blog entries have guided discussion in several class sessions.

Rereading this post I understand that Eszter is hoping that the Crooked Timber readership will go and read her students' blogs and respond to their thoughts. It seems that perhaps her students had thought that opening a public forum (after all that anxiety over making oneself public and all that) would let the barbarians in--but the barbarians didn't show up, of course.

Having briefly visited about six of Eszter's students' sites, I can say that posters maintained pseudonyms, that few of them continued posting after February, and that they all have better website design skills than I do.

Eszter promised the CT community a final write-up about the blogging-in-class experience, a promise which, to my knowledge, she has never delivered upon. Color me interested.

And, as Eszter herself hasn't publicized it, I'd like to draw my five readers' attention to her new blog, Web Use News, which tracks trends in online behavior and social organization. Eszter is particularly up on the research relating to search-engines and the way they pattern knowledge; this post demonstrates what kinds of findings this research can offer.


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