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 Lévy’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.

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6 Responses

  1. Barbara, I can only post briefly since I’m on daddy duty today… but do you think there’s a 4Cs panel in this?

  2. Interesting thought, Dennis, and one I’d love to follow up on with you. With a Middlebury colleague and 2 students, I’ve proposed a panel about what happens to our blogging students for the Social Software in the Academy Workshop out at the Annenberg Center in May. Taking this thinking the next step for 4C’s makes a lot of sense to me.

  3. I considered SSAW, but I’m conferenced out this year. I think the deadline for CCCC is early — something like April 15. Would one of your co-presenters for SSAW be interested?

  4. Hello again.

    as I read through your blog I am always interested to see the developments – I have no experiences that can compare directly to having a class of students interacting in such ways. I was wondering if there has been any work done comparing the level of social awareness / social identity / etc of students in a blog environment with those who are not. Does the experience of being able to say anything in a blog really hold true? Are students, far from an initial period where presumably the early adopters were able to post away to their hearts’ delight with little or no fear of reprisal, in fact holding back and editing themselves to such an extent that the level of fiction outweighs the level of fact? To what extent is this good / bad? How can we analyze the use of language (c.f the analysis done on Iris Murdoch’s work which showed how her illness set in) and understand new trends and developments? Most importantly, how can we use this data, other than marvel at its existence?

  5. Hi again…as a student who blogged for the first time in a class, I thought I would share my experience. At first, every post that I made on the class blog was probably more fiction than fact. I would excessively edit each post, causing me to miss the point of writing on a blog all together. I wasn’t having a conversation, but making a statement in the hope of sounding intelligent…not to initiate a response. Writing on the blog was a chore and I spent more time writing a short grammatically correct post than reading other people’s comments. I feel that in a class of new bloggers that is what intimidates the students. If someone doesn’t treat the blog as a conversation and feel comfortable with throwing out ideas, making mistakes and exploring new options they will never benefit from using the internet as a form of community, they will never have joined the community for that matter. If I were a teacher I would tell my students not to feel the need to edit their posts, to check spelling or reread it at all. As the class progressed I caught on to the conversation that was unfolding and joined the community. That inspires one to blog…assignments can get people on to the blog, but they need to feel something more in order to check the blog on a Saturday morning. – ZOEY

  6. Thanks, dispatx, for your thought-provoking response, and Zoey, for your comments bringing to light a student’s perspective.

    I do know that several blog researchers are looking into language and blogging, and social identity of students and blogging. danah boyd has done a bit of research into live journal communities and has posted papers on the subject as has BROG, and several European researchers among others.

    You pose some valuable questions about the difference between the experience of early bloggers and livejournal bloggers posting away without fear of anyone really caring what and how they wrote, to what’s going on now with secondary schools in the States (this one in my own state) banning blogging outright. What happens when students worry about what people think of their blogging?
    Zoey does a nice job giving you her perspective, and I have been gathering responses from my students over the years about the impact on them of the visibility of blogging. My sense of what’s going on is that students are both opening up to the public nature of the blog and worrying about it more: many love it precisely because they know it means they have a potential impact on the world if someone beyond the teacher reads what they have to say. I think Zoey puts her finger right on it–if the students are blogging rather than posting work to the blog, they are pretty comfortable with the experience, but once they have to blog for evaluation, using the blog as a CMT, a place to hand in their formal work, that seems almost a contradiction in terms and they do not appreciate the public forum quite as much, nor do they initially value the community’s access to their work. But that changes for most students over time. Not all though.

    Certainly there’s a lot more research to come as blogging becomes more and more widespread in academic communities. And I agree that we are moving away from the urge to marvel, and thinking about how can we use the data to rehaul our educational system and to build strong communities of practice. We already have to means to use the tool for the greater good rather than for the few–I see this every day just in my small arena–do we have the energy, the stamina, and the daring to do so?

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