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.


How Far’s Too Far: Blog Boundaries

Just when I think the semester is about wrapped up and I can catch up on some reading and writing, reflect a bit about this year’s explorations of multimedia, including podcasting and digital storytelling, along come my students with more surprises.

Surprises that bring to mind a couple of recent posts by Jill Walker (and the many others commenting on her blog) where she discusses students using pseudonyms in their academic blogging, and taking risks in blogging. She writes:

That’s why I’ve recommended to my blogging students this semester that they use pseudonyms unless they’re quite comfortable about claiming their identity online. Many of them do. As they become more secure in the environment, and especially once they understand, really understand, that anyone can read it now and in the future, then real names are just fine and a good part of establishing a durable online identity that you’d be happy for anyone to see.

Little did I know that my own students’ in their first post-semester creative-writing-blog posting would find themselves playing around with both boundaries, commenting under just-for-the-occasion pseudonyms on a blank posting, comments that crossed into some pretty offensive sexually explicit trash. They knew enough to adopt pseudonyms (except for the post’s originator) for their off-color commentary, thereby protecting themselves, but also thereby releasing themselves from a certain level of accountability. Almost all of my students post under their names, taking public pleasure in and responsibility for their work and their responses.

This weekend, they were messing around at one of their “writing parties” and, well, things got a little out of hand, shall we say. When I checked the blog Sunday morning, I saw the damage and decided to pull the post (we’re on MT, so I switched it to DRAFT mode), knowing the “culprits” would sooner or later show up at my office to talk about it.

And sure enough, yesterday the main culprit (or should I say, the one whose name appear at the end of the original empty post) made an appearance. The posts and comments here and here, left by class members since he and I spoke, reveal a lot about the murky territory of the after-the-course-is-done blogging identity, about adopting pseudonyms after the fact, and crossing lines on a collaborative blog that resides within an institution and came out of an academic setting. They were exerting some kind of freedom, but then, when I called them on it, they realized that as long as the blog is still associated with a college and a course and a professor, even if it’s now summer and they have shifted into a different relationship with their writing, they cannot forget the blog’s origins and the full impact of what they write.

Gena writes:

And so here we have it folks, a community.
One that exists here with our words and in the classroom with our voices (and sometimes with podcasts, both!).
A community that now also exists outside both of those forums.
And I think that is where it has all become a little more difficult.
Maybe we are eager to have our bigger (and sometimes baser…) sense of community come back and act on the forums that got us there.
Maybe we are a little thoughtless in realizing that we need to preserve those very stepping stones, so that we can always come back, always grow, always eat of the fruit it gives us, ripe with nutrients, especially when the bigger community malnurishes us, leaves us without a coat, forgets to say hi……..

Merrick writes:

Unfortunately, it has taken me three times to realize that the blog exists solely to showcase our writings, to elevate our craft, and to cultivate our love-affair with language and story-telling. Think of it as a really nice, shiny and sparkly car. Perhaps a pretty pony, or unicorn even. Whichever you prefer, although the car or the unicorn is ‘ours,’ we would never want mash it into a brick wall, or in the unicorn’s case, ram its majestic horn through a tree, right? Right? The blog is a bit temperamental, and it likes to be treated nicely. How ironic that I dirtied it directly above BG’s post in which she thanks us “for making [her] job about as good as it could ever get.”

What fabulous moments of insight and learning about what it means to be in a community, and to have to decide whether to conform to some of that community’s more exacting standards. The reality is that blogs coming out of courses will never be completely free; there are limits, there are boundaries. I have a reputation for being open to differents kinds of explorations into form and genre, into the boundaries between things–but in a wild moment they thought that absolutely anything could go on our blog. I didn’t like pulling the post–it was a moment when I pulled rank and became the unmistakable authority instead of mentor and guide, when I said through my actions, well guys, really, when it comes down to it, the blog is ultimately my responsibility and if I don’t like what’s on it, I can pull the plug.

And this brings me to a January discussion over Newtwork(ed) Rhetoric blog about “Blogging with Students”. Tyra writes:

i want them to have their world without me in it. the fact that it’s in many ways an almost entirely textual (with bright pictures) world makes that more important to me as a writing teacher rather than less–i want to interact with them in ways that encourage/foster writing, sure. but (and maybe this is because all of my teacher-training was focused on the teaching of adolescents) i can’t help feel that one of the most encouraging things i can do with regards to their writing is to leave them a space where they’re alone–or at least alone-with an audience of their choosing & defining–alone away from me–to do it in.

