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Classroom practice

Blogging 101

Update: Here is a downloadable PDF version of this post: Blogging 101.

Using blogs for reflection, response, and classroom engagement… among other possibilities

Setting up a blog
Many websites host blogs for free and provide relatively easy-to-use templates you can use to shape a blog’s look and functions. Two popular — and free — sites are:
Blogger (owned and managed by Google)
WordPress (an open-source company)

Both sites offer some level of customization for the look of your blog. Your ability to manipulate your blog’s look beyond template options will depend your familiarity with coding languages like HTML and CSS. (Update: learn more about using HTML here, and CSS here.)

Considerations

  • A class blog or individual student blogs, or both?
  • A class blog can be used to record what happens in class, or any definitions or discussions that you want to “keep.”
  • Do you want students to use this blog only for the class, or is it okay if they post other writing and thoughts?
  • Will students mind that “anyone” can read their work? You might want to discuss with students the security settings for class blogs. Many blog hosts allow you to set your blog so that it is unsearchable by web crawlers like Google or so that only subscribers can comment on or even view the blog.
  • How will you discuss with students the publicness of their posts — and their responses?
  • Will you, as teacher, post responses? What tone of voice and level of formality will you use?
  • Will you ask students to respond to each other? What considerations about respect and questioning do you want to discuss with them?
  • Will you keep a class blog as well?
  • Many uses of blogs for class could include linking to or embedding images, text, etc., from other sources (such as YouTube or Flickr) in blog posts. While many of your class activities will fall under fair use, you might find it worthwhile to initiate a conversation about uses of digital and other media by your students for your class. This conversation could include the doctrine of fair use, copyright law, Creative Commons, and other legal stances on the use of existing material, as well as traditional academic practices of criticism or artistic practices of borrowing, parody and pastiche.

How to link blogs to each other

  • You can use your UWM website to link to each class member’s blog. (Here is just one possible example.)
  • You can use your blog as a “home” with sidebar links to each class member’s blog.
  • You can also invite or require class members to provide links to each others’ blogs on their blog sidebars.

Using blogs in a class
Blogs as research, or for creating annotated bibliographies:

  • This allows students to share research with each other in their posts.
  • Students can use comments to share suggestions.

Blogs as responses to readings:

  • This is an easy, paper-free for students to write responses to readings.
  • Students’ understandings of blogs might lead them to write more informally than you’d like, so you might want to be specific about the amount of writing you want them to do, or the level of formality you seek.
  • You can require students to have written their responses some number of hours before class starts, so that you can read them to prepare for class discussion. If you do this, you can also have students read and respond to each other’s comments, or formulate questions together, as a way of preparing for discussion.
  • Comments allow the whole class to build conversations from each other’s responses

“Live blogging” class:

  • In each class, have a student in each class post to a class blog as a class proceeds, to record what happens, to save as reference.
  • Have multiple students record the class, to show multiple perspectives on class discussions and activities.

Blogs as reflective writing:

  • Because students expect blog writing to be informal and incomplete, they are often at ease in writing online, and will think relaxedly in their writing.
  • Blogging can be a way to “capture” and extend thinking before more formal and formalized writing.
  • After a discussion, ask students, in class, to reflect on a discussion by writing for a few minutes in their blogs.

Blogs for reference
Depending on your class and how you’ll be using blogs, you might want to use class time to introduce blogs and have students set theirs up, or you might consider making blog setup an assignment due by the first day of class.

  • To read a student blog from two UWM graduate classes, see Kristi Prins’ blog for Eng 709 (spring 08) and 737 (spring 09). See the archives on the right sidebar, as well as links to the course homepages. These homepages include links to other students’ blogs, some of which might still be active.
  • AcademHack is a blog written by David Parry, assistant professor of Emerging Media and Communications at the University of Texas at Dallas: “Tech should make teaching easier and more effective, not harder and more frustrating.” See his Blog Project and Blogs/Wikis.
  • Matthew Kirschenbaum. “Intellectual Property Online: The Case of Student Writing.” Kairos 3.1
  • A new faculty member at Eastern Michigan University’s Department of English Language and Literature, Derek Mueller’s blog Earth Wide Moth mixes bibliographic entries, ponderings about academic concerns, and observations about his family.
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