In my talk on Network Literacy last week, I said that many students won’t know what to write in that empty white box they see when they log on to Blogger.com or whatever system they’re supposed to be blogging on. To learn how to blog, most students will need some specific assignments. Once you’ve done some blogging and have experienced ways it can be done, it’s much easier to find that you actually want to blog something and come up with your own ideas for blog posts.

Jamie asked for some examples of such assignments, and digging around in my teaching and blogging category, the list I started became so long I thought it should be its own blog post.

  • First class: have them set up their blogs and write a brief post about what they hope to get out of the course – or any of those other kinds of first-class-things. (Blogger.com is easy enough that setting up a blog realistically only takes them a few minutes; if you use another system you may have to set up their blogs beforehand – making everyone install MovableType from scratch in their first class in 2003 was a disaster. Installing a blog for each of 60 students using MovableType in 2004 took ten hours. Therefore Blogger.com. There are of course many other options.)
  • Read other students’ blogs and leave comments on at least two of them.
  • The teacher explains what trackbacks are and shows how bloggers link to each other. Talk about weblog conversations – the visualisation of a blog conversation in this story tends to make sense to students. Make sure trackbacks are enabled, and then ask them to write a post in their own blog that responds to a post in a co-student’s blog – and that they link to that post. Talk about how this works – what’s the difference between a discussion in comments and between blogs?
  • Last ten minutes of class: Summarise the most important things you learnt this class in your blog.
  • Redesign your blog. (If learning HTML/CSS, and/or if thinking about identity online, self-representation etc
  • Write a blog post explaining why you redesigned your blog as you did. Link to sites that inspired you.
  • Discuss traditional academic citation techniques and look at examples of different ways in which bloggers cite their sources through links. Use /and/or redesign the blockquote feature in a blog post where you use a quote from another website and link to your source.
  • Write a how-to guide for your co-students – my students did this on their own in the process of learning web design (e.g. a colour-blind student explained how to design for colour-blind people, a topic I hadn’t thought of discussing) but this is something the teacher could give as an assignment.
  • Have students write reviews of other blogs (though be aware of ethical issues)
  • Have a look at some of Jenny Weight’s ideas
  • Do small group tasks and instead of (or as well as) doing the full class open discussion afterwards, have students write individual blog posts answering the small group assignment towards the end of the class. Many will actually finish a blog post at home if they’ve started on it in class, but hardly any will write it at home if they’ve not already started it – well, unless it’s compulsory and being graded. Here’s an example
  • A total failure was having students look at confessional, diary-style blogs, discuss characteristics of the style and write a blog post in that style. They did great on that assignment, but then proceeded to use that style in all future blog posts…. uh oh…

Do you have any additions?

9 thoughts on “assignments to help students learn how to blog

  1. b¯rge

    I would recomend using WordPress.com instead of Blogger. WordPress.com is also free, just as easy to use as Blogger, and much more powerfull. It’s Open Source, and not owned by Google. And it supports trackback and pingback, in contrary to Blogger!

  2. Gustav

    Clear deadlines: “before next week’s seminar, post an outline of your report/project on the course blog; comment your colleagues’ outlines.”

    Also, we’ve tried social bookmarking, students were told to get del.icio.us-accounts and these were then linked from the main course blog. Works like a charm.

    Sometimes it feels as if if the students walked away from my course and forgot everything the course was about, but brought with them the insights and skills connected with blogging and social bookmarking, the course would still have made an impact.

  3. Jill

    Great points, Gustav.

    B¯rge, WordPress.com is quite new, so didn’t exist when I was doing this last – but I guess you’re right, the hosted service probably is as easy as Blogger.com. Trackbacks are very nice.

  4. Marlen

    Jill,

    I know this is secondary to the main message of your post, but I did want to agree with Borge on WordPress. I was a long time user of MovableType, but WordPress is a breeze to install, and offers MovableType’s functionality plus a few nifty features – such as the easy administration of multi-author blogging.

    The real advantage for me is that I am a chronic tinkererer – and WordPress is much easier to customize.

    I’m glad I found this blog. I recently custom designed and built an experimental online learning system for a professor at NYU, to help him teach Cognitive Science and other theoretical courses that lend themselves to practical application. A large portion of the design was to integrate blog functionality with problem-based assignments, providing a more guided, assignment based learning experience, while fostering both a community of practice and an individual portfolio of a students work. Theoretically, I was very drawn to the idea that as graduate students from diverse backgrounds, we had more knowledge as a collective and could teach eachother more than a lecturing professor. The system was designed to criss-cross theory and solutions and encourage exploration and elicit feedback (cognitive flexibility meets blogs).

