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.


6 Responses

  1. Have enjoyed, nay, learned lots from, your blogging this past school year, Barbara.

    Have a great summer, and fun travels. I look forward to seeing what happens in your practice in the Fall.

    P.S. I’m taking a break from undergraduate teaching to do a different kind of project with graduate students and faculty this summer, so I’m actually expecting my blogging presence to increase for the next three months. —sigh

  2. You are providing a very rich and helpful resource to those of us new to edublogging. Thanks for being so thoughtful, and especialy for taking the time to share. Your experiences and the lessons you’ve learned will definitely impact my teaching as I explore the use of blogs in my classes. Your comments re: student-centered classrooms and trying to NOT dominate the blogs strikes me as particularly noteworthy this morning. I’ll definitely need to keep that in mind.

  3. I have learnt a lot myself as a complete outsider simply by seeing the development of your posts over the last 9 months. I was very interested in the posted quote including the statement that with blogging, “the sense of ownership is very important in giving our work meaning”.

    There is certainly a level at which, by getting all of the students involved in an ongoing debate, I could see that they would learn more to stand by what they write – that is to say, that they would get very used to the idea of sharing what they had written. However, I’m fascinated that this would give them a sense of greater ownership. Could this be simply a result of a marriage between the labour and the output itself, so often missing when people work to a deadline and begin to see their work as alien to them (c.f Marx / Engels!)

  4. Mr. Luker-

    I am one of BG’s students, and have been reading some of your posts here on her blog. Let me first begin by saying that clearly, you are very well read. You dropped the Hobbes/Rawls ref. a few posts back, and here, you appropriate labour theory to things pedagogical in scope. Very slick. Sometimes, I think that your references are a bit too tidy and slick, but that’s just me.

    In any event, I thought that I should post because I had a bit of different reaction to that of my peer. I did not feel this sense of possession. Instead, I actually felt at times that the blog owned me! This became clear after the whole fiasco at the end of the course (for which I was principally responsible). I had acted as if the blog were mine, and shortly thereafter, I did an about-face and realized that in effect, my professor, the community at large, and my own guilt were the possessors and masters of my boundaries. I didn’t tell the blog what to do…it was the one nipping at my heels and directing me this way or that! Anyway, those are my personal thoughts concerning ownership, for what they’re worth.

  5. Thanks for the comments, Carla, Mark and Oliver–I am glad that my blogging has given you some food for thought. I love the fact that as this blogging year has unfolded, people have engaged in lively discussion with me about some of my observations.

    And, Merrick, it’s so good to see you out and about on the blogs this summer. I think you make an interesting and valuable distinction between the individual owning the blog and the group–or what I would call collective intelligence (a la Levy) at work–once we write with others in a collaborative space such as our group class blog, we naturally relinquish some of our own personal freedom in blogging, but we should also, within the loosest of limits, still be able to exert our individual voices and perspectives. We should, as part of the community of practice, still feel we own the blog rather than just being owned.

    Each class group blog has established its own personality in spite of being written within the confines of a semester’s class. Of course, a blog you set up with your blogging friends for your own reasons will behave much differently, perhaps, than a blog with a subject matter coming out of an institution. You’d be interested in some of the debates going on right now about whether blogging in courses is really blogging at all because of the restrictions it places on students(read Will Richardson’s blog, for example). Teachers are talking about “forced blogging” vs. “voluntary blogging”, on how much control can students really have of their blogging, and so on–we’re trying to find the balance.

    And so, Merrick, have you thought of keeping your own blogs going–or setting up one outside the college altogether for your year in Italy? I’d love to read that blog 😉

  6. Hello again. I will contact Merrick directly to open a dialogue but wanted to respond to the line ‘whether blogging in courses is really blogging at all because of the restrictions it places on students’ – without wishing to be slick (!) I would see this very much as commentary concerning the nature of freedom in and of itself. When one has no limits on one’s behaviour, one is in essence solipsistic, a monad – it would be hard not to argue that one is free, but free from what? It is as the limitations start piling up that one’s freedom truly grows, and perhaps this is one of the things that was experienced as the blog began to gain power and snap at M’s heels!

    as far as collective intelligence is concerned, or perhaps emergent intelligence if we are to follow people like Mitch Resnick down the oft-considered ‘holist’ – though absolutely reductionist – path of emergence etc, I’ll give the matter further thought!

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