Blogs and Classroom Community

My blogging is slowing to an every-once-in-a-summer-while now that the semester has been put to bed, and I take off in June for three weeks (sans computer) in Ecuador and Argentina before immersing myself in two book projects. I’ll check in on these pages when I can, but not with the frequency of the semester, and that’s probably a good thing.

Before taking a little break, I do want to pull together some thoughts about the semester–first, just how instrumental blogging has been to foster, nurture and push the classroom community in my creative writing course this spring.

Some thoughts:

* As edubloggers are increasingly concluding, blogging does not replace the need for f2f time; quite the contrary–I have had to ADD a weekly workshop session to the course since introducing blogs. The students crave more time in class to talk about what transpires on the blog–the more they read one another’s work (which now they can do freely and continuously, commenting, linking, trackbacking etc on the blog), the more they want to talk about it; the more they post open-ended, freewheeling discussion topics, the more they want to continue these discussions in class as well as online. The time in class enriches the blogging experience which extends the classroom experience. And on it goes.

* Blogging should serve the learning community and not just the content of the course. The most powerful outcomes have had to do with the students feeling a part of something, owning something, having an impact on their environemnt (efficacy), and this has to do with the way the blog promotes a community. I use a Motherblog and individual student blogs linked off it (and as a linkblog) as a way to embrace both the collaborative and the individual. The students valued both places.

* I stay off the blogs as much as possible. The blogs are for student exploration and discussion–not for me to guide and teach and dictate. I don’t just talk about student-centered classrooms, I am committed to them. Of course, this means I have to plan the blog and the course very carefully, a complicated choreography which calls for the teacher to be confident in the process and in herself as teacher.

Here’s how one student put it at the end of the course:

In addition to the community we formed during class and workshop, I am so impressed with the connection made via blogging. Although Middlebury prides itself for small classes and intense interaction in the classroom, I have never NEVER experienced the genuinity, intensity, and closeness that we’ve found in this class. Maybe it’s because this is a creative writing class, and writers tend to be very honest and very personal — esp. considering nonfiction was our first encounter with each other… it makes me wish blogging could be part of our other classes syllabus’. It sparks such honest discussion and has allowed us to develop a relationship outside of class — it makes the class, writing, who we are and our relationship to one another — mean something. Because the disucssion on the blog is so honest, I never feel like we’re bullshitting in this class. Unfortunately, I feel that in so many of our other classes… I guess I’m wondering if the atmosphere in EL170 could be applied in other departments. it seems worth the try…

What else do I like about blogging? I think the blog has acted as a springboard for writing circles within the class… The blog is something all our own. I love how it really belongs to us (although yes, BG does maintain the necessary authority to keep it in line…haha). But the sense of ownership is very important in giving our work meaning. Writing and the class becomes more than just a class, more than just stories we turn in and the grades given — more than the traditional academic structure of what we find in the predictable essay and the predictable professor.

Blogging, if used as a tool for creating a student-centered collaborative learning environment, can help us to create these magical learning experiences. This is one course, one group of students I will not soon forget.