My Students Still Read My Blog…and Think about the Role of Blogging

mildweedsilk

I’ve written a few times over the years about how my students actually like to read my blog, and that when former students look for me, they often first head to my blogs to check up on what I’m up to before shooting me an email or picking up the phone. One of my students is now on Twitter with me, though he uses it much less than does Shannon. It’s fascinating to share these spaces with students.

This current group, though, does not often comment on my posts; rather, they tell me at the beginning of class that they caught my latest post, and ask “how do you get to MASSMoCA from here,” or they stop me in the library or come to my office to talk it over. I think this is an interesting intersection of blogged-world and face-to-face world, how our conversations walk right off the screen and into class, into our conversations when we meet. I like that. But I also like it when they try to pull their thoughts together to frame a written response to something I’ve written–it signals a commitment to the conversation, an acknowledgment of being stirred by something. I want them to stop a minute, put fingers to text (or audio or image) to argue or agree, to extend my thinking either here or over on their own blogs when they’re interested. Indeed, over the years, some of the most thought-provoking comments have come from my students; for instance, look at how three students joined the conversation unfolding from an old post (I’m linking to the old bgblogging–still haven’t ironed out the missing links on this blog).
eyeingtheground

I want them to drop by.

Sometimes they write posts out of the blue, though, that show me the merits of not pressuring students to respond, to be on the blogs, instead being patient as they discover for themselves why we’re blogging as part of the course. Indeed, one student, grappling openly with blogging, has just written a great post in which he answers his own question about the purpose of blogging . You can go read the full post over on his own blog, but I’m also going to excerpt almost all of it here, to weave his thoughts into the conversation over here as well. It’s a treasure:

“Returning to my blog after a brief break always seems to bring novel thoughts about the process of blogging my work and the more general idea of forming and participating in an online community. I am in a constant state of reflection as to how I feel about posting and creating online as opposed to in “the real world.” Practically I suppose it makes sense to use the tools we have available to us – in this case, blogging has been re-cast for me as a source for learning (through communication) to take place within the context of writing courses. And even as I find the blog useful in this context (and also an unexpected unleasher of new creative processes), I am struck by an unwillingness to fully dive into the process of blogging itself… I keep expecting for the “ah-hah!” moment to hit me as I read a comment or make another post (and I admit, there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that at least somebody else is reading my writing.) Yet there is also a state of personal uneasiness that strikes me as I type away in my text-box. In the same way I think Facebook is damaging my generation psycho-socially (have a discussion with me in person about the topic), I wonder if my blogging is somehow removing me from the creative process even farther. Sometimes I feel as though I end up spending hours in front of a screen – writing, e-mailing, blogging – and I can’t help but wonder what I would be doing with my work (and time and creativity) if there wasn’t a screen there for support. (?)

Perhaps I now should admit that even while writing this a miniature “ah-hah” moment has, indeed, occurred. This is what blogging is about. This piece of writing. Reflection and communication and sharing. I didn’t set out to write this piece, I felt compelled to say something about what I’m actually DOING here (eventually posting some work from break) before doing it. And if a whole group of people gets together and starts to use this space to form a sort-of “creative collective,” there might be the chance to grow and create more vividly in the real world from our collective experience in a virtual one.

When BG explained blogging to me in J-Term, I nodded my head in theoretical understanding – I certainly could intellectualize what going online with my writing was supposed to do for me. But it’s not until I have been with my blog for nearly 12 weeks that I have come to understand more deeply how I can use this tool in my creative life. This isn’t to say that I’m totally comfortable with it or that I’m going to be a super-blogger for the rest of my life (or that I think Facebook is creating thriving online communities) but it does point to a rediscovery of what it feels like to learn outside of a classroom setting and the different forms communities can take in our very (post)modern age.”

norwaytreesfromthetrain

This kind of post, this revelation put into words, is one reason why we need continuity and connection with and between and for our students beyond the walls and division of courses, semesters, disciplines. This is a reason for slowing into a practice of writing reflectively online, of connecting the way in ongoing hypertext reflections about their work, their thoughts, their lives, and in the occasional glimmer of a post like this, when a student, for no other reason than to sort things out for himself, reveals his learning, shows something of himself. But it takes time. And space. And for our students in this era, permission of sorts to share with us and one another the stumbling, the discoveries. Nice way to move into spring!

