Most of my students have now created and published their first blog entries. Some are stellar; others are awkward; still others are missing altogether. But overall, I'm pleased.
Before I get further into evaluating the progress of this blog project with my students, I wanted to explain the assignment. I'm calling this the Inquiry Blog Assignment.
What kind of blogs are we writing?
We are writing blogs to encourage ongoing research and idea development on our individually chosen research questions/topics. By having students write these blogs, I'm playing with Wendy Richmond's idea of blogs as big cardboard boxes--to collect and synthesize materials and thoughts, to ultimately reflect upon (and SHARE) a work in progress (see this entry for more on Richmond).
I love the idea of using these blogs as living annotated bibliographies. But I encourage students to treat the blog as a weekly evaluation of their own current thought on their topics, as well as a weekly digest of research they found that week. I encourage students to describe, interpret, and respond to research materials. I ask them to critically assess their own evolving views on their chosen topics. These blogs also function as thesis-seeking tools.
I'm trying to replicate this very process in this blog--my own inquiry blog. I'm working alongside my students. My research topic is obvious: blogging with students... will it work? what's the most effective way to blog with students? what will my students teach me in this process? what will I change for the next time around?
The Assignment Specifics
This blog assignment correlates to the final research article project for our course--Writ 3110 Advanced Writing in Arts & Letters. The assignment also correlates with the research proposal, written about 1/3 into the semester. I'm advertising this blog as a sort of expanded and fluid online annotated bibliography. But it's more than that too. Here are the specific assignment requirements (the assignment is worth 10% of their final grade):
The students must produce the following to get an A on this project:
1 introductory BLOG entry
5 core BLOG entries
1 concluding BLOG entry
The students must space these entries out over our 8 week summer session together, with at least one entry each week, and no more than 7 days between entries. The students can write as many entries as they like, but they must meet the bare minimum requirements. Each entry must be 400 words or more.
The students must also integrate 8 total credible source references into these blog entries, referring to at least 1 new source per entry. So, each entry might offer 1 or 2, maybe 3, source references. These sources should be clearly identified by the writer, so that readers can easily link to or find the sources on their own.
As far as organization, I told the students to not worry about addressing their topic in an orderly way. I'm trying hard to remove any kind of psychological barriers to this project. My main mantra: get in there and write! Don't put it off! Have fun with it!
Students can make their identities cloaked or transparent. Each student posts a link to their blog on our course Moodle page, so that other students (and I) can browse as desired.
A note on the "conclusion" blog entry: I don't necessarily like the idea of making this blog have finality, but it seemed the most practical plan for now, especially since it correlates with our course research project.
*I'm carrying out this project for the first time in a summer session course, which is 8 weeks instead of the typical 15 week + final exams week semester, so that explains
some of the structure.
Keeping it Experimental (Low Risk)
A very important note: After much reflection, I'm treating this first time as experimental, which is why I used the grade contract. In other words, as long as the student fulfills the basic requirements above, an A is given, even if the writing or the focus of the blogs is off, and even if the sources are not used effectively. The students are very aware of this flexibility, and their work on this "experiment" this semester will help me to decide how to evaluate the blogs for my fall semester courses.
It is very likely that my standards for grading the blogs will change and expand (and escalate). Next time I will put more emphasis on quality, but because I was going into this green, I wanted to keep things simple and low risk.
For this first time around, I decided to ditch the typical annotated bibliography and progress report assignment to allow room and time to work on this blog. This blog project is replacing a more traditional annotated bibliography and progress report. In the future I may continue with this change, or I might re-integrate a good old fashioned annotated bibliography back into the curriculum. But for this first time around I just wanted to make sure that I didn't overwhelm students, so I erred on the side of simplicity.
Just Write. Just Write.
I have to pay attention to this mantra myself: just write. For my first entry, I spent too much time grooming the language, too much time revising. And this is exactly what I'm trying to get my students away from: unnecessary grooming/editing/revising, at least for this first experimental blog. Rather, I want them to engage critically with the writing of these entries but more so as an epistemological tool: Blogging as a way of thinking.
Mostly, I don't want students to put off writing because they're trying to write the perfect weekly entry. No perfect entries!
That said, writing these blogs brings up great discussions on what to edit/revise and why, and it brings up the fact that we can't help but edit and revise even during very spontaneous modes of writing.
One question I find myself having: How long is a good blog entry? I'm afraid that my entries are a bit too long so far, and perhaps too detailed and wordy. This is something I'll work on alongside pursuing ideas from others on what defines the ideal blog.
Stay tuned for more specifics on my students' developing blogs along with my ongoing thoughts about how to make this project really work. I hope to encourage other instructors/teachers/professors to blog with their students. So far I believe that there is good reason to read, write, and teach the BLOG.
Just One Kind of Blog?
I'm very aware that there are other types of blogs that could be meaningful and exciting for students to work on, but a blog to correlate with an actual in-class research project seemed like a good place to start. Later I'll explore other possibilities.