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Using Technology Outside of Class

BestPractices-Writing Instruction

Initiated by Tom Black

How can using web-logs, or blogs, be beneficial to my writing course?

Every year students come to college and high school seemingly more wired than the year before. Ten years ago computers were still somewhat a commodity of the upper-middle class, but now, as a result of lower computer prices and availability, it is a rarity to find any student who does not have access to a computer. As students become more technologically literate, the trends of reading and writing are shifting from paper based texts to screen based texts. Methods of writing instruction are following suit and instructors are implementing new media technology to facilitate these new teaching methods. One of the more popular technologies used is the Web-log, or blog, an online journal which allows anyone with access to a World Wide Web connected computer to publish their writing with little or no experience.

Blogging is an authentically collaborative medium of public writing which can be a tool which allows students, not instructors, to develop and maintain control of their discourse. Many teachers make efforts to develop assignments and activities which promote a democratic classroom that encourages student writers to collaborate, critique, and define knowledge on their (the students) own terms. Used effectively, blogs address these virtues of writing and give student writers ownership of writing and a responsive audience which, may have seemed implied in the composition classroom, is authentic in cyberspace.

Blogging is an efficient method of introducing students to writing for the World Wide Web and the conventions associated with writing with technology, such as using visual (pictures, video, Flash) and audio (mp3s) media to further meaning making and advance literacy skills.

Blogging verses Threads and/or Journals

Like thread-based writing technologies, such as Blackboard or WebCT, blogs can be used to facilitate directive based assignments or projects where the instructor sets the agenda of the discussion and writing. But unlike thread-based discussions, blogging provides the option of non-directive writing where the student is free to exercise their own methods of discourse, similar to writing in a journal, but with a difference of having an audience that is not limited by the relatively minimal availability of the text. Another significant difference between the use of a blog versus the use of Blackboard and similar thread-based writing technologies is a more evident ownership of the writing by the students. Both methods of writing allow comments, critique, and collaboration to be made on an authors writing, but blogs tend to leave the ownership and topic of the writing with the author and facilitator of the blog, unlike threads where a discussion (unintentionally) may make several changes, and might ultimately lead to an eventual topic not resembling the introductory one at all thus taking the ownership away from the original author.

Blogging provides a writing space for a student to claim ownership like no other medium of writing. Similar to a journal, the student has complete control over the discourse and can choose what audience they might direct their writing towards, but unlike journals, which has an audience of primarily the author and a select number of readers, the audience can be anyone with access to a computer connected to the World Wide Web. Not only will students be able to experiment with writing for an unknown audience, they will receive critical and “real” feedback from their audience.

No Experience Necessary

Little or no web literacy is one of the aspects of blogging which make it a popular technology in writing curriculums. The ability of blogs to separate content from web design allows a user, or author, to simply sign up with a blog service provider, (www.blogger.com is by far the most popular, and is free,) choose a design or theme for the blog, and begin writing. With a little knowledge of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) a writer can customize a blogspace, but the ability of anyone being able to use this technology and publish their writing without much, if any, computer literacy is the overwhelming benefit.

How do I get started implementing blogs in my writing course?

Like many aspect of teaching composition, the success of using blogs to supplement the composition course relies on the directions and methods of institution by the instructor.

  • Consider blogging yourself. To understand the finer details of blogging, and the possible differences between other internet based writing technologies, (such as Blackboard or other thread based forums) starting and maintaining a personal or professional blog is advised. It presents an opportunity for hands on experience with this technology, and may spark ideas for how to best apply blogging to a current composition curriculum.
  • Spend time visiting other classroom blogs. There are many different methods to use blogs in composition. Blogs are analogous to blank sheets of paper. They are tools which students use to compose but, unlike a piece of paper blogs have the unique characteristics of continuous feedback, collaboration outside of the classroom, and a broader audience. Visiting other classroom blogs provides an opportunity to see how blogs are implemented by instructors across the curriculum and decide what might be most advantageous for your own composition goals.
  • Model blogging for your students. Like other mediums of writing there are successful blogs, and not so successful blogs. Showing composition students what is expected of their blogs, and participation in the reading and commenting of other blogs (if applicable to the activity), will reduce confusion and misunderstanding between instructor and students and, what might be worse, misunderstanding between student commenter and student writer.
  • Make the blogs more public. One of the more significant and unique aspects of blogging is the opportunity for students’ writing to be published for, and commented on, by an authentic public audience. One method of making a students blog more public is to have the students read other writers blogs, make comments, and then invite them to read their blogs. Before long, students may find they have a network of readers commenting and recommending their blogs (Krause).
  • Explain the “reach” of blogs to your students. Just as there are benefits to having students’ writing being made public, there are also downfalls but, these pitfalls can be avoided with the explanation that what is published can be read by anyone including teachers, parents, current or eventual employers, school administrators, and even police. (Ferdig, Trammell)