Madeline responds:

Using technology to better immerse students in their studies, I think, brings us back to that model where teachers and students literally lived as neighbors, shared meals (ok, now I’m waxing, uh, fictitious, probably), you get the pic. Where students learned by living through things, not by simply getting by, going to class, the library, writing some stuff, and getting the grade.

And that’s what my students, for the moment, anyhow, thought they were doing–moving from a collaborative college space, to a collaborative friends space. They were blurring the lines between what you could do in a class and what you couldn’t. And I was expecting them to know the difference, I see. We’ll see what this moment does to the summer blogging experience–if they will need to spin off onto their own, private, blogs.

Metaphors, Teaching and Social Software: More Thoughts on Post-Course Blogging

Over on Will’s blog, in a post pulling together an excerpt from Ken Smith and one from me, Will likens this new beyond-the-classroom thinking many of us are engaging in these days to Edblogging 3.0. I used a term “second-wave blogging” the other day on a post referring to students who come to our classes as experienced bloggers. And then there’s the incisive comment Terry Elliot left for Will:

Re: Blogs in Education 3.0?
If there is one insight to come out of cognitive linguistics over the past twenty-five years, it is Lakoff and Johnson’s theory that the core of thought is metaphoric. We don’t just use metaphor as a critical and analytic term and tool. We are metaphoric in our brains. “Classroom” implies an enclosure, a bottle of sorts, a boundary that encloses. What happens when technology breaks the bottle? You have a blogwikiflickrfurlicious open space full of connections. Edblogging 3.0 is the birth of new metaphors for new experience. I oversimplify, but I think we edbloggers hold both metaphors (classroom and connected-open space) in our hearts simultaneously. We live in both worlds, yet we know one of them is a dead man walking.

This weekend at MIT4, someone in the audience at our presentation, asked if we could come up with an accurate term for the way we were using and thinking about New Media. We’re searching about for terms, Terry’s metaphors, to help us understand what it is we are doing; as Terry points out, the old term “classroom” will no longer do especially as we push this work outside the boundaries of semester and building and discipline, as we ask our students to think way out beyond the small community of learners to the world and time beyond our campuses and semesters. This thinking is very much on my mind as I prepare for this weekend’s Social Software in the Academy Workshop.

Of course,as my good buddy Héctor likes to point out, we must also ask ourselves whether we have actually set up the same old classroom walls with our classroom blogs, and just call them something different. We have to guard, I know, against smugness, against thinking we’re actually doing anything but what we have always done, just faster and perhaps better. In theory, if we really blog with our students (Will’s blogging-the-verb-rather-than-blog-the-noun, not just using them as a “cooler” version of a standard CMT), we have already constructed an entirely new kind of educational space. But if the course ends, the community disbands, then what do we expect our students to do? Just blog? Blog what? Are we fooling them? Ourselves? In other words, aren’t we by blogging within the traditional rubrics of a semeter system ensuring that course blogs are only that, finite, discrete, course blogs?

No, I don’t think so–though I’m the first to admit that it ain’t always pretty sitting here having to argue for something that isn’t completely together yet–that what I imagine and want to be true isn’t quite possible yet, not with our campus infrastructure and design, our calendar and positioning within disciplines. But there are glimmers–and those are what I see and try to keep in mind–and the students are beginning to make connections on their own, and to want to reach out beyond themselves and the school and the school calendar, making connections, learning to engage actively within communities through this practice. And there are the shifts I see within my colleagues. We’re asked repeatedly, “But doesn’t introducing blogs and multimedia authoring into the classroom take much more time than your old ways of teaching?” Today I heard my colleague, Mary Ellen Bertolini, respond, “Well, yes, it does, but it doesn’t feel like more work. It feels like fun. We have to ask whether our endeavors take away from the spirit or feed it. Blogging in my classes feeds my teaching spirit.”

And so it’s a start. A darn good one. If we engage our students in mobile, fluidly reconfiguring communities of practice–even in short bursts– and through the blogging transcend the notion of semesters and courses and our own self-serving readings of the world–at least for a moment–couldn’t we then expect the blogs to live on–at least for a while, as long as the bloggers have something they want to say to one another and the world? And isn’t it perfectly fine for a blog to live out its purpose and be left for a long spell or to close when the subject matter is exhausted or the members toodle off to new pursuits?

