Clearly there is some interest in the idea of blogs as educational tools, and I’m glad to see this, because I’m obviously a firm believer. This raises practical questions: a group blog, or individual blogs? How does this work practically? How does it fit into the evaluative structure? I should point out right off that I’ve never tried this with a class. I’m just a 2nd year PhD student who thinks too much about things that lie outside her field of study. So take this as you will.
I would personally suggest an individual blog for each student. Primarily because there are other tools out there that can be used in conjunction with blogging (message board type programs) that would work just as well. I think the real charm and real use of blogging comes when used individually. I suggest this because, in spite of being a ‘public’ space, viewable by the world, it is also a profoundly private space. The student is able to design the site herself, able to control how the content is shaped. It is a personal journal, with an audience. I think this sense of the personal is what will make a blog more effective as a classroom tool than a reflection paper is; it is not only to the instructor, but to classmates as well. And to the student herself. I also like the idea that, if blogging, say, weekly, about the readings/lectures, the student ends up with a nice, useful archive for the exam.
How blogs could work evaluatively: you could make specific requests for blog entries; for an English class, ask for a quick summary of the major theme of the book. This is a good skill for students to acquire. The fact that blog entries are timed and dated is also handy. (Students *must* do their reading on time.) Also: what if you decided to make the final exam worth less (or got rid of it altogether), but asked for short essay questions once a month in class to be answered by a specific time in their blogs? The up and down side is that students can read other people’s answers first, if they’re smart; but doesn’t this just make it that much more interesting? That may well be part of the process. It may change the kinds of questions you ask; they may require more thought and more personal reflection. Or, if you’re really concerned about it, insist that they post their answers within a 15 minute span of time. I’d say make the blog worth a substantial amount; I’ve had seminar classes where participation is worth 40% of the grade. This is participation and written work. I’d try to make it worth their while.
What’s particularly nice about this is that it means that humanities students will not only learn some critical thinking tools, and time management tools, but also how to respond to each other and *gasp* they’ll pick up some html. (Yes, you can learn to build a webpage in my class on the Renaissance poetry. How about that.)
So, these are just my brainstorming ideas abou educational blogging. If you’re interested, post your opinions and send me a link to your blog. Maybe if enough people are interested we can ask to set up something on blogger. And, again, please feel free to visit us at Project Achieve to discuss these ideas online in real time.