The Partnership for 21st Century (P21) World Languages Skills Map states that in the past students would “turn in work only for the teacher,” but that today “learners create to ‘share and publish’ to audiences more than just the teacher.” Though the P21 Skills Map refers to the foreign-language K-12 classroom, the practice of publishing work for larger peer audiences benefits college courses as well. Most social-media savvy millennials have been sharing information with groups of friends online for the better part of their adult lives: blog assignments allow students to simultaneously interact with both their course material and their peers via a format that resonates with them.
Why assign blog homework?
The use of class blogs is a best practice that a colleague introduced to me last year and one that I have since implemented with very positive results. Some of the main advantages from using blog format for assignments were as follows:
- It creates a safe space to check out the quality other students’ work. This is a non-threatening way for a student to compare their postings to those of their classmates as well as the samples posted by the instructor and determine if their work and progress are at an appropriate level for the course. This is especially helpful during the weeks of add-drop, when many students are making decisions as to which courses to continue on in for the entirety of the semester.
- Blog submissions encourage accountability. Though a student may turn in a very poorly completed assignment to an audience of one (the instructor), they may be remiss to do so in a forum that includes an entire class of their peers. Also, the time stamp on assignments allows the instructor to know who submitted their assignment just a few minutes before class began.
- Students are witness to their own progress. The blog format allows students to easily refer back to previous entries and truly see how they have expanded upon their knowledge base and/or developed a certain skill over the course of a semester. In one of my own language classes, students were assigned a journal in which they wrote entries throughout the semester. During the last week of the semester I printed out all of their entries in sequential order and handed them back, showing students just how much they had progressed in both their writing ability and in their knowledge of the historical and cultural topics studied in our course. This concrete evidence of their development served as a powerful motivator as students prepared for final exams.
- Promote class cohesion and learner agency. As an alternative to constantly requiring new blog writings, I will often assign students to respond to a classmate’s posting as an extension of an existing homework assignment. For example, students develop and post original questions for the first phase of an assignment, while the second phase consists of posting answers to another classmate’s questions. In addition to encouraging class cohesion, this gives students the agency to develop questions that will ultimately guide the theme and tone of the online interaction. Since these types of “guiding” questions are generally posed by the instructor, the act of giving the learner this responsibility affords them a heightened degree of autonomy and agency in their learning.
- “Low-stakes” writing lowers anxiety and helps with test prep. Blogs create a wonderful forum for “low stakes” writing. When I assign a few essay questions a week for a class blog, it is apparent to my students that I will not scrutinize every detail of their writing. In this case, the benefit is found in the quantity of work produced. As their instructor, I gain the opportunity (before an exam) to both evaluate how well students have grasped the material and also to identify patterns of errors or misconceptions. In addition, students benefit from the production-based format of blog writing. Whereas many aspects of studying center around the consumption-based activities (reading, converting lecture into written notes, etc.), the act of writing gives students the opportunity to produce material outside of the context of a formal exam. This has the added benefit of familiarizing students with the essay format uses on tests.
How can a blog be used in an intact class?
I have used is the blog function available on the both Blackboard and Canvas course management systems. A helpful tutorial for setting up blogs can be found here for Blackboard and here for Canvas. Other platforms are available on third-party sites such as wordpress.com (home of this site) and blogspot.com are also widely available.
How about a blog for a math class?
My own experience with using blogs for assignments is derived from foreign-langauge courses. However, this format for out-of-class writing has tremendous potential for a variety of subjects. Take a look at how this instructor integrated a meaningful semester-long blog assignment into a college math course here, and see the the actual blog on wordpress.
What’s the catch?
Of course, using a blog for homework assignments does pose some potential obstacles. Non-digital natives may not be quite as familiar with this format and may need some additional help accessing the site or posting. In my own courses, I usually have a dedicated “laptop day” during the first few weeks of class where everyone creates a short posting together, allowing for realtime troubleshooting.
A more serious issue is that weaker students may feel self-conscious or intimidated by a public forum. Since these students may not always be proactive in approaching an instructor, it is good for the instructor to anticipate any possible anxiety and to offer to review students’ writing in office hours or via email before these students publicly publish their work.
Do you have experience using blog assignments? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
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