The Second Wave of Classroom Bloggers

Yes, lately I keep returning to the subject of students who have blogged in my or colleagues’ classes and then re-enter a blogless environment. Another reality coming into play now, too, is when the experienced blogging student ends up in a blogging class filled with newbie bloggers or disinterested ones. This morning Dennis Jerz blogs about what happens in an American Literature class made up of a mix of English majors and Ed students fulfilling a requirement, and a mix of dedicated bloggers and disinterested ones. He writes:

I don’t require the class to read all their peer blogs, but many of the English majors already read each other’s blogs for social purposes. So the most vocal group comes into the classroom already knowing what the most active participants want to say about that week’s reading. I had to remind some of the more intense bloggers that they are welcome to blog more than they are required to, but for a while there we had a kind of digital divide. The online part of the class was going well, but the most committed bloggers felt the class discussion was redundant.

Interesting. And something I see, too, in both my spring classes–the students who blog confidently and read the blogs get more out of the course than the students who don’t. But I’m okay with that and see it as a decision the students have to make for themselves, and I shape the class discussion around what is discussed on the blog. I teach to the highest possible level.

The bloggers gain confidence as writers and critical readers; they feel more ownership of the course — like Dennis’s bloggers, they take over the class, and this is exactly what I am after. This morning –and yes, it is Saturday and so I find it remarkable that a student is on the MOTHERBLOG so early– a student put out an invitation to the whole class to play writing games this evening. Students don’t often discover this intense a community within a first-level course filled with majors and non-majors. But as they take to the blogging, as they commit to it and actually race to their blogs every day to see who has posted, who has responded, they find this learning community becomes their social community to some extent as well, and they want to continue the work in their own way, together, without ME. In fact, my goal is for them only to need me to introduce topics and writers, history and possibilities–to open the tool box, as it were and say, here you go, what will you do with these? And then let them work together to explore the lessons.

And so I think it is an important moment when the bloggers take over the class. If we help the students–all of them, the newbies and the majors–to see themselves as experts and apprentices to one another, each having something valuable to offer and to gain from the learning collaborative, we will minimize the digital and discipline divides in our classrooms. The veteran bloggers can show the others how blogging enriches the learning experience and inspire their classmates to excellence.

The combination of collaborative Motherblog and individual student blogs in my creative writing class facilitates this outcome: on the Motherblog there’s an easy give-and-take about anything to do with the course subject matter, in this case, creative writing. And then on the individual student blogs there is a serious one-to-one engagement between the students who have been grouped randomly in small workshop groups (I rotate these groups four times a semester). The comments at midterm include encouragement, constructive feedback, and genuine expressions of delight in being grouped with one another as one student in a response to another student’s poem, wrote: “I am so excited to have you in my group for this next phase, as I can see, I will have a lot to learn from you.” Here students engaged in Pierre LÚvy’s notion of reciprocal apprenticeships, and as soon as they value the collaborative aspect of the classroom experience, the bloggers and nonbloggers, the majors and nonmajors begin to see the value in studying with one another. Of course this virtual community of practice comes out of the face-to-face environment in our classrooms–if we are consistent as teachers in our insistence on working as a collaborative during classtime as we are on the blog,I believe that our students will trust and engage in the blogging. The blogging has actually led me to add a weekly workshop session to my course–an additional class meeting–to ensure ample opportunity for students to talk about the work published on the blog. The more they blog, the more they want time together as well. We can get thus away from hierarchies within the classroom as much as possible while we are urging the entire group on to excellence. And the students might even want to throw writing parties on Saturday nights.

–Addendum– Just took another swing around my usual blogosphere route to find both Chriss Lott and Will Richardson also thinking about what happens to the blog and the blogger once the semester/year are over.