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5 Responses

  1. I wonder if the student is comfortable writing in other spaces, perhaps with a pencil and paper. There is a sense of watching oneself in the quoted passage and he seems to suggest blogging is awkward for him. I’d find it very hard to write in that circumstance. Does the fact that there will be other readers because it is online encourage this sense of watching oneself? I’d be curious about that.

    How does one help a student through this? I looked at some sites about prewriting, since my instinct was that in general students don’t do enough of this. Mostly I didn’t like what I saw, with this Purdue site showing some insight.
    http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/673/01/

    My own method is to try to build a complete narrative in my head first. If I don’t have that when I sit down, it’s very hard to start. If I have that, then I can start and I don’t mind making perturbations, which can turn into significant detours, in the process of composing.

    The student might ask – where does that narrative come from? Really, I’m not sure. But I know if I have a question about something, or I’m disturbed by something, that’s a good start. I need to flesh that out and doing so produces the narrative. And then the sense of self gets lost, at least for a time.

  2. Lanny,

    My students write in all kinds of spaces, with all kinds of technologies, not just on the blogs. I want them to feel the differences between soft red notebook with pencil and screen with tapping fingers. I want them to hear their voices recorded, and also to speak out in our computerless classroom. What he articulates here, I think, is a healthy dose of doubt, of close examination of what happens when we are working on a screen for the world, and an honest self-consciousness that someone who really cares about ideas and words must feel every time he writes, especially when starting out, especially in this space.

    One striking thing about this student is that he is incredibly adventurous with his mash-ups, with his multimedia, with his Flickr-based stories. He is, actually, incredibly comfortable writing multimedia online.

    I want my students to feel reflection-in-action, reflection-on-action, connecting as they go to the larger conversation. He should be uneasy about his contributions–he’s so young, wondering what he could possibly add and how it helps him during his apprenticeship as a writer. I think that he’s learning to move beyond his fear and his skepticism by blogging, and seeing its value as a place to connect, to get over awkwardness, to gain confidence as a writer and member of a creative community.

    I love what you say about getting carried away with the idea, the nagging question as to forget yourself as you write into possible answers, into the narrative. Katherine Anne Porter, I believe, said something to the effect of “Write hot and read cold.”

    ~bg

  3. BG-

    Congrats on the new site, it looks great.

    As a former student who spends more time slinking in the shadows of your site rather than contributing (things don’t change, do they?), I couldn’t help but feel particularly drawn to this last post.

    I agree that the above-mentioned student isn’t struggling with the online media aspect, but with the online community aspect. I think it’s something most of your students go through at some point; for me it was dealing with a certain loss of ownership between the author and the work when it leaves the relative safety of a room and enters a community where the work and its author are the only entities with name and form, and everything else is relatively anonymous.

    In a way, this is similar to professional writing, where the author doesn’t know the reader, and in that way I maintain some of the same reservations I have always had about blogging. Are students necessarily ready to face the opinions (critical or otherwise) of the (not-so) general public…and is the general public ready for everyone who can handle a keyboard to be expressing themselves quite so freely?

  4. I stumbled upon your blog this afternoon and am very intrigued with this post and your student’s thought on blogging. Clearly they are much much older than my students (4th graders).

    We introduced blogs to the kids this year and while it has not been without it’s struggles, they seem to be taking off. I too have noticed that we are able to bridge the two worlds together. Most recently though, I have discovered that we have been able to open up another world when the reality brings us something that we do not know how to comfortably deal with face-to face. My student’s blogs have allowed them to open up some of their inner thoughts and feelings to share support and concern that no one wants to speak out loud. It’s an interesting journey, one that I hope the children will continue on long after they leave me in June.

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