So we’ll see what the students do when left to their own devices. We’ll see if their desire to keep together blogging about writing or their experiences abroad or their ideas about generating social capital through blogs will come to anything over the next few months. My guess is that it will be tough going for this first small group of students in the face of a world compartmentalizing the learning into tidy classrooms and syllabi. So, I’m not sure we’re quite ready for new metaphors in a traditional liberal arts institution–but we sure can give them a shot.

Opening the WIndows

As I sit in my office this early spring evening getting a few things done before my final creative writing workshop of the semester, I can hear waves of drumming as high school marching bands from all over the state of Vermont parade down our main street as part of the All-State music festival hosted by our local high school. And much as I would like to throw open the windows in this state-of-the-art new library I am lucky enough to have my office in, I can’t. The building’s hermetically sealed, and all I’ve got is the low throb of hundreds of drums in an odd cacaphony coming through the thick glass of my window. On the one hand it makes me think about how last weekend I sat for an entire afternoon at the Metropolitan Opera partaking in a glorious production of Faust–about how it took all afternoon–two intermissions during which we leisurely walked the opera house, checking out the divas’ gowns and fans and cigarette cases in the museum cases scattered about the building, and taking in the finery of the women and the scene. We just don’t do that sort of thing much in our culture–spend an entire afternoon experiencing art with a group of strangers. How often does the woman sitting next to you offer you her opera glasses?

It also makes me think about Aaron Campbell’s latest posting, how he points out that many edubloggers are taking note of how students are feeling trapped by the smallness of the classroom experience:

How many students out there feel as if they are in imprisoned? Would an educational institution encourage the pursuit of a particular activity if it led to integration, fulfillment, and a sense of freedom? Where is the space for such pursuits in educational institutions? Why do we shut people out of these experiences through rigid curricula and imposed educational goals? Who creates standardized learning criteria and why do we place such a premium on their achievement at the expense of happiness, wholeness, freedom, personal growth, and creative and emotional expression? What kind of society are our institutions contributing toward?

I think we teachers are feeling a bit trapped too, at least I am, by the confines of the semester system and the separation between courses and disciplines, and by having our students pulled in a half dozen directions instead of synthesizing and reflecting on the experience. I watch my students and myself work at breakneck speed just to get everything done instead of pursuing Aaron’s “happiness, wholeness, freedom, personal growth, and creative and emotional expression.”

And yet–I also see how this blogging experience placed within a constructivist pedagogy does contribute to my students realizing that there is something more and they want it–they want to hear and feel the wonderful, crazy sounds of 40 marching bands, and to spend the entire afternoon listening with strangers to one glorious opera. They take the time to jump on our creative writing blog to see what their peers are writing within their individual blogs, and what’s happening on the main Motherblog. They’re planning another writing party. Perhaps our collaborative, relaxed blogging on the Motherblog gives them some of that reflective practice–as a group. I know that it spurs them on to find Aaron’s threads to embroider.

This is very much on my mind as I focus on the student perspective on blogging for back-to-back conferences and for a CCCC proposal with colleagues spread out across the U.S. and Europe–what happens to our students once they’ve had the experience of a collaborative learning environment networked with blogs, open to multimedia authoring, and podcasting, and most importantly, that positions the students squarely in the middle of the classroom with one another? More and more I am seeing them ask for other ways of being in college–of creating their own hybrid majors, of going off for a few weeks in the middle of things to do a research project in the field, writing a grant with a faculty member to go off in the summer to explore something brought up in the class– proposing all manner of independent study projects. My students come out of these blog-centric classes clamoring for this kind of fluid though rigorous educational experience. They still want classroom time and traditional learning experiences as well–they are, after all, first-generation inhabitants of cyberspace, and thus they migrate between the old and the new. Comfortably.
I’ve written about this new kind of student before, several times, but at the end of the year, I keep finding myself coming back to ways I’d like to keep opening the windows in my teaching, allowing my students out of this sealed academic world and into the streets with their own lovely cacaphony.

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.

Trouble in Blog-Paradise

I’ve been one of the lucky ones whose students blogged away blissfully. No need in my classroom to require blogging, to cajole or to entice students, to evalute them on the number of posts. They got it because they could see how valuable to them blogging could be–and besides, it looked like fun.

Until now.