To these suggestions might be added that an instructor give purpose behind the blogs. A common misuse of blogs is letting students set their own agenda for what writing they might choose to do, but it has been observed that students need “the direction of a teacherly assignment to write, and they weren’t going to ‘just want to write’ in a blog space (or anywhere else, for that matter) just because they were given the opportunity.” (Krause)

Like many technologies and genres, students should be aware of the conventions used in order to make full use of the blogs. Students should also be aware that while blogging and other online writing technology does provide a more democratic and level social environment, peoples values and mores are still an element which authors should be conscious. Blogs are neither private, nor immune from critique. (Hanna, Nooy)

Research and experimentation is essential to discovering how blogging can best be used to supplement a composition class. The best analogy of a blog is to a blank sheet of paper that can hold pictures, show videos, play music, and link to other sheets of paper. The options are nearly limitless.

Resources:

Ferdig, Richard E., and Kaye D. Trammell. “Content Delivery in the ‘Blogosphere,’”T.H.E. Journal Online. February 2004. (February 13, 2004). http://thejournal.com/articles/16626 This article is a fine introduction for teachers looking to incorporate blogging in their classrooms. They emphasize equality and audience in the use of blogs in the classroom.

Gavelek, J., and T. Raphael. 1996 “Changing Talk About Text: New Roles for Teachers and Students.” Language Arts 73 (3): 182–192. Emphasizes the role of discussing text and the different ways of viewing the discourse. Stresses social interaction between students to facilitate meaning making and knowledge..

Goodwin-Jones, Bob. “Blogs and Wikis: Environments for On-line Collaboration.” Language Learning and Technology 7, 2 (May 2003): 12–16. This article examines several writing technologies and their future regarding online collaboration including blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, and thread based writing.

Hanna, Barbera E. and Juliana de Nooy. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Electronic Discussion and Foreign Language Learning.” Language Learning and Technology 7,1 (January 2003): 71–85. Research on the use of online interaction technology and how the use of technology provides a level playing field for cultures, but also creates a significant amount of divisions based on culture and language.

Holzschlag, Molly. Spring into HTML and CSS Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2005. This book covers more design issues regarding web pages. The emphasis is heavy on the visual aspects of the internet and stresses design over content on web pages.

Krause, Steven D. “‘How Will This Improve Student Writing?’ Reflections on an Exploratory Study of Online and Off-Line Texts,” Computer Mediated Communication (an electronic journal), May 1995. Krause explores the possible pitfalls of blogging through his own experiences. While this has some examples of how blogs can falter, Krause still touts the importance and significance of blogging with the writing classroom, and that instructor direction is still warranted.

Kress, Gunther. Literacy in the New Media Age. London: Routledge, 2003. Kress discusses literacy and the implications of new media on language and social interaction. Kress also discusses the significance of the image over the text and the repercussions this has on literacy.

Shor, Ira. “Our Apartheid: Writing Instruction and Inequality.” Journal of Basic Writing 16.1 (1997): 91–104. Ira Shor explores the inequalities of basic writing courses and the discrimination that results from related stigmas. He speaks of the need for more socially conscious classrooms and of discourse and the need to move to a more democratic writing environment.

Stone, Biz. Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content. New Riders: Berkeley, CA. 2003. This book covers the gambit of blogging, from the short history of blogging to advances HTML coding techniques to enhance and personalize blogs.

Walker, Jill. “Talk at Brown.” December 3, 2003. Entry from jill/txt. (February 15, 2004) <http://huminf.uib.no/~jill/archives/blog_theorising/talk_at_brown.html> This is a blog kept that describes the use of blogs and the different social aspects of blog use. She coins the term “network literacy” and discusses ideas of collaborative, or network, writing.

Weisser, Christian. Moving Beyond Academic Discourse: Composition Studies and the Public Sphere. Carbondale: Southern Illinois, 2002. This book offers an extensive examination of writing outside of the academic discourse and writing with a public audience. This chapter examines the political aspects of composition pedagogy, and ideology in the classroom, and how engaging in a public sphere promotes social change and a more democratic classroom.


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Page last modified on April 26, 2006, at 10:20 PM