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Why and How I Blog (GWSS uses of Uthink blog)

I recently wrote a letter in support of UThink blog upgrade (a long overdue move to latest version of Movable Type).

I thought that I should share with all of you, since so frequently (on campus and in cyberspace) I am asked why and how I use blogs as tools for teaching, learning, and as a means of distribution for creative media work. I did conduct a workshop last year on FEMINIST TEACHING WITH TECHNOLOGY, but that was mostly tech (with theoretical overview), much of which is expanded here.

I would have to say that my favorite use of the course blogs (beyond what I've listed below) is the adaption of a "typical" midterm film analysis paper that asks students to analyze a film scene, shot by shot. By adapting that assignment to be a blog assignment, SEE HERE, I can actually see the images (students take using screen grab in the FMC, which gives them additional tech tools, as well as opens up their work to all of our classroom community of learners.

So here's the letter:

I am a doctoral candidate and Graduate Instructor in the department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies and an avid user of the UThink blogging system for teaching, learning, research, creative work, and community building. The use of UThink blogs has been central to all of the CLA courses that I have taught from 2006 to the present. I have been eagerly awaiting the UThink update to the latest version of Movable Type because the group blog format and other enhanced features that are currently available. An upgrade of the current system would be tremendously beneficial to my work, and to the work of many UThink bloggers in my department.

I first used a course blog for my fall 2006 course (WoSt 3307) FEMINIST FILM STUDIES. This course had 80 enrolled students, which is a large course for GWSS and can be difficult to teach with feminist pedagogy; I engage practices and methods that centers student voices, utilizes active learning practices, and builds the classroom as a space of community of learners. Using the blog for this course enabled community building beyond our weekly meeting time, in so many ways. I was able to “hear? all of the student’s voices and ideas, which is an impossibility during the limited class periods. I found that students who rarely speak in the classroom, often took the lead on blog discussions, and their ideas prompted many rigorous discussions. The first assignment, a “low risk? task, was to post a “Top 10? favorite list of films. This assignment allowed the class to share films screened outside of class, and let me know, as the Instructor, that they knew how to post, embed images, create links, and embed video clips, all tasks that were required for the remainder of the course’s academic and creative assignments. I also discovered that students, without being required to post comments, read each other’s posts, posted comments, and began to create a true community of learners beyond the “traditional? campus classroom and meeting hours, without my prompt, requirement or intervention.

Additionally, the blogs connect students, very literally, to learning and community beyond the enrolled students. I use blog as a way for students to share their research, like an assignment that asks students to “report? on women of color filmmakers. Students were amazed when some of the filmmakers posted in the comments of their posts. In their course evaluations, the students said that having their idea on the web, connected to filmmakers in the “real? world, made it seem that their assignments were a part of the feminist tradition of recovery and spotlight of women’s works that aren’t always easily accessible. For course final projects (often videos, photo essays, and powerpoint presentations), I ask students to post their work to the blog. This enables us to easily move from one project to the next (without the usual tech set-up delays during in-class presentations), is a way for students work to be showcased beyond class, and remains as an archive of the work, and still receives comments from those on and off campus.

In courses such as my spring 2008 (GWSS 3390) FEMINIST MEDIA MAKING, and my current course (AFRO3910/GWSS 3390) DIGITAL STORYTELLING in and with Communities of Color the blog is central to assignments and active student learning practices. I required assignments be posted to the blog, which creates engaged conversations (that is normally only a two-way street, traveled between student and Instructor only). With the blog, students ideas and discussions flow across complex interchanges and intersections, with all of the community of learners participating and benefit from peer learning. Blog posts often become prompts for course discussion, and a site for all of us to share information linking our site to news and events on campus. I also post all of the technical instructions (like how to use particular software or embed video in their post) on the blog, and as a result I find that students, accessing this information from anywhere they find themselves working, and often they post more than just the required assignments. Additionally, I often have students keep their own blogs as journals to trace their engagement with course ideas. Without the group blog features available in Movable Type updates, I create a work-around by linking the course blog to each of the blogs in the right sidebar, functional but clunky, to say the least.

It’s also important to note that I was an CLA IT Fellow (2005 – 2007), and taught the faculty, graduate students, majors, minors and enrolled GWSS students how to blog. In the beginning many were cautious, skeptical, or just resistant to using the blogs, fearful of privacy issues and exposure of their students. With my courses as a model, and an instruction on uses display name alias tool in UThink, I’ve found (and heard through feedback with others) that students, accountable to the reading “public? post thoughts phrased more critically, rather than personally attacking (as some feel comfortable doing when they only hand the paper in to the faculty). Some of our courses use the blogs for assignments, event postings, and reading response papers, while some courses use blogs for the sharing of creative work like adbusting and postcard projects (similar to Post Secret. Blogs are used for large and small enrollment courses, and for both lecture section and discussion sections. I have not received any negative feedback from the use of course blogs. Currently, there are numerous GWSS course blogs on the UThink system, and the numbers and methods of uses seems to be expanding exponentially.

I welcome you to visit our blogs to see brilliant, creative, and engaged scholarly work that is happening because of the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Department’s use of the UThink blogging tools.

Visit is our departmental blog: GWSS COMMUNITY BLOG

Visit some of our course blogs:
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/raim0007/feministmediamaking/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/raim0007/gwss3307_summer2008/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/raim0007/gwss3307_fall2007/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/raim0007/gwss1001/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/raim0007/gwss3307_summer07/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/raim0007/wost3307/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/giust002/feministfilmfall08/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/hedg0028/gwss/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/puxxx012/gwss1001sec3/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/puot0002/gwss4103/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/puot0002/glbt1001/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/puot0002/gwss3004/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/puot0002/gwss3306/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/puot0002/gwss4402/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/puot0002/gwss4402/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/puot0002/gwss5103/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/kamin001/gwss8490/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/zitax001/blog3307a/

Visit some of our personal blogs:
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/raim0007/RaeSpot/
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/englu057/gwss3307/

Please don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss my excitement and uses of the UThink blogging system in further detail. I support a quick upgrade of the UThink system and hope that we can upgrade the system immediately. Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely,
Rachel Raimist
Former IT Fellow / Doctoral Candidate, GWSS / Graduate Instructor, GWSS and AFRO

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