Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

class blogs

On Twitter this morning I asked for thoughts on how best to run a class blog, and replies are coming in. People are reminding me of Mark Sample's excellent post on "blog audits," and are tossing around other ideas too.
When I set up blogs for class I tell students that there are five kinds of participation they can engage in:
    • Offering an interpretation of something we've read;
    • Asking a question about something we've read;
    • Linking to, quoting from, and responding to online articles or essays about what we're reading;
    • Providing contextual information — biographical, historical, whatever — about the authors we're reading and their cultural and intellectual worlds;
    • Commenting on the posts of their fellow students.
    One question I have is whether I should value some of these kinds of post more highly than others, and reward them accordingly. Any thoughts about that? Any other suggestions?


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    • One thing I've done is to divide the class into groups and assign roles that rotate every week. I evaluate each role equally, but each one has a different kind of work load.

      I go into (probably too much) detail on my blog, but essentially the roles work like this (as described in my videogame studies class):

      First Readers: These students are responsible for posting initial questions and insights about the assigned reading or gaming to the class blog by Monday night. These initial posts should be about 250 words and strive to be thoughtful, avoiding description and summary. The best posts will connect the day’s material to theoretical ideas we’ve encountered in the semester.

      Respondents: Students in this group will build upon, disagree with, or clarify the first readers’ posts by Wednesday night. The respondents can also incorporate elements of Tuesday’s class discussion into their posts. These posts should be about 250 words.

      Seekers: Each student in this group will find and share at least one relevant online resource with the class in time for Thursday’s session. These resources might include news stories, journal articles, podcasts, online games, and so on. In addition to linking to the resource, the seekers must provide a short (no more than a paragraph) evaluation of the resource, highlighting what makes it worthwhile, unusual, or, if appropriate, problematic.

      An additional fourth group will have the week off in terms of blogging.


      I find students like the rotation style (as long as they understand how it works), and it gives them some variety in what they're doing---not to mention the occasional week off.

      The system works well for me too, as in any given week I only have twelve or so substantial posts to read or comment on (that is, the First Readers and the Respondents). The Seekers turn out to be very valuable as well, often finding relevant resources online that I wouldn't have time to find myself.

    • I would probably value the first three more highly than the fourth, as the fourth seems less creative and engaging than the other three.

      The fifth one is tricky. I've read plenty of discussion comments that gloriously exceeded their parent posts in quality and worth. And even if a comment is not itself especially perspicacious, it can sometimes lead to wonderful discussion material in an extended thread.

      I would say, however, that long, sustained discussion threads take a great deal more commitment in time and attention than simply writing one really good blog post. You could reward them accordingly, but on the other hand they may be very rare things for a group of busy undergraduates to generate.

    • Gentlemen, I am in your debt. Seriously.

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