Blog Assignment: An Experiment

This entry was originally posted here.

So, the semester begins next week and I am in the process of actually crafting (as opposed to only thinking about) a blog assignment for my Queering Theory course. Since I have spent so much time this summer using the blog, I have decided to really go for it and make the blog an integral part of the course. Here is my description of the blog assignment as it appears in my syllabus:

Overview
Class Participation 20%
Blog Entries 20%
Blog Active Engagement 20%
2 Presentations (2 @ 10% each) 20%
Final Wrap-up 20%

Assignment Description
The bulk of your assignments this semester (blog entries, blog participation, 2 presentations and your final wrap-up) will be organized around the development of and participation in our class blog. Once we have worked out the details together in the first and second weeks of class, I will distribute and post on our blog a more detailed handout.

By the third week of course you will be required to pick one of the suggested topics related to queer and queering theory. These topics are listed at the end of this description. You will be responsible for tracking this term throughout the course of the semester. By tracking I mean that you will be required to pay particular attention to your topic as you are reading, discussing and thinking about queering theory. You will be required to post weekly entries in which you critically reflect on your topic and: a. how it is addressed in our readings or discussions or b. how it is relevant to current events or c. how it is represented within popular culture (television shows, movies, music, on the internet). You are encouraged to be creative in your tracking of the term. You can draw on a wide range of sources and post your blog entries in many different forms.

In addition to posting your own entries, you are required to actively read other blogs and other students' entries. Your active engagement will come in the form of commenting on other blogs, creating links within your own entries, and incorporating comments from other entries/blogs into your in-class participation.

Each of the suggested topics is explicitly related to the readings for one class session. You are required to do one brief (roughly 10 minute) presentation on your topic on the day that we are explicitly reading about and discussing it. You are also required to do one (slightly) longer presentation on your topic/blog participation in the last week of the course. Details about your presentation (including the date of your first presentation) will be listed in the detailed handout.

Finally, you are required to submit a final wrap-up on your experiences tracking your chosen topic and on helping to develop and participate in the blog. This wrap-up can come in the form of a lengthy blog entry (or series of entries) or a separate (more formal) reflective essay. Please see me if you have other thoughts on how to organize/develop/articulate your reflective thoughts on your topic and your experience with the blog.

Topics
GENDER
PERFORMATIVITY/PERFORMANCE
ABJECT
RESISTANCE
REJECTION or REFUSAL
BODIES and MATERIAL EXPERIENCE
PUNISHMENT/CONSEQUENCES
NORMS
GLOBAL/TRANSNATIONAL/DIASPORA
NATION/CITIZEN
ANTI-CAPITALISM
YOUTH
TIME
This trouble blog serves, at least partly, as an inspiration for the assignment. I have found tracking the term "trouble" through readings, popular culture, and current events to be extremely helpful in organizing my thoughts and enabling me to engage in critical thinking from a feminist and queer perspective. Hopefully, the students will also find it useful to track their terms throughout the semester.

I have decided to work out some of the details, like how many entries and what kind of entries, with the students in the first couple of class sessions. But, how? In the past, I have found that giving students too much of a say without guidelines or structure to be too overwhelming for them (whether they are first years just starting college or grad students who are almost finished with their course work). So, I need to give them some concrete options for how to complete the assignment (that's something that I will be working on today).

Note about active engagement: In the third entry in my feminist pedagogy and blogging series, I raised the question of how to create assignments that assess the amount of engagement (active or silent) that students are having with the class blog and with other related blogs. I think I have come up with some tentative strategies for assessment in my syllabus description that will enable students to demonstrate their engagement in a number of different ways. Again, here is my description:

In addition to posting your own entries, you are required to actively read other blogs and other students' entries. Your active engagement will come in the form of commenting on other blogs, creating links within your own entries, and incorporating comments from other entries/blogs into your in-class participation.
As I have mentioned in earlier entries, the usual way in which to assess (and encourage, demand) student participation in other students' entries is to require a certain number of posts per semester. Last year in one of my courses, I required that the students do 10 blog assignments altogether, with 5 of them being comments on other students' posts. This approach was fairly successful; it generated a lot of participation by students and helped foster a strong sense of class community. But after reading Sarah Hurlburt's comments about the invisible/silent reader here (and which I discuss here), I began to wonder about what other possibilities might exist for encouraging students to actively participate (and really read/reflect on others' entries) on our blog. I am excited about my above description because I think it does offer alternative ways to participate. Instead of requiring students to always comment on each other's blog entries, they can demonstrate that they have read (and have really thought about) them by incorporating ideas/thoughts from those entries into their own entries (with proper citing, of course) or into their comments in class. Hopefully this will expand the opportunities for students to actively engage and lessen their anxiety about coming up with an insightful comment.

My own experiences writing in my blog this summer, particularly my failure to post very many comments on other blogs that I have been reading and my dismay at the shockingly poor quality of blog comments on many blogs and news sites (especially newspapers--hey, Star Tribune, I am talking to you), prompted me to really think about the usefulness of comments. Do they create community? Well, they can but often don't. Do they demonstrate a rich engagement with the ideas of the original entry? Sometimes, but not always. Should they be the only way to engage in a blog as a reader (as opposed to a writer)? No. At some point, I would like to write more about how comments function (and fail to function). Until then, here is an interesting take on blog/web comments and the failure of internet discussion.