Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Getting Nervous about using a Blog Assignment

In my writing class, both advanced and developmental, we are talking about education reform and going to be crafting an argument essay/blog post on what each student thinks is the most important reform that needs to take place (or, as I put it to them, one thing that will make high school suck less). My more advanced writers are coming in with their first drafts next week, while my developmental writers will spend the final three weeks of the semester working on it. We were talking today about the assignment and what the students should include/do/say in their blog posts in order for them to be effective, etc.

The reaction of the students thus far to the assignment has been mixed; on the one hand, a blog post is much shorter than a traditional essay, and so they are very excited about that. On the other hand, it's going to be out there, in public, for everyone to see. A few of the students are actually more worried about not getting any comments than what people will say. More than a few are excited about the possibility of making their views (based on some very negative academic experiences) public. But some are, justifiably, intimidated by the mixture of new technology, a new approach to their writing, and a real, rather than theoretical, audience.

I was honest with them; I am nervous, too. This is the first time I have used blogs or, more appropriately, a blogging assignment, with my students. This resulting blog posts are as much a reflection of me as it is of them. One of my students came up to me after class and asked me, what if they are all bad? Well, I said, we'll see. Would I scrap the idea? No. It will be fine, I reassured him (and myself). 

But what if it isn't fine? What if other professors (you know, people with tenure) decide that this idea is too radical and, suddenly, I find that my contract isn't renewed for next year? What if there are some administrators who don't like the education reform suggestions that my students are offering?  What if this project is interpreted as a political (and not educational) tool that I am using to indoctrinating my students? Education reform suggestions are a dime-a-dozen these days; what if I am setting my students (and myself) up for a rude backlash? 

What if they are terrible? 

I have to be an optimist, and, judging by the ideas about education reform that my students have been coming up with in class discussions/debates, I am less worried about the quality of the ideas in the posts. I am also not too worried about the reaction of my peers; unless I heavily promote it within the institution, no one will probably notice. But I am still surprised by my own level of apprehension now that the day is here and these blog posts, for a long time just a item on a syllabus, are a reality. 

My blog is a reflection of my thoughts, my teaching philosophy, and personal interests. My students' blogs, on the other hand, will be a reflection of my ability to put these elements into practice. What goes on inside the classroom is usually pretty private; especially in higher education, a professor's classroom is their proverbial kingdom, to run and rule as we see fit. Now, I am opening up my closed kingdom to the wider world. The result of my rule? What my students put out there.

It is exciting for all of us, but very, very scary at the same time. 


  1. Because blog posts are on the net, they're public, but that doesn't mean the public flocks to them. Students shouldn't fear wide exposure to strangers. I think that blogs are a great vehicle for getting students to think about their public personas and how they want those personas to be presented and received.

    IMO, the real value of a class blog assignment is that one assignment requirement should be that each classmate must post a substantive reply to 3 (or some reasonably small number) of classmate blogs. Give them a reply framework: number of words? make x # of statements about the content subject matter; make x # of statements about writing quality; and so on. This leads to exploring the nature of constructive criticism.

    The answer to "What if they are terrible?" is "We'll work together to make them better."

    As the instructor, you have more power to remove the scary factor than you think.

  2. I'll remember, "We'll work together to make them better." In my moment of weakness, I forgot that that was the entire point to begin with!


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