Wednesday, August 30, 2006

requiring students to blog

this semester's digital democracy is the first class i've taught where i require students to blog.

my thinking is that blogs will serve as a great tool for students to archive their ideas, research, and findings - for themselves, for me, and for their fellow students. i also think that the blogs - like a course listserv, a wiki, or a good old fashioned class discussion - will serve as a collaboration platform upon which students and myself can share, develop, and implement ideas. i am also hoping that the blogs will serve as vehicles of collaboration with other students in other classes, including martha mccaughey's new media activism class at appalachian state university and, hopefully, with david de ugarte's cyberactivism class which i believe has students distributed across argentina, bolivia, chile, greece, and spain.

but most of all, i am hoping that the blogs will help - in a minor or major way - students find, develop, and broadcast their voices. but more on that in a moment.

when introducing a new kind of media to my students i usually reserve a class period or two in a computer lab. over the last ten years, i have devoted entire class periods (or multiple class periods) to using email (this was in 1995! email was still new then!), listservs, basic html, ftp, dreamweaver, photoshop, wikis, and facebook. i like building media and so do most of my students so these labs have always been engaging, energetic, and fun. plus, one of the best ways to understand new media is, i believe, to build new media.

yesterday, the second day of class, i tried something new. near the end of class, i gave the students their first homework assignment:
    set up your own blog by thursday.
i did not teach them how to set up their blogs. i did not book a computer lab to help them set up their blogs. i just told them: go set up your blog by thursday.

i told them about blogger and how i like it because it is free and it is way easy to use. i made it clear, however, that there were other kinds of blogger software, all acceptable for our class, and some more blog-savvy students chimed in with some suggestions: livejournal, wordpress, moveable type.

i told them i wanted them to blog non-anonymously - that is, i wanted them to blog under their first and last names. when asked why, i said that there is certainly a time and place for anonymous blogging but i wanted them to blog words, ideas, and concepts that they believe in, that they believe in publicly, that they are willing to stand by, that they are willing to be responsible for. for some, that was enough of an explanation but for others there was a noticeable sense of discomfort until one student asked, "can we just use our first names?" i asked why and upon hearing a few students' reasons i agreed that they could blog by first name or by first and last name. i dug it that student spoke up for their own interests - this is a class on democracy after all.

finally, assigning them their first blog post. i don't really remember telling them what to blog about for their first entry; i just told them to blog about something, anything. (i gave them a second homework assignment - a one page essay on a cause or social movement that interests them greatly - but said they could blog the essay or type it up and turn it in.) not assigning a particular topic for their first post was deliberate.

asking our students to blog is a tricky scenerio. essentially, i believe, we are asking them to extend our space (the space where we come together in class to talk about ideas and readings) into their space (digital spaces like blogs and facebook and myspace where an increasing amount of their social interactions take place). for our students, a lot is a stake - in some cases, nothing less than their digital identities, which, of course, inform and influence and compose and shape many components of their offline selves.

long story short: i told my students to blog about whatever they desired. later in the semester, as we get more comfortable with the classroomsphere and the blogosphere, as we begin to recognize and respect our own voices and the voices of others, we'll get more advanced. there's plenty of time over the semester to discuss blog ethics, tones, and styles; there's plenty of time to discuss the virtues of RSS, various design strategies, and the magic of a well thought out comment.

in the meantime, this week's goal is two-fold and quite simple: 1) let's begin to blog and 2) let's begin to find our voices.

newsflash! for the first time, i am using technorati tags. i am doing this so that this blog entry will be found and considered by the collective team of editors at teaching carnival. teaching carnival is a smart attempt to collect and annotate various blog posts related to teaching in higher education institutions. if you are interested in higher education teaching, you should seriously consider getting involved. the more we are, the smarter we get.

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kq said...


good move assenting to the wish for first name only.

hope that it is profitable for all.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Suddenly I'm flashing back to very very long ago: I'll show you mine if you show me yours. Welcome, risk!

Unknown said...

I hope you'll keep writing about this. I'm teaching my second class with blogs. The first class, however, was *about* blogging. This class is not. Since I teach first year students, I allow them to use pseudonyms so that if they totally screw up, they can deny they ever existed under that name. I do, however, remind them that they are public, it's a small school and if they blog mean things or inappropriate things, it's probably going to be easy for people to find out who they are. And the class knows who they are anyway.

Lonny J Brooks said...


Great approach! I'm teaching an interpersonal communication course this fall and I'm going to have my students create a blog as a way to explore their digital identity. It really helps to hear what you're doing. Thanks!

Little Amieh has a cold now so I guess we'll have to wait to meet up for lunch/dinner in the city. How about in October? I'll email you separately on this.

All the best!


Kevin said...

David, I was thinking along the same lines too, by having my students next semester setup their own blogs as a week 1 assignment.

However, respecting their privacy, I plan to allow them to use pseudonyms. I believe that some form of anonymity serves a strong proponent for democracy.

Besides, there's a certain mystique about anonymous blogging which they could explore as well.

At the end of the semester, I hope for students to share their experience having blogged differently.

Anonymous said...

kevin - tomorrow is the final, so the course is nearly finished. at this point, if i had to do it again, i would certainly make pseudonyms an option.

oh, and i wouldn't have them blog so early. lately, i've been really interested in what barbara ganley calls "slow blogging.

with luck, my use of blogs in spring will be much different from fall.