Today I gave an invited presentation on class blogs at DePauw. Our Faculty Instructional Technology Support (FITS) sponsored a workshop called "Beyond Technology in the Classroom." My presentation was part of a session on online writing projects. Other sessions included using laptops in the classroom and using classroom projection. The workshop started with talks by two professors and the Dean of Faculty on the state of instructional technology at DePauw. The focus for the whole workshop was on the pedagogical benefits and drawbacks of these various types of instructional technology, rather than on the nuts-n-bolts of how to do it.
I talked about my seminar blogs (see class blogs to the left), and why I use them. My original purpose was to get students more concerned about writing to an audience. By expanding the audience from one (me) to at least their classmates they already expand their vision of audience. I also wanted the students to get quick feedback from me, feedback from each other, and feedback from the interested public (you, Dear Readers). I also found that the dialogue made in comments helped form communal bonds between the students, which is a main goal of our first-year seminars. The class blog is also important given the unusual set up of the music seminars. My students rotate through four other professors for eight weeks in the middle of the semester. The blog allows me to keep in close contact with the students, allowing me to form bonds with the students.
Negatives include the amount of time the professor must spend reading and responding to the blog posts. I can't complain about that, as I spend a lot of time reading other music blogs anyways. The students tend to develop more informal writing voices than in a traditional paper, which could be undesirable to some professors. I prefer the authentic voices my students have developed, with the goal of personal investment and thoughtful expression. It is difficult to produce a formal research paper on a blog. The Chicago Style of citation (standard for music scholarship) requires footnotes that demand more advanced HTML skills than the students have.
One of my colleagues who presented today has an excellent solution to this problem. He has his students write about 13 blog posts through the semester. Three or four of those posts are developed into 3-5 page papers, and one of the papers is developed into a 10-page research paper. The students get the practice of regular writing through the blogs, but also practice formal research skills as well.
What are your experiences with class blogs or other online writing projects?