    Having Blackboard as the primary comparison point, students were very happy to try out the new system. Motivation wasn’t an issue.

    The sticking point was, as you pointed out, administration. Students had to be set-up, assignments entered, glitches and bugs worked out. I’ve long wanted to rebuild with the help of a “real” programmer and perhaps using WordPress as the backbone.

    I’m glad to see teachers using blogs and wikis and new technologies to foster collaboration and their teaching methodologies. However, even with trackbacks and instructor assignments, it seems to me that blogging alone does not foster the community inherent in the classroom. Some sort of intermediary system between the structure of an LMS (with a pre-defined class, assignments, easy administration) and the individuality/freedom of the blog.

  5. Rachel

    The first real blog I ever had was a group blog for a class project. Blog is an excellent tool for group work, everyone can easily contribute and all the info is in one place and accessible all the time. We also used a flickr account to scan and share our photos. I didn’t have much interest in blogging before this assignment, but after being required to do it I learned the advantages that could be had through online publishing.

    You my class project group blog on Bust and Cosmo magazine here

  6. […] Wil je een blog opstarten met je leerlingen? Lees dan de volgende richtlijnen: assignments to help students learn how to blog […]

  7. Dennis G. Jerz

    I’m expecting that most of the freshmen I’ll be teaching in “Writing for the Internet” this fall will already have a MySpace, Facebook, LiveJournal, or similar social networking service. So I’ll take some time to discuss the differences between the social blogging that they only do when they feel like it, and the academic blogging that I’ll ask them to do.

    Sounds like what you tried to do with the confessional blogs assignment, Jill. I certainly don’t expect them to make an overnight switch, and I don’t think informal blogging is out of place if the assignment is, for instance, simply to give your initial reaction to an assigned text or describe what you learned in class today.

    Here’s an interesting entry in which the instructor, Donna Strickland, invites the class to help come up with criteria for a blogging portfolio.

    http://english4040.blogspot.com/2006/04/blogging-portfolio.html

    I’m a big fan of a portfolio-based method, rather than hard-and-fast word counts or frequency expectations.

    I give my students space on our university’s MovableType installation, blogs.setonhill.edu. Yes, it does take time, but I do like to tinker under the hood.

  8. gordsellar

    Yeah, I teach English in Korea and I’ve had pretty good results with two out of my three classes whom I’m requiring to blog. For huge-sized lower-level classes, it’s a great way of getting students to share their writing, get over their anxieties, and see that others face a lot of the same challenges they themselves face.

    I use WordPress, and set up a group blog for each class. I’m thinking next time I might just have all classes of the same level blog together instead, though. Admin wasn’t too bad, but you have to make sure everyone signs up and understands the basics of how to post. Since my classblogs are all about language practice, they don’t usually need to learn much about linking or even blockquoting. Frequency is important on my classblogs — the whole point is semi-daily practice — but wordcounts aren’t important.

    The advantages are that instead of having students do diaries (which they try to pull off two weeks before the end of semester, because nobody really keeps the diary all semester) the blog forces them to continually return to their writing. Short mini-assignments can be given to be posted online. Teachers can give feedback at any time, and it’s not dependent on having the physical diaries. Plus it means typing practice, and more student interaction via writing. Some of the students are really ardent commenters, and it makes the thing more interesting for everyone.

    The disadvantage is that students may misunderstand the purpose of the class blog. Some feel every post warrants personal feedback and a full dissection of all errors, which becomes practically impossible for one teacher if, like, he is teaching three or more writing courses. My Elementary Composition students seem to have accepted that, but my advanced writing class, students seem to feel let down that I’m not constantly critiquing their posts. Many of them have slowed down significantly or even stopped posting. One student didn’t even bother to sign up, though the blog’s a significant part of her grade — and even though I’d brought it up to her a few times, and she’s an otherwise good student. Oh, and of course technophobes lose out, since they’d prefer to handwrite everything. Luckily, I only have one of those, and she seems to be getting over it.

  9. […] “Assignments to help students learn how to blog,” by Jill Walker, a professor at the University of Bergen, in Norway (she blogs in English). To learn how to blog, most students will need some specific assignments. […]

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