blogs as college teaching tools


As this quarter winds down, I'm thinking about how to fold my rekindled enthusiasm for web-related technologies into the two courses I'm teaching next quarter--Web Design & Implementation for undergrads, and a seminar in XML for the Web (undergrads and grads).

Group and individual blogs seemed like a no-brainer concept, but I've had a hard time finding them used effectively in higher ed contexts.

Then today, I saw a mention on grumpygirl's blog that led me to a blog that was clearly written by a student whose professor was talking about web design. The problem? As grumpygirl notes, the student provides no contact info, and no link back to a class site.

Not to be deterred, I change into my alter-ego, the technolibrarian. (Cue music. "Ain't no info lost enough, ain't no details obscured enough, ain't no meta tags bad enough, to keep me from finding more about you..."). A search in Google on Jessica's user ID and her teacher's last name (which she's helpfully mentioned in a post) yields quick results. She's apparently a student in in Charles Lowe's Writing About Digital Culture class at Florida State.

My first assumption was that it would be a technology course, but it's not. It's a freshman comp class! How cool is that? Geez, my freshmen would love a class like this. I need to find a way to open a channel of communication with the Language and Lit department at RIT about this. (Luckily, my mom teaches there. How convenient. :-)

From the syllabus:

First-Year Writing courses at FSU teach writing as a recursive and frequently collaborative process of invention, drafting, and revising. Writing is both personal and social, and students should learn how to write for a variety of purposes and audiences. Since writing is a process of making meaning as well as communicating, FYW teachers respond to the content of students' writing as well as to surface errors.

[ . . . ]

In this class, we will be exploring many aspects of digital culture, including virtual communities, the history of the internet, creating hypertext, open source, artificial intelligence, blogging, etc. We will read Snow Crash, a cyberpunk sci-fi novel, and use the novel as a jumping off point for exploring directions that technology will take us in the future, as well as how these changes will impact society. We also will read many articles from the web which discuss some of the subjects listed above. And you'll be encouraged to expand your research to explore aspects of digital culture not covered in this class. Since this is a writing class and because learning about digital culture also means being an active participant, we will make heavy use of the class web site and every student will keep an individual weblog, or "blog."

Excellent. Must e-mail him asap to find out how the blogging is going in that class.


I also teach a Freshman comp class on digital issues: "Being Digital/Digital Writing."

I'm having my students keep a personal blog on any subject they like--primarily to establish a practice of near-daily writing in relation to reading. Some like it, some don't. But in those that blog often, I have seen a marked improvement in their writing. I think it is because blogging connects writing to thinking in a very concrete way. I have also experimented with Wikis (last semester's got a great response--primarily because I made each student responsible for a section--and this semester's-- an experiment in more encouraged collaborative writing--has worked less well), and I plan on making 1/4 of my classes next semester occur in a MOO and replacing the Wiki with focused writing in Moospace.

Thanks, Brandon. Think I'm going to have to put a list of these together somewhere.

Did you have much trouble getting folks at U of R to agree to the digital focus and tools in a comp class?

Nope. Of course, I never really asked, I just said, "Here's what I'm doing!". They give us quite a bit of freedom in course design; that said, I try my best to make sure that I'm never asking too much technically of my students. I teach basic HTML to the few that want it and let experts do as they please, but I don't feel comfortable forcing tech skills on freshmen in a required-course situation. If the course was an optional one, I guess I would be much more practically tech-focused....

Just found this posting and wanted to mention that we -- the Literature faculty at Richard Stockton College -- require each one of our majors to have a weblog. In two beginning courses -- Literary Methodology and Literary Research -- they are taught basic HTML, searching, evaluation of web pages, hypertext and to create a weblog. We use the weblog as an archival portfolio of their best work.

We also use weblogs for team projects where, eg., they might annotate a poem as well as providing background info on the time and the poet. An example is at:

This term I am going to use a wiki and some new software I just found at Harvard called H2o. If you haven't looked at it you can read about it at:

The software is available; I just got it working on a linux machine or they will host a class on their public site. It is hard to explain in a few words what this conferencing software does but, basically, it handles very specific discussions of precise questions.

Enough rambling. Just wanted to respond to your posting.

ken tompkins

PS: I can provide a list of other weblogs that we are pleased with. Some are really very good.

Very interesting. When I read your comments I thought that we can learn a lot off new technologies of you here in germany.

Some of you may have read about my experiences using blogs in my freshman composition class: Writing to the Moment. Several "high profile" bloggers noticed that I had linked to them and commented on it in their own blogs. I realized (after some reflection) that blogging has helped students to see their writing much more explicitly in terms of audience. I'm still in the process of measuring whether or not their writing has improved, but I'm optomistic that it will help. Many of my students have also become enthusiastic readers of blogs, searching out interesting reading independently of blogs discussed in class.

Fortunately (to answer the question already addressed to Brandon) the English composition administrators are very supportive of innovative uses of digital technologies to teach freshman writing. In fact, I'm giving a talk to other Teaching Fellows here at Tech on my experiences with blogging. Right now, the only major change I'd make is to have students use MT or TypePad instead of Blogger.

This is very interresting, i have to come to this Blog more often

regards Frank

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This page contains a single entry published on November 14, 2002 8:01 AM.

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