10 ways to use Weblogs in the Classroom
1. Personal Blogging
You can easily share your opinions, generate discourse, and interact with others. See, for instance, Online News Watch, maintained by Vera Haller of Baruch College.
2. Group Blog
A blog can serve as a vibrant extension of your classroom that allows students to discuss ideas from class, share resources with one another, and draw in outside participants (if you desire). Here are some examples:
Zoe Sheehan’s Digital Design Course: This course used a blog as a platform for sharing digital design, including a rotating header that featured flash animations created by the students in the class.
Writing New York: This is an ongoing project by the Baruch College Journalism Program; three classes have contributed to this blog already.
Leonard Sussman’s Digital Photography: Professor Sussman’s course blog was linked to a Flickr group that allowed students to easily share their digital images with one another through an automated course gallery.
Anthropology/Sociology Faculty Development Group: This was the home blog for faculty members in the Anthropology/Sociology Department who participated in a seminar on teaching with weblogs. Seven individual course blogs are linked from this site.
Cheryl Smith’s English 2100: This was a First Year Writing seminar, where the faculty member had students respond to various prompts, and scaffold and workshop final papers via the blog.
3. An Aggregated Course Blog
If students each have a blog of their own, a faculty member can easily set up a separate blog using the BDP RSS plugin that will compile all student posts into one centralized space. See the following blogs for examples:
- Louise Geddes: English 2800 1 & 2 (individual student blogs are linked from these sites)
- Clifford Wymbs: Marketing 4555 (individual student blogs are linked from this site)
Students can easily adapt a WordPress blog for use as an e-Portfolio. They can store all kinds of media in Posts and Pages, and organize navigation however they choose (for instance, the first page on a blog can be a “static” Page, and the navigation bar can be links to kinds of Posts that are categorized as assignments: Research Papers, Poetry, Multimedia Authoring, Senior Seminar, Photographs, etc.
The flexibility of WordPress can be used to create powerful static websites as well, without using external applications such as Dreamweaver. Faculty can use WordPress as a quick way to create a homepage to publish information about their scholarship, teaching, publications, etc. In the Settings>Reading submemu, you can elect to display a static page rather than blog posts at the front of your blog.
Blogging is a popular way of sorting and sharing links from news sites with students, and carving out a uniqe space for your course to discuss current events.
WordPress offers an excellent platform for creating virtual meeting spaces for completing group projects, and makes collaboration easier. There are many examples of using blogs as such a space, where multiple users can quickly share with one another.
Blogs reduce some of the technical and monetary challenges to creating high-quality online journals, magazines, zines, and numerous other publications. Classes, for example, could create an online journal the present their work to the public.
People can easily share their personal multimedia, such as audio and video, by using WordPress plugins like the Anarchy Media Player or WordTube.
Given how attractive a blog can be, and all the features it affords you —why not use it to create a presentation for a conference that can serve at the same time as a resource for references, ideas, and concepts long after the presentation is over?
Suggestions for Online Writing Assignments
Course weblogs present opportunities and challenges in writing instruction. An instructor must answer a few fundamental questions before assigning online writing.
- How does this assignment fit within the context of the overarching writing/critical thinking/communication goals of my course?
- How will this assignment be assessed?
- Who is the audience for this assignment? Are students writing for their professor? For each other? For a broader audience accessible via the web?
- If students are writing for one another, what strategies can I use to get them to actually read and respond to each others’ posts?
- What kind of options will I give students who are reticent about their writing appearing in a public space, with their names attached?
Here are some suggestions:
Low Stakes Writing Assignments
- Write what you know: early in the semester, give students the opportunity to get comfortable writing in the context of your course with a short assignment in their comfort zone. Have them write an ungraded profile of themselves as a writer or as a student.
- Scaffolding: have students gradually build the elements of a research paper on the blog over the course of the semester. Post 1 could be a list of potential topics; post 2, 2-3 primary sources on a chosen topic; post 3, a research proposal; post 4, a progress report; post 5, a draft of a section of the paper. The benefit of having students do this on a blog is that you can put them into peer editing groups (in Cheryl Smith’s English 2100 class this was done using Categories that each group-member assigned to their particular post. A group could easily sort the class blog posts by clicking on their group Category, effectively reducing the amount of reading required of each student and creating smaller communities within the classroom. Another benefit is that all of this thinking is gathered and preserved in one online space.
- Journals: have every student register for their own blog where they keep a journal of their reactions to class material. Feeds from the individual journals can be aggregated into a unique page, making it easy for members of the class to check in across the journals. Online journals can be used to work out ideas for high-stakes writing assignments, or as a repository for reactions to class material that would be particularly useful as students prepare for exams.
- Embed and Analyze: have students post a YouTube video, an image, or a link to another online resource, and analyze it in relationship to course content.