Blog Contributions to the Composition Classroom
I used blogs as the primary medium for teaching writing in this course. Two of the major assignments—the Opinion Editorial and Rhetorical Analysis—became blog posts themselves, and blogs played a significant role in the other major assignments. Each student was required to publish approximately two blog posts per week, according to prompts I issued them through a “class blog” that I ran myself, and to post at least five comments per week on one another’s posts, engendering digital discussion.
Students began the course with the Opinion Editorial assignment, during which they analyzed a variety of op-ed blogs and websites as they learned essential aspects of rhetoric—both in reference to writing specifically, as well as multimodal forms. The end result of this unit was an op-ed blog post they wrote themselves, on a topic of their choice, utilizing multimodal rhetoric.
During the Rhetorical Analysis assignment, students searched through more opinion- oriented blogs and news sites, finally (with the help of myself and their fellow students, through their own blogs) choosing a particular post/site to focus on for this particular assignment. They then published a “Rhetorical Analysis” blog post analyzing the multimodal rhetoric of their site of choice.
In order to instruct the students on proper MLA formatting, and due to the shorter form factor that blogs inevitably inhabit, the Issues Paper was assigned as a “normal” 8-10 page writing assignment. However, students continued to use their blogs as a collaborative forum to which they posted outlines, sample paragraphs, thesis statements, and other items from their Issues Papers for critique and discussion.
The Multimodal Argument became a culminating project of sorts, where students had the opportunity to synthesize all they had learned about visual and written rhetoric, and present the results to their classmates.
I assigned students the traditional Writing and Rhetoric and Writing and Rhetoric Supplemental Guide textbooks, along with the Writing Matters style guide. In addition to these texts, students were required to search out a number of blogs and websites on their own, as well as read their classmates’ blog posts.
The way we think, write, read, and communicate is shifting faster than the newest cell phone models; “new media” is rapidly becoming a legitimate and viable vehicle for rhetoric and a tool that needs to be emphasized in writing courses. Indeed, the question no longer revolves around whether we should use new media in the classroom, but how we should use it. I think that blogs are one of, if not the, best way(s) to go about this. Diane Penrod states in her book Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy, “What educators and parents must consider is how they can use blogs as a bridge between the student worlds and the academic or professional world inhabited by adults. Blogs are certainly malleable enough to become that link between school and the outside world” (46). I initiated this experimental course not only to create this “bridge” that Penrod discusses, but also to use blogs to enhance students’ knowledge of writing and rhetoric theory, and to help them understand how those principles can be put into practice outside of the classroom, college, or university—not to mention the countless other potential benefits of helping students create their own blogs, from the empowerment of self-publication and the development of a sense of community to the enhancement of hyper-attention.
Students seemed to respond positively to this course structure. The idea of approaching writing from a non-traditional direction seemed to encourage them, if nothing else. To my surprise, many students had no knowledge of how to create blogs during the first semester I taught this particular course, and I had to restructure some of my lessons to accommodate that miscalculation. While college students—and freshman in particular—are without a doubt immersed in new media, they don’t necessarily have a working knowledge of new media in all of its forms. But once I taught them a few basics, and emphasized the easy learning curve of blogging (and the simplicity of learning how to blog and do all sorts of other things through Google, YouTube, and other sources), the students picked up the assignments quickly.
I also witnessed a much stronger class community during the two semesters that I taught this experimental course (as opposed to other courses in which I used blogs minimally, or not at all). Students had an easier time working in groups, peer review situations, and other collaborative activities, and their reflections on said activities were generally much more positive than previous semesters. While I can’t attribute this change directly to blogs, I feel confident in stating that the community the students slowly developed through reading and commenting on one another’s blogs (a process that included reading personal and “free” posts, as well as academic, assignment-related posts) enhanced their ability to work together and form a writing community.
As an instructor, I also had a positive experience with this course structure. I found the students’ assignments, in general, much more interesting to grade (because they were using multiple forms of rhetoric, and [usually] writing on topics that they found interesting), and I also enjoyed getting to know my students better by reading wide samples of their writing, from academic Issues Paper-style writing to creative work to personal, journal-like updates on their life. This also helped me get a better handle on each student’s writing voice and style, and how to best counsel them in developing that.
Many instructors are already integrating blogs into their classrooms in one form or another. In fact, I’ve seen a number of them approaching the idea in ways that I had never considered or thought possible. One aspect of this process I’ve seen that seems to be very effective, and that I didn’t spend as much time perfecting in my own course, is the use of the instructor-run “class blog” as a modeling exercise and as a center for class announcements and general blog prompts. While I ran my “class blog” as a minimalist, utilitarian space whose only real purpose was to convey information, I’ve noticed a number of other instructors whose “class blogs” far outshine my own. Approaching this aspect of the course from an instructive modeling perspective would provide the students with an ever-present idea of how to integrate good rhetoric into their blogs (as opposed to just my demonstration of sharply created websites and blogs in-class).
If teaching this course again, I would also look into ways to expand the students’ blogging community beyond the classroom, encouraging them to develop their own “blogroll” of blogs that interest them, and to participate in those respective communities, whether those communities encompass political blogs, “mommy” blogs, sports blogs, etc. While I appreciated the sense of classroom community that the students developed, I think an important aspect of demonstrating how the blog medium itself can be useful beyond the classroom is showing those students how to join and participate in other digital communities that interest them. Encouraging a “blog portfolio” or a “digital interest portfolio” may be a good way of approaching this issue.
Overall, this course was a very positive experience—both for me and for my students. If you’re considering integrating new media into your classroom, I’d recommend putting blogs at the top of your list.
Penrod, Diane. Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy: The Next Powerful Step in 21st-Century Learning. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. Print.
View the course syllabus here: Husberg_Syllabus