Those of you familiar with cac.ophony, the Schwartz Communication Institute’s blog, know that our Fellows consistently offer intelligent, insightful commentary on a host of topics including, teaching, technology, communication, culture and media. Below is a recent post on teaching with blogs by Hillary Miller, which has gotten a fair share of attention, including a couple of plugs on Prof. Hacker, a new, high-volume, high-profile blog on teaching and technology. Hillary’s instructive and provocative post, entitled “Lessons from a First-Time Course Blogger,” is reproduced below.
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I’m finally looking back to Spring ’09, when I had my first experience using Blogs@Baruch in two sections of COM1010, Intro to Speech Communications. I used the blog for the midterm, in which students write critiques of speeches they’ve found online. In past semesters, students have been inventive in their speech choices and committed in their critiques. But the question of how to best enable their classmates to see these videos still lingered. Curious about Blogs@Baruch, I decided to migrate this assignment onto a blog, allowing students to watch (and comment upon) each other’s videos and share their critiques of the speeches. Having learned from the adventure, here are a few words of advice to potential Blogs@Baruch-ers.
1. It’s not difficult. Considering the gong show of Blackboard’s tech problems this semester, it was almost comical how smoothly the blog functioned. A handful of students ran into some problems accessing it at certain computers, but often I found that problems encountered by students were frequently due more to lack of time and preparation on their part than any issue with the blog itself.
2. Don’t be conservative! I was. As one of my students told me at the end of the semester, “the blog was just there.” It wasn’t as dynamic as it could have been, in part because I didn’t use it to capture anything in progress. Students cut and pasted their work onto the blog, and then made the requisite comment on a post, creating a static space outside of the classroom, not a particularly engaging one. While it was satisfying to see this vast collection of interesting video clips assembled in one place—along with frequently cogent, in-depth analyses of them—I see now that I used the blog to solve a problem (that of my midterm assignment) rather than tailoring it for uses that would really suit the nature of the blog. Recent conversations with my students and others have highlighted a range of ways that it could be used in an Introductory Speech course– sharing audio files or outlines of student speech drafts that could be revised as the “audience” comments. On a related note, the public forum really does elicit strong work. When students feel the watchful eyes of their peers, the bar is set somewhere different. This makes my mouth water for the possibilities of the course blog—like facilitating peer review, for example—that I didn’t explore.
3. Be forewarned: out of sight, out of mind. In part due to #2 above, the blog can feel like that side dish you ordered but weren’t quite hungry for. It’s easy to lose track of the blog, and its implementation should be planned with an eye towards avoiding this. Usually, the material nature of grading compels you to eventually plop down on a long train ride and hit it out of the park. With the blog, not so easy. I had good intentions—I wanted to comment on posts frequently, but commenting is time-consuming, especially if students are posting 40-minute inauguration speeches. This in turn leaves less time to evaluate the work for grading purposes. From the student side, they were assigned a date for one post; once students posted, they didn’t have a strong incentive to return, which would leave me begging them to “visit the blog!” when I myself was embarrassingly behind on reading their old posts.
4. Students might be less excited about instructional technology than you are. (…How to get them more excited is part of the task.) Take ‘tagging,’ for example—it was harder than I might have imagined getting the ‘tagging’ to happen. Some assume that the ‘Sidekick generation’ will tag as if it were natural as breathing. Not so– every nineteen-year-old might know how to search YouTube, but they’re not all writing Facebook applications or even their own blogs. Making some class time available to teach students the rhyme and reason behind some aspects of the blog is arguably essential, and yet somehow easy to overlook.
5. Students love Pacino. As in past semesters, his speeches were cited with a remarkable frequency, rivaled only by Randy Pausch. This is perhaps not a surprise, since the first hit from googling “inspirational speech” is Pacino’s “peace by inches” monologue from Any Given Sunday, but still. City Hall has a less predictable—and arguably far better—dramatic monologue that I’m glad one of my students spread around.
I’ll end here with a question. As Luke articulated so well in his WordCampEd post, these open source technologies are blessedly DIY. But I can’t help feeling a little protective of the adjunct in this discussion– don’t adjuncts “do it themselves” enough? Can the full potential of Instructional Technology really be unleashed with the real limitations of the adjunct labor force operating in higher education? I’m in a distinctly lucky position as a dual-hatted Communications Fellow and adjunct; working with people jazzed and knowledgeable about these technologies has taught me tremendous amounts about how to use it and why. But how will Jane Q. Adjunct learn about the potential of a course blog, after tearing her hair out over Blackboard for months and missing the departmental meeting that announced a later workshop about blogs, all time she’s not paid for? How will Jane Q. Adjunct get excited about the potential of these tools, and why will she motivate to prioritize the time required to integrate them thoughtfully and productively in her course?