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by Caryn Newberger

In my English 5.0 classes (ENGL 1301 paired with INRW 0320), I face two struggles that are common among many of my peers in both disciplines:

  1. How can I insure that my students engage deeply with the reading assignments prior to class?
  2. How can I contextualize writing by offering my students an authentic audience?

The solution I am piloting involves blogging. This semester, I have assigned my students to write a number of different types of blogs. For some of the reading assignments, I have assigned reader-response blogs to be completed prior to our class discussion of the reading. As the semester has progressed, and my students’ sophistication with the course content has increased, I’ve asked for increasing levels of rhetorical analysis in these blogs, insuring that my students not only read deeply but that they put their analytical skills to the test of an audience. Finally, after drafting their research papers, each of my students will write a blog about his or her research topic in order to examine the topic in a different forum. It is my hope that blogging about their topics will help them gain insight into how to revise their academic papers more effectively.  In all cases, in addition to posting their blogs, the students must respond to at least two of their peers for each blog cycle, thus creating a written dialectic.

As this is my first experience teaching blogging, I proceeded cautiously, utilizing the blog feature on Blackboard; therefore, the audience for the blog is limited to the students enrolled in the course.  My fellow faculty fellows agreed that asking emerging writers to share their writing publicly is not without its issues. A future prospective employer could find an old blog and judge an applicant based on his or her early writing abilities.  Nevertheless, as I have become more comfortable with assigning student blogs, I’ve considered giving the option in the future for students to post their blogs under a pseudonym on a public, education-sponsored platform.

At this point in the semester, I am unable to evaluate the effectiveness of my pilot; however, some positives have already revealed themselves.  To begin, my students have been enthusiastic about the blog assignments. We started the semester reading and discussing “Blogging in the Composition Classroom” by Joe Moxley for the website, Writing Commons.  We also read a variety of blogs, some assigned by me and others selected by the students. My students were especially interested in blogging because they recognize that they may be called upon to blog in the workplace when they embark upon their careers.

This semester, five of the students enrolled in my section are deaf, so we also explored some blogs sponsored by the deaf community, and we acknowledged that by blogging, the deaf students have an opportunity to engage with the hearing students without going through the filter of an interpreter.  In fact, I’ve seen evidence that the blogs have removed some barriers and increased understanding of diversity among all of the students who have actively participated.

Furthermore, all of the students have become more cognizant of the importance of careful editing and proofreading so that their peers don’t respond with confusion or misunderstanding.  Almost all of the students have completed each blog assignment, meaning almost every student has engaged in deep reading of the assigned work prior to class. In addition, by reading their blogs in advance of the class discussion, I am able to determine who had trouble comprehending and interpreting a reading assignment.  That allows me to guide the discussion to address any lapses in comprehension.

I will be looking at a number of measures to gauge the success of the blogging pilot including scores on a diagnostic essay compared to scores on a final essay.  Also, at the beginning of the semester, I asked my students to complete a writing attitudes survey, and they will complete the same survey at the end. Again, I am hopeful that the blogging experience will not only engage the students more deeply in their learning but that it will positively impact their attitudes towards writing.