Laura Gibbs

Fall 2017: Story of a Blog Network (3) — A Blog of One's Own

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Aug 20, 2017

In two earlier posts I ran through some of the nitty-gritty of setting up my blog networks (post 1 and post 2). In this post, I want to give some background and context for how/why I use blogging as the main activity in my classes.


Right now, I've got over 30 student blogs, and the semester hasn't even officially started yet (our first day is Monday). I am really happy with this new approach of putting a live blog stream in the Canvas class spaces so that students can see just what's going on in class at any given moment (even now before classes have even started). I also built a new extra credit blog comment assignment called "jump in the stream" where students can pick from the most stream of recent posts to find items they want to comment on. You can see the class streams too since my classes are open:
Myth-Folklore Blog Stream
Indian Epics Blog Stream


The first post that each student writes is a "favorite places" post which is a chance for them to learn about images in blog posts, and it's also a way for me to start to get know each student and their interests. You can see all the instructions for this first week assignments here: Orientation Week . For this first post some people write something really short with just one picture, while others write something really long with lots of pictures. It's good either way! The goal is exactly for them to realize that this is their own space, and that they have a lot of freedom to use that space for self-expression, sharing what they want.


Then, they look through the archive of past student projects and write a post about their favorite projects; this is their first introduction to the actual content of the class... and I think it is really important that the first content for the class that they see is created by other students.


Next comes the Introduction post. By the time they write this post, they should be feeling pretty confident about how to write a post. Again, some people write long and elaborate Introduction posts with lots of pictures; other people write something shorter. That's totally up to them! Since the Introduction post will get visitors all semester long, they might come back later and tinker with what they wrote to begin with. 


Then, there is a post about growth mindset. I really enjoy reading these posts, and it is yet another way for me to get to know the students and learn more about them.


At the end of the Orientation Week there are three organizational assignments, each of which results in a blog post: the students take a look at the kinds of regular weekly assignments they will be doing and share their thoughts about that, then a similar post about the kinds of technology tools they might want to use for this class, and finally a post about time management strategies so that students can think about what kind of schedule will be best for this class.


That is the first week and, as you can see, every assignment results in a blog post of some kind: maybe something short, maybe something long... but there is a post. In the Orientation Week, there are 7 posts; the idea is for everybody to have had lots of practice so that the blogging will feel just as natural and normal as using email or MSWord. When the regular class assignments start in Week 2, there will be 3 posts each week (or more), plus lots of commenting; there's no commenting yet in Week 1, although I try to leave comments on lots of posts, especially for these students who got started early.


The key thing is this: the entire class consists of blog posts, blog comments, and other forms of web publishing. It is all visible, all sharable, and the blog posts accumulate week by week: at the end of the semester the students can literally see what they have accomplished. Each student ends up with anywhere from 50 to 100 blog posts in their blog, and their blogs also receive abundant comments from the other students (after the first week, the students do basically all the blog commenting; I focus on the students' project websites). 


In other words: the blogging is not just something extra tacked on to the class; blogging IS the class.


I've been teaching with blogs this way for over 10 years. The students used to use Bloglines for blogging way way way back in the day; does anybody remember the Bloglines plumber? That was a weird but very fun blogging platform which was also an RSS reader. I still miss it all these years later!


Then, for about 5 years I used a Ning; I'm sure there are others here who remember Ning! It was great while it lasted.


Then, when Ning shifted its focus away from education a couple years ago, I let the students choose a blogging platform; I provide detailed support for (the platform I use myself), and since most students are new to blogging, that is the option that most of them choose — although I am always grateful for students using WordPress since it gives the other students a chance to experience a different platform. My only requirement is that the blog have separate feeds for posts and comments. (That means Tumblr is not a good option for a class blog, although it is a great option for the project website, so students who like Tumblr can use it for their project.)


For me, these blogs are a way for me to get to know the students as individuals right from the start of the semester. When I taught in the classroom, I was just baffled by the opening weeks of the semester: how was I supposed to get to know all these students sitting there starting at me...? My classroom mythology course normally had 40-50 students: it took me weeks to start to get to know who these people were, and some of the students I never really got to know well at all. Online, with the blogs, it is so different: the first week of posts really helps me to get to know each person pretty well. And, of course, they are also getting to know me through my class announcements blog and all the other stuff that I share online.


For the students, it is a chance to build an online presence in a thoughtful way, documenting what they learn and sharing what they learn with others. Because the blogs are open, the students often share them with their friends and their family; it's not something locked down inside the LMS. When they first create their blog, they send me the address in an email (after that, I can follow all their course work at the blog; they don't have to send more emails... thank goodness! I am not a fan of email), and at that time I ask them to tell me if they have blogged before, if they have questions, what their thoughts are about blogging, etc. So, to finish up this post, I'll just paste in some of the comments from the students so far this semester. I am really proud and glad to be the person who is introducing them to blogging; here are some of the things they told me:


I have never done any blogging before, but I am very excited!


So I have never before done any blogging for school or otherwise, and I am a bit nervous to start a blog. But I look forward to learning the art throughout this course!


I haven't ever had a blog before so this should be interesting!


This assignment was so fun! I have my own personal blog so I do have some experience, but I've never blogged for a class before.


I have never created or posted on a blog before, but I enjoy reading them (especially those involving food).


I am not the most tech-savvy and have not posted on a blog in the past.


I have never done any blogging before, but I am excited to start now! I do not have any questions about bogging yet, but I am sure I will as the weeks go on since I am so new to this.


I have never done any blogging before. I'm sure that I will have many questions for you soon, but I haven't quite figured them out yet.


Here is a link to my blog. I personalized it a bit, and plan on doing more later.


I have blogged before in high school for my AP spanish class but it's been quite a while since then so I'm a bit rusty.


Also I have not done any blogging before! But I loved my high school mythology class and I am really excited for this one!


I currently have a tumblr where I look at art from the video games I play and that's about it. This is my first time using blogger.


I have blogged before. I have a personal blog also using Blogger. I started it because I was disappointed by the lack of writing I was doing during the school year. Having a blog keeps me accountable and keeps me writing.


I have never had any experience with blogging. As of right now I do not have any questions for you.


So, as you can see: a few with experience, most without experience... but the eagerness is real, and it means the class gets off to an energetic start every semester.


I hope my documentation effort here might inspire some other people to try blogging for yourself... and then perhaps to try blogging together with your students. I cannot imagine teaching any other way. :-)


Descartes Cat says: I think, therefore I blog.


Descartes cat says I think therefore I blog