One class (Creative Writing) has taken to blogging, the other (The Writing Workshop) refuses to blog. And on the surface, it all makes sense that a bunch of creative writers would like blogging better than would Comp students, who can have major writing anxiety at a school like Middlebury (associated as it is with the reputation of Bread Loaf–school and writers’conference).
Many researchers and teachers using blogs write about how to get students to blog and how to evaluate them. Dennis Jerz, for one, gives his students a clear rubric for their online portfolios, and Bud Gibson from Univesity of Michigan discusses ways to get students blogging.

But several moments from this past week have me back here on the blog musing aloud that there’s something I’m still just getting a handle on about the role of blogs/wikis/podcasting in higher ed–where social software makes sense and where, perhaps, it does not. And I still find myself resisting what I’m feeling is a tendency to put blogs into boxes in our classrooms, when it is through their messy, sprawling, informal nature altogether that powerful learning takes place.

In a discussion between faculty and students about the role of “experiential learning” on campus now and in the future, I was struck by both how passionate the students were about their independent and/or service-learning work, and how passionate they were about its academic viability in the traditional sense: they espoused its rigor while they argued for flexibility. Students want more options for learning here, but they also like the old forms. In other words, they don’t want to change the system, they want to expand it. And these were among our most daring kids, the ones with enough drive and vision to actively pursue creative, independent options as part of their liberal arts education. These were the students who push past barriers. Interesting.

What they said rings true to my recent experience with student bloggers. If students see and accept the viability of blogs within the traditional curriculum, they seem to take to them with energy and enthusiasm. My creative writers, for instance, get it. Quickly. They see the value of having a space for talking as writers about writing. it’s our online coffeehouse, if you will. They like posting their work for feedback; they like hearing their voices reading online; they really are beginning to like collaborative blogging, or blogging-as-conversation rather than blogging-as-monologue. And so, here in the fifth week, they’ve gone and taken on the course blog, engaging with one another and course alums and class tutors in all kinds fo writing. Of course it’s pretty much an in-house blog in that they are not linking to the outside world, bringing in other blogs or resources. They are content to explore the full range of this little writing community of 21. The blog works for them, and they give to the blog. Comfortably. And it makes sense–these are the students who, for the mostpart, came to Middlebury to write; they are the ones who will move forward with their blogging past the course. They want to be writers. They like seeing their own words out there on the cyberscreens of the world. It gives them, as one of my blogging students put it, a whiff of what it will be like to publish their books.

This week, in my other class, the composition class, the blogging has just about come to a halt. Emphatically. The students do not like blogging. They do not want to blog. Nor do they altogether like the blog as a place to post their writing. They don’t want so much exposure–that’s why they take this class–to improve so that they will get good enough to feel ready for that kind of exposure. But not yet. It’s too public. And it makes them more anxious about performance than they already are. The podcasting, interestingly enough, comes more easily, as do the wiki discussions (though my students do not feel the kind of ownership of this space that Héctor’s do–and there are good reasons for that including my own absence on the wiki). But they don’t want to post alone.

And so that brings me round to how difficult it is for students at colleges like Middlebury to feel okay about “glorious failures.” One blogging class isn’t enough–they have to sense that blogging is viewed as a legitimate form of academic discourse in their other classes. What the students in the experiential learning meeting said about needing some measure of mastery of their discipline before embarking on independent work or in experiential learning surprised me. Where’s the fun? Where’s the mucking about in the messy landscapes of inquiry? Where’s the using writing to learn rather than to deliver the learning for evaluation? What have we done?

As I prepare my part of a collaborative proposal to the upcoming social software workshop at the Annenberg Center (the most interesting and significant part of the proposal coming from two of my blogging students with whom my colleague, Mary Ellen Bertolini and I are collaborating on a panel discussion proposal), I’m going to zero in on this conundrum–how do we really use social software to open the windows in the classroom and let some fresh air in. How do we do so without inadvertently reinforcing our students’ natural desire for a roadmap through our courses.

Perhaps I let my students flail about too much. Perhaps I should make it easier for them, on them. And so I have a choice here. I can require my students to blog, or I can abandon the blog, or I can keep working with them to see the value of informal discourse, of conversation, of thinking out loud, of writing for this medium as well as for the page. And of course, that’s what I’ll do– keep working on ways to put the responsibility in their hands, saying: you blog, you benefit. Simple? We’ll see.

