Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Blogs vs. Term Papers" -- I tried to do it and was told I shouldn't

Matt Richtell wrote about this a few days ago in the NYT and I just wanted to let you know that that's precisely one of the things I had planned for my brand-new class last semester: weekly blog posts by students and a portfolio collecting the semester's class activities (which included questionnaires about the readings, group discussion activities, etc), in addition to a final research project.

When the (tiny, 3 people) general education committee reviewed my syllabus (which I designed after a week-long workshop back in June), they responded that there were not enough "formal writing assignments." In spite of the fact that we were on the third week of the semester (and a bit overwhelmed by 3 blog entries I hadn't yet "graded") and also eager to please the committee and comply, I substituted the remaining 9 blog posts by 4 short academic papers... BLAH...(one thing is true, it's hard to "grade" blog posts, they should basically all receive the full grade, unless it's too short or not engaging enough. Grading papers is more objective).

This semester I adopted a hybrid approach: 6 blog posts throughout the semester and 2 academic papers.  Someday I hope to be able to switch to a more interactive approach to writing assignments, particularly because I believe that when the students can share their feelings and reactions about the readings and, most importantly, relate the subjects to their own lives, they learn a lot more!

In Richtell's article he reports that English Professor Andrea A.Lunsford from Stanford "has collected 16,000 writing samples from 189 Stanford students from 2001 to 2007, and is studying how their writing abilities and passions evolved as blogs and other multimedia tools crept into their lives and classrooms."
Her conclusion is that students feel much more impassioned by the new literacy. They love writing for an audience, engaging with it. They feel as if they’re actually producing something personally rewarding and valuable, whereas when they write a term paper, they feel as if they do so only to produce a grade.
Lunsford conclusion is very interesting and my students seemed to feel the same way. The end of course survey that my students answered last semester demonstrated that students thought that blogging helped them learn better than academic papers.

I wrote the first three paragraphs of this post before finishing the NYT article, so I had to smile when I reached this statement: "As Professor Lunsford illustrates, choosing to educate using either blogs or term papers is something of a false opposition. Teachers can use both." Yeah... I guess I figured that out on my own, didn't I? :)


Spanish prof said...

I have a question: I've been thinking about including blogging in my courses, but I haven't taken the jump. One of the reasons is that the examples I've seen in other colleagues, student blogging doesn't make their writing more interactive, it is just an assignment where they have to write X numbers of posts and replied X number of times to other posts. The examples I've seen, the writing look superficial and pretty much like doing a chore. That, of course, probably say more about the professors than the students.

So my question would be: how do you turn blogging into an interactive assignment, since it is not necessarily one per se?

Laura said...

This is what I wrote my dissertation on. I concluded basically the same thing Andrea Lunsford did. Students were engaged by writing on the blog. Here's what I did to solve the grading problem. I didn't grade each blog post. Instead, students had to meet some minimum requirements of number of blog posts and comments. Then, their papers had to be developed from at least one of their posts. The idea was to appreciate that blog writing is different from academic writing, but it's not throw-away writing. I would meet with the students and they'd discuss with me the posts they were considering using. In many cases, they just needed to be added to and shaped up.

To answer Spanish prof's question, we made it interactive by a) having a single class blog; and b) by using the blog in class discussion. The blog was a life force of the classroom.

Unfortunately, the blog is long gone, but my dissertation is online at http://laurablankenship.net (I know, shameless plug.)

Spanish prof said...

Thanks, Laura, I'll take a look. Your comments are really useful.