I had my students write blog posts for class. Here’s what happened.
While a fellow at Yale’s MacMillan Center for the academic year, I’m teaching a course on Contemporary Nondemocratic Regimes. It’s a seminar with a final paper rather than an exam. To encourage in-depth reading of the material and improve class discussions, I have always had students write response papers before class, following what I was made to do in my courses at Indiana and Stanford. The first problem with response papers is that they tend to remain summaries no matter how many times I say that I want analysis and for themes to be extracted across the readings for the week. The second problem is that no one (other than me) reads them. In the past, I have pushed students to upload response papers 24 hours before class to the official class page (at OSU this is Carmen, at Yale “Classes v2”) and directed other students to read the responses before our sessions. This does not work. 24 hours bleeds into 12 hours into after class. Other students are too busy doing the reading itself to look at their classmates thoughts on it. Also, these systems are universally terrible (here’s a relevant message board thread title: I hate Blackboard).
For these reasons, I decided to have my students post their responses to a course blog, which I created in about 10 minutes through WordPress.com. I invited all of the students to be authors on the site (but kept the full administrator privileges to myself). Things went well. Responses were posted on time. I should have been happy, but I realized that I was looking for a bit more. The technology of sharing ideas via a blog calls for links to other ideas percolating out there in the wilderness of the internet, but the initial responses were (almost certainly) drafted in Word, pasted into the blog software, and published without outside engagement. I suppose that I simply expected all of my students to be “digital natives” who are writing their own apps, tweets, and blogs (to be sure, a substantial amount of their time is spent residing in the blue comforts of Facebook). At any rate, after a bit of cajoling, the responses are beginning to connect the week’s themes with events in the outside world.
Is this a useful enterprise or simply a potential solution to a technological problem? When I decide, I’ll let you know–by blogging about it.