Podcasting and Wikis in the Blogging Classroom

I remember reading Will’s post the first time he tried out podcasting and remarking on his combined interest and dismay over the whole thing (how he felt a little silly). And so I wasn’t sure how I’d like using it in my classes even though I begged the college for some iPODs to play around with in the writing classroom. Since November I’ve been watching how other folks have been using podcasting–and while it certainly makes all the world of sense in language classrooms, it wasn’t until last night when I postedmy first wee attempt at podcastingthat I really saw its potential in the writing and literature classrooms.

Here’s what I’m trying and thinking:

Embedding podcasts on our class blogs to ignite a love of literature and an understanding of how reading literature aloud can lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the work:

As Mark Bauelring writes in the February 5 edition of TCRecord, in his “Reading at Risk, Culture at Risk”, literature reading is on the wane, and with it some essential cultural understanding:

Civic and historical understanding may seem a far cry from literary reading, but in truth they belong on a continuum of intellectual activities that come together in an enlightened citizen. Literature often has served to introduce young people to events from the past and principles of civil society and governance.

While he oversimplifies the issue by laying the blame at the feet of the Internet in general and weblogs among other applications in particular, he does make a valid point about needing to immerse our youth in the wonders of literature.

And, by golly, podcasting might help out here–at least in my classes. When I asked my students (17 of them in the The Writing Workshop II how many of them read any of the opening pages of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses aloud to themselves to help them to understand the disorienting sentence structure and ordering, only a couple raised their hands. I, for one, can’t imagine missing any opportunity to read him aloud–the sentences need that slow mix in the mouth before being pushed out in the air–they make such sense this way. And so I recorded myself reading the opening paragraph, so they could hear the words.

Every week from now on, two students will podcast passages they select from the readings, followed by succinct explorations of what they learn as writers from the passages. They will, as I did, refer to other postings on our reading blog that amplify our understanding, or that create tension, or that we just really ought to read. That’s what I did in my first podcast, pointing to a student’s sensitive reading of the opening pages. What is especially effective about embedding the podcast onto the blog in addition to uploading the files onto iPODS is the accessibility of the full blog as they listen–they can look at the post I’m referring to at the same time.

We’ll also record the mini writing lessons the students present to the class starting Thursday, as a way to archive these lessons and as a way for students to hear themselves give presentations. Again, the podcasts will serve multiple purposes, essential to any teaching tool in a twelve-week semester.

As for wikis, Héctor’s class is up and running with our inter-class experiment, my class to jump on this week to explore chronicling the experiences of two sections of the writing workshop–how much will the two classes affect one another as virtual communities? We’ll see…

We’ll also see how much blogging is too much blogging in the writing classroom this semester as my students work on several interconnected blogs–will they hit the saturation point? Will the blogs lose their effectiveness if we pass some as yet-unknown threshold? Are many others out there using blogs in quite this way? I’d be very interested to see…

New Spring Blogs Are Up & Fall Evaluations Are In

My two new course blogs are up and ready for tonight’s workshops when the students will create their own blogs and join the ranks of bloggers.
el170.jpgEL170 Introduction to Creative Writingwp101.jpgWP101: he Writing Workshop II
Both are pretty bare bones at this point, but it’s good to take stock before the students transform them into much more effective vessels for transporting us through this writing adventure.

A couple of interesting developments to note: on the Creative Writing Blog one of last year’s students stepped right up and asked if he could write a letter to the new class and have it posted to the blog, which in turn, has prompted other Creative Writing class alums to show interest in responding to the new writer-bloggers. We will, as always, use the previous course blogs as a resource throughout the course, learning from their successes and failures, being inspired and knowing we can do the same.

On the Writing Workshop Blog, I’m trying out many things for the first time–more on those in future postings–but here we also have alums participating, but not alums of the course, blogging alums, bringing with them their blogs from their first-year seminar this fall, and instead of creating new blogs for this course, they’ll continue on with their original blogs, folding them right into the work, extending their writing portfolios. Does this mark the beginning of blogging portfolios? At Middlebury it does. These four students will also serve as class blogging and digital storytelling experts, helping those classmates who struggle with the technology.

And other alums of blogging are reporting in–two seniors have approached me about blogging next year as part of their jobs, and the fall course evaluations from the Arts writing bloggers indicate that the wild, five-blogs-in-a-sixth did anything but scare them away. They found the real-world feel of the blog and the responsibility for bringing it to life and for sustaining it both effective in helping them develop their writing skills and invaluable in creating a sense of community that they often find sorely lacking in other classes.

We’ll see this evening, how the new group takes to wikis and podcasts as well as to blogs! Ha!