On Public Course Blogs

Our recent Metagogy session – monthly reflections on the English Department’s pedagogical practices and aspirations – covered examples of digital pedagogy within and beyond the English Department. The public course blog and its sister space, the course website, was a particularly key topic. This post offers a summary of our thoughts, questions, and suggestions.

As Trevor Owens suggests in “The Public Course Blog: The Required Reading We Write Ourselves for the Course That Never Ends,” students’ blogging (alongside faculty) can have the potential to cross courses, transcend iterations of courses, and generate writing from interactions with assigned reading (the academic They Say, I Say conversation) that then becomes reading for other students present and future. Some of what we discovered/discussed:

1. Our blogging assessments demonstrate a variety in weighting and amount of instruction. Beth McCoy offers some really excellent wording on the need for regularity of blog posts which both helps students understand how they are being assessed and reminds them of the goals of the activity. Lytton Smith asks his students to post from a range of types of blog post, allowing them to pick those that best suit their current interests; he rewards commenting as well as posting. Steve West offers helpful, clear, and thorough instructions that combine the best of conventional targeted writing assignments with the possibilities of an online space.

2. The need to consider the public nature of these blogs is paramount. Beth McCoy draws her students’ attention to questions of privacy and students’ rights in her syllabus, using wording that is best practice for all of us. A post by Erin Koehler on the Contemporary Poem blog was recently reblogged by the children’s books/YA author, Tonia Allen Gould. It’s useful to remember that Google Alerts and other such tracking could lead students’ posts towards a public audience, in addition to interested parties actively finding course blogs.

3. The blog is not an end, but a means to an end: less a repository than a circulation library (or, if an archive, a living archive). Paul Schacht and Rob Doggett both offered ways to keep online postings in circulation, whether by tweeting out student work for attention beyond the course or by using student work from past courses as models for future courses.

4. The “course blog” might well transcend the course. One of the innovations of sunygeneseoenglish.org is the way blogs are attached to areas of study rather than restricted to individual courses, with titles such as Contemporary Poem, Nineteenth Century Studies, Nonfiction, Speculative Fiction, Digital Humanities. Over time, this means students are reading (and writing) alongside a wider range of peers. While this can present challenges in determining a reading audience, it offers exciting possibilities for inter-course and interdisciplinary work.

5. Course blogs are a specific technology which work best for specific practices and pedagogic goals. That is, non-public writing responses may at times be a better way to develop students’ ideas; private blogs, or sections of blogs, may allow for particular discussions (e.g. within groups); and Google Docs might offer an online, shared space which is not quite so public. We need to think about what sort of “public” we imagine when creating blogs and course websites, and how, why, and when we want our students within that public (or, more accurately, those publics).

References: Owens, Trevor. “The Public Course Blog: The Required Reading We Write Ourselves for the Course That Never Ends.” In Matthew K. Gold (Ed.). Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

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