During the past semester, I’ve been running classblogs for my writing classes. Here are my observations from this experience:

  • It’s really hard to keep up with multiple classblogs. One should either (a) tell students from the start that it’s for practice and peer feedback, and that comments will be limited to encouragement but mainly on the content of random posts not feedback on grammar or structure, or (b) make sure that one can actually keep up with giving specific feedback on mechanics to a certain percentage of posts.
  • It’s quite useful to tell EFL students that a specific number of posts per week is necessary. They will tend to think it’s too many no matter what you say, but if you make it clear the blog is for practice, they will tend to understand. 2-3 posts a week is plenty of writing and typing practice.
  • It’s important to check that people aren’t cutting and pasting content from elsewhere. That means it’s important to read posts occasionally, catch up and to deduct copy-and-pasted content, even including memes, from the post totals.
  • It’s important to reward solid effort and if possible to show a running count of who has posted how many posts and comments in the sidebar of the main page, so that students are aware of how close they are to achieving their quota.
  • A small number of students probably won’t participate actively, and it’s hard to know what to do. If they’re technophobic, is it right to punish them? Some just won’t bother, or will lose track of the blog even with constant reminders and encouragement. Perhaps some kind of mailing list would be useful if it could be set up to send automated announcements every few weeks reminding people to check their post totals against the current quotas.
  • The more active the comments sections are, the more likely students will return to the blog. Reducing per-week post quotas and imposing a quota on comments may be a good idea.
  • It’s very useful to use the classblog as a place where students are encouraged to practice target techniques and target language exercises. I often assign paragraph assignments from the book to be written up and posted on the blog. This lessens the load on marking while still giving students practice at working on polished paragraphs which are to be presented to a reader (ie. something other than just another diary entry.)
  • If a class is less than enthusiastic, a classblog becomes a chore for everyone involved. Perhaps a Daum Cafe or some other familiar setting might help, but I have serious doubts. It’s more likely that, just as with any other activity, a lack of enthusiasm among students can only be compensated for to a certain degree by the teacher, after which it’s the students’ own fault that nobody’s having fun.
  • No matter how often or how clearly you restate the fact that blog participation will be part of the final grade, people will still overlook it. (Just like class participation, actually.) You will have A students who don’t bother to post all semester, and you will have C students who realize this blog thing is a way of getting a leg up on the competition. I find the most avid bloggers are the people who are getting the lowest grades on homework, and it’s very wise of them to capitalize on the fact that the classblog grades takes persistent effort and practice into account and not just grammar and mechanics. But anyway, you need to carefully consider how much the blog mark will be worth. In my advanced course, it’s worth 25% of the final grade. In the elementary classes it’s worth 20%, and replaces in-class participation. I suspect that I’ll go down to 20% and 15% respectively, next time I teach these courses.

All in all, I found the use of group blogs in writing classes to be imperfect, but still pretty good for a number of purposes, and I will be doing it again.

5 thoughts on “ClassBlogging

  1. What sorts of things were discussed on the class blog? Just anything related to class? Did you give them specific prompts?
    Oh, sorry – I just noticed that you mentioned paragraph assignments and diary entries. Was this the main sort of thing they were posting?

  2. Yeah, I gave a lot of prompts in class. This was a “Learning to write in English” course, ie. an EFL (language) course, so we often discussed specific techniques or structures (organizational, rhetorical, grammatical) and the students were asked to use those structures or techniques on the blog. For example, sometimes I’d ask them to post on whatever subject they wished, but to use three compound sentences with the conjunctions and, but, and or.

    On other occasions, I asked them to write something on theme, related to the readings section of the textbook for that week.

    And finally, a number of the blog posts would be on subjects of their own choosing, merely for the sheer simple purpose of (a) practicing writing and (b) learning to generate interesting topics and reflect on them in interesting ways.

    I found there was less discussion than I had originally hoped, and that it was relatively simple discussion — mainly posts, with a little feedback sometimes — but then again, I can’t say that’s a bad thing. Comment sections tend to be a great place to unwind and discuss things, but they also aren’t particularly given to careful, clear writing in an academic style, so I don’t mind that people did less commenting and more posting. In some ways, I actually prefer it.

    Next semester, I’ll be teaching two Intermediate writing courses, and I have a feeling I’m going to have a single classblog set up for all the students to use. It’ll be a lot easier to track, a lot more interesting (since curiosity about the other class may arise), and I think it’ll give more of a “blog” experience, where you’re reading the writing of people you may or may not actually know in real life. The drawback is that people will either (a) complain when one class is assigned some piece of blog homework that the other class isn’t assigned, or (b) get bored when the blog homework is too similar in both classes. It’ll take some careful thought to prevent either case from arising…

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