Fall 2013 is underway, and that means there’s a new class blog up at EnglishLiteratureFall2013.wordpress.com. (It’s a bit wordy, but it’s easy for students to remember.) The three most common questions I get from colleagues each semester are (1) How do I find time to keep up a blog? (2) Why do I keep a class blog? and (3) How do I use/curate a class blog?
To address the first question: the blog actually saves me time. If there’s a topic that I don’t have time to teach, I can blog about it, which takes maybe 15-20 minutes of my time. Better still, I can assign a student to blog about it. Really, the students do most of the work; that’s the whole idea. My primary role is curatorial. The blog becomes an interactive writing assignment and, therefore, doesn’t take any more time on my part than a traditional assignment. Plus, they’re easier and more entertaining to grade.
I think that also answers the question of why I keep a class blog. I just didn’t have time in class to talk about fun topics like spirit photography or to show YouTube videos of an animated James Joyce reading Finnegan’s Wake. The blog lets us discuss those topics that students usually find really interesting. It also allows students to engage in digital scholarship and utilize a wide range of media while learning something about texts and contexts. It’s a format that most students are already familiar with, and it gives students who may not be great at class participation a chance to contribute more to the conversation.
That brings us to the other common question–the how. The instructions for the class blog are quite simple: I give a list of suggested topics and due dates, and students either choose from the list or propose their own topic and date. Most students choose from the list, which is designed to coincide with themes and topics from course readings. Students submit their posts, along with any media attachments, and, if I approve the post, it goes up on the class blog. Additionally, students are required to comment on at least five posts throughout the semester.
Like any other assignment, some students respond really well, and others don’t. On the anonymous evaluations at the end of each semester, some students find the assignment elementary, while others comment that the blog allowed them to engage with history and contexts in a way that made the text come to life. Ideally, by the end of the semester, students are collaborating and interacting on a digital project that they can be proud of. You can see an example of a previous class’s work at eng1411.wordpress.com.