Posted by: kljolly | August 2, 2012

student blogs

Almost a month since my last post, I realized today while reading Jonathan Jarrett’s recent post, both a lament and a resolve to do more.  I found myself identifying with many parts of it, but especially the uneven rhythm of academic life created by the competition between research, teaching, and service.  Even in the research arena, some projects cycle quickly, but the ones we care about are the long deep ones that frequently get pushed aside by the “tyranny of the urgent” (not just grading student work or doing committee reports, but editing volumes, writing short pieces, or serving as a peer reviewer).Two things have slowed me down in the last month.

Jerry Bentley (1949-2012) and wife Carol Mon Lee, History Department party at the Waikiki Aquarium, 2002.

One is the untimely death of my dear colleague Jerry Bentley on July 15, after a 7 month battle with pancreatic cancer.  Like Jonathan’s memorial to Mark Blackburn, I found myself contemplating the life and work of someone who passed away at the height of his creative powers.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with Jerry in the last month of his life and gather some stories of his life and career to use in a biographical portrait (one version of which is coming out in the September issue of The Journal of World History).  I wanted to go back for more.  Alas, too soon he passed peacefully, but leaving many of us–but especially his wife Carol Mon Lee–wanting more time with him.  So for much of the last month I have been writing about Jerry and mourning his departure.

With the start of August, the other factor kicks in:  my sabbatical is over and I need to prepare fall classes.  For reasons unclear to me now (I know better), two of my classes involve experimentation.  For World History to 1500, I am using a “flip” classroom, essentially doing with a large first year class what I do with all my upper division students:  use class time to engage them in deeper analysis through dialogue, built (idealistically) on the premise that they do the reading before class.  Then in my early medieval class, I am planning to use blogging to fulfill the “writing intensive” component.  That brings me to this post’s subject:  any advice?

I do have one colleague who used WordPress in a course last year.  And the Chronicle of Higher Ed ran an article, “A Better Blogging Assignment,” from an experienced blogging instructor on becoming weary of reading student blogs (uh-oh) but also listing some excellent strategies he has developed.   One of our teaching specialists recommended Google Blogger as having an easier learning curve, so I am checking on that.

First off, I plan to incorporate blogging in such a way that if things go wrong we can go to plan B (just submit your paper to me electronically).  I don’t want the tool to get in the way of the content and skills they are supposed to be learning.

Second, the course has two different blog types.  The course (C) blog that I develop will post questions on the weekly reading for students to comment on; then as the semester progresses they (in groups or individually in assigned roles) will be in charge of writing posts on the readings as well as commenting.  This C blog will remain private, only for students as users.  It essentially replaces the online discussion board our university has (Laulima) and helps ensure that students come to class ready to dive deeper into the material.  The students will each develop their own P blog over the course of the semester, essentially a portfolio of writing.  For the four traditional paper assignments, they will instead create a “page” on their blog, with earlier drafts developed in posts to their blog.

Third, I am developing a guidebook for blogging, starting with a glossary of terms to define equivalencies, e.g. a page = a paper.  Then come all of the rules to keep them on track and out of the weeds in terms of finding, using, and citing sources.   For example, they should NOT use resources “beneath” them (K-12 websites, encyclopedias, online textbooks, History Channel, etc) but should use peer level or above resources, such as primary sources, artifacts, or scholarly articles by historians or other professional researchers that include documentation on source data and images.

So, veteran bloggers, have any of you used blogging in your courses and if so, what advice would you give me?

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