What are Blogs? Why use them as Assignments?

A blog (the shortened version of the original term, “weblog”) is an online, chronological collection of first-person reflective essays that are often linked to supportive writings and media on the internet. Many instructors assign blogging as short writing exercises to help students achieve pedagogical objectives such as:

  • Encourage students to expand their literacy in the field through reading and commenting on relevant writings.
  • Provide a write-to-learn opportunity where students experiment and apply what they have learned in class to synthesize a critical reaction or argument in a short first person reflective essay.
  • Set up frequent and low-stakes learning opportunities for students and obtain early feedback on student learning without adding much to the instructor workload, as blog posts need not be graded extensively.
  • Create a learning community and provide a peer-learning experience through the interactive features (comment feature) of blogs
  • Help student recognize the real-world relevance of what they are learning through linking to internet resource, and, if the blog is made public, through engaging with the larger public in the discourse in the comments section. Further, students can show off their work with friends and family, and if the blog has high readership outside of the class, it also gives them certain bragging rights.
  • When the blog is made public, students learn how to write for and engage a public audience, and practice good digital citizenship. They learn essential digital communication skills and the visual rhetoric of digital writing (e.g. how images and other media are used in relation to the text).
  • Accustom students to good writing practices. Students have a tendency to pay closer attention to grammar, style, argumentation, and presentation when they write for an audience other than the instructor, and class blog posts by nature are viewable by at least the entire class.

Some Examples

Blogging exercises have been used successfully across disciplines, from the humanities to social sciences to medicine.  There are two main ways to use blogs in higher education:

  • Class blog: Students take turns to author short, personal reflective essays on a topic or theme related to the class.
  • Student personal blogs: Students write personal reflective essays in a journal-like manner; instructors then curate blog posts to put on a class blog. When used consistently over a student’s career,  a blog can take the form of an e-portfolio.

Specific examples:

  • Students in a language class can blog to practice their vocabulary and language skills; they can also establish a digital pen-pal relationship with students from other class sections or at other universities.
  • Students in a media studies course on American television can analyze current television programs in light of their class readings.
  • Economics students can discuss current news in the context of the economic theories they learned in class.

Some Tips

As with any other assignments, the success of any assignment depends on having:

  • Clear and transparent learning goals and expectation: Students need to understand why they are doing the exercises, and what they will get out of them
  • Clear and detail instruction: It should be clear to the students how to do the assignment
  • Clear relevance: Students need to see how their work impact on their learning, discuss the work they do outside class meeting back into the classroom
  • Clear assessment rubrics: Students need to know what count as good work. Providing models often help.
  • Safe learning environment that makes participating, sharing, and collaborating mean something: Students need to feel safe to experiment on ideas and experience the effect of positive outcome of their work.

When your assignment involves using online tools such as blogs, consider:

  • Student’s familiarity with blogging & potential learning curve: Do not assume students are tech-savvy. Factor in the time/effort students need to learn the tool when you consider appropriate workload. It is often a good idea to scaffold the exercise and assign a very short and easy first exercise with the tool to help students get familiar with it.
  • Provide an example of what you consider good work.
  • Nurture continual participation by referring to their post/comments in class.
  • Measurement and tracking: How do you plan to track student work and effort?
  • Privacy issues: Student information is protected by FERPA—this is federal law. Offer students the option of using a pseudonym and advise them to avoid personal details. For questions regarding FERPA, see University Registrar’s web page or email them at registrar@uchicago.edu or call 773.702.7891.

Blogging Tools at UChicago

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