(this is part 2 of Gale Kenny’s reflections on teaching with blogs during the fall semester):
As I had feared, it became difficult to respond adequately to everyone’s posts, and to keep track of the comments for grading purposes. I ended up requiring the students to turn in three “blog portfolios” during the semester for which they collected their posts and comments and then emailed them to me. I would highly recommend this fix! It is easy to find and evaluate posts, but keeping track of the comments was really difficult.
The other major flaw concerned timing. For reasons I’ve since forgotten, I had decided against creating a schedule for the blogs, and so students almost always posted and commented during a 24-hour period before class. This created a time crunch for me since my other class met on the same day as the seminar, and I couldn’t spend as much time responding to posts as I would have liked. It also annoyed some students who wanted to get their three comments done, but had to wait on their classmates to post. It also defeated one of the goals of the blog: to continue a discussion throughout the week.
Overall, the positive far outweighed the negative, and I ended up preferring the hub-and-spoke method to the class blog. I would, however, make a few changes in the future:
· Next semester, I’m going to divide the students up into groups, and then have each group create and maintain a blog. This will, I hope, create even more conversation since students will only have to keep track of 3-4 other people rather 20 other students.
I am also requiring that the students post something new every day, and that they work out a schedule among themselves. I hope this will avoid a frenzy of posts and comments hours before class.
To help with grading and commenting on my end, I’ve borrowed an idea from a colleague who asked a graduate student (not a TA, but a student taking the course) to keep track of the blogs for his class. I plan on doing the same for my course on the history of marriage in the US that I will be teaching in the Spring. Instead of writing her own weekly posts, one of the graduate students in my course will write up summaries about the various discussions on the blogs for the class’s main website and engage directly with the students on their blogs. This will give her some teaching experience beyond the usual TA work, and it will help me to manage the online part of class.