How to Use … Class Blogs

By Sybil Priebe, North Dakota State College of Science

 

A Class Blog is an online tool that an instructor should consider if he/she …

            -wants to extend the amount of time he/she has contact with students. Class blogs allow teachers to communicate with students outside

of class. The following items can be accomplished on a class blog: elaboration regarding assignment requirements, announcements about upcoming changes to the schedule, announcements when an instructor is ill (and what the substitution for that class period is), regular communication about what is occurring in the classroom (“ah-ha” moments can be captured, students can relay content in their own words, etc), brainstorming for project/paper topics, communication between students in different classes (for ex: I usually teach 2-3 sections of the same class; weblogs allow interaction between students in different classes) and many other things I have yet to discover.

-wants to bring technology into the classroom. Class blogs: allow for students to post different sites that others may find interesting (for projects & papers), get students who are normally not online (older-than-average) online in a comfortable writing space, and allow conversations to be recorded and used in the physical classroom (instructors could pose questions and then use responses as springboards into the physical classroom discussions). Class blogs also get students using an online tool that is different from email or Instant Messenger.

-wants to encourage critical thinking skills. Again, an instructor can use the class blog to pose questions that are related to class to get students thinking before or after the lecture part of the physical classroom.

-wants students to practice their writing and communication skills. I can see many possibilities for ESL students using blogs to practice their English, and I think even more technical fields could use class blogs to get students practicing professional communication (not flaming, better spelling & grammar, etc).

 

A Class Blog may not be ideal if …

-the class size is over 25 students. The amount of reading an instructor would have to do could be time-consuming - keeping track of amount of posts per student would be a pain.

-the campus the instructor teaches on does not have a lot of computer labs for students to access. At NDSU, we had 24-hour labs and Ethernet in the dorms, so students couldn’t use the excuse that they didn’t have access.

-the school the instructor teaches for already has online discussion boards through software like Blackboard, etc. If an instructor is already using that software and is happy with the results, they should stick with having all their information in one spot. Students may get confused when the instructor states they’ll be writing online in different locations – one location is just easier for students.

 

Setting up a Class Blog: (This is how I have done it in the past; there are other ways.)

-Log on to Blogger.com, create a username and password, and then create a blog for the classroom. On Blogger, one can choose between different designs, etc. If an instructor knows just a little bit of HTML, that helps too in adding in a list of links to the blog (to your school’s homepage or to your own teaching web site, etc). The HTML coding is found under Template.

-On the first day of classes, send around an email list. Students should place an email on this list that they use often. After class, the instructor should log into Blogger, go to his/her class’s blog, and add Team Members (found under Settings > Members). It does take some time to get the emails entered correctly.

-Students will receive an email inviting them to join Blogger and the class blog. From there, in my class, they use their first post to introduce themselves to everyone else. Throughout the next few class periods, ask students if they have received their invites. If not, the instructor may have to resend.

-It’s up to the instructor how many posts per week are required. The more that’s required, the more the instructor will have to log into the class blog (to see what’s being posted) and the more the instructor will have to read.

 

 

My Class Blog Rules:

-Students are allowed to use any kind of language they want (slang, netspeak, swearing) as long they are not derogatory comments made towards another person (in the class or not). I do not allow, however, any racial comments or racially-charged words. Students who are guilty of using these words or flaming other students are deleted from the class blog and do not receive any points for that activity. Usually this means the highest grade they can get in the class is a B.

-Only quality posts get counted. A post consisting of: “I agree with John. I am doing a paper on cloning. I am almost done,” is not a quality post. I lecture on this usually within the first few days of class. The post, essentially, should read like the student put some thought into the post, took some effort to connect to what others were saying, etc.

-Students should only discuss items related to class. Sometimes, a little bit of their personal lives pop in, and that’s okay, but posts that are only about a party they just went to do not count, and I usually ask them to relate their posts to class (after a warning or two they get the hint).

-No pornographic images or links to pornographic content are allowed. Those students are immediately deleted.

 

Tips:

-Half way through the semester, I click on View Blog and print off the blog up to that point and record who has posted and how many times. This breaks up having to read through the whole blog at the end of the semester.

-When I post to the class blog, I like to update everyone where we are in the syllabus (if we’ve fallen behind, if we’ve changed an assignment, etc) as well as comment on what students have said recently. Usually, they follow suit, mimicking how I connect to what other’s have said and elaborating on their comments further.

-I like to put the text in my posts in a different color so students recognize my posts when they are scrolling through the blog.

-Right before class time, I like to log onto the blog and see if anyone has had any questions recently. I’ll bring those up at the beginning of class time.

-To help cut down on plagiarism, I sometimes have students link to web sites they are using for their papers so I can easily find them. I have also had students post their introductory paragraphs to the class blog which allows other students to respond immediately: Is it an intriguing paragraph? Does it make me want to read more? This gives students instant help on what they are writing/creating.

-I usually require a total of 20 posts for the whole semester, and I do not allow students to post all 20 in the last week or two. If they “forget” to post throughout the whole semester, they simply do not receive the total amount of points, if any.

 

My past Class Blogs: (These are not perfect blogs, by the way.)

            Fall 2002: http://110classblog.blogspot.com

            Spring 2003: http://english120ndsu.blogspot.com

            Fall 2003: http://english110express.blogspot.com

            Spring 2004: http://english120controversy.blogspot.com

            Fall 2004 & Spring 2005: http://bisonblog.acm.ndsu.nodak.edu  -The BisonBlog (may be offline)

 

Caution:

*I use Blogger.com because it allows many users on the same blog, but there is other free blog software out there such as LiveJournal, etc. I have had difficulties with Blogger from time to time (as I am creating this handout, it won’t download the site, and it was just doing it a few minutes ago when I started to create the punk blog), so I may try out LiveJournal or any others I come upon in the future. I use Xanga.com for my teaching weblog (www.xanga.com/teacher47), and it’s never given me problems. Unfortunately, Xanga.com doesn’t allow multiple users.

 

Questions?:

            Feel free to email me at: sybil.priebe@ndscs.edu

For links to the syllabi I used with my class blogs, check out my web site (there’s a link on the first page to my syllabi and class blogs): www.sybilpriebe.com

 

 

Teeny bit of background: I discovered weblogs through a former student in the spring of 2002. At the time, I was taking a course called Electronic Communication from Dr. Kevin Brooks at NDSU, and we immediately agreed that I would research weblogs for my projects in that course. He and I started using class blogs that following semester in our first-year English courses, and since then, I have used class blogs in 6 semesters (fall 2002 – spring 2005). Each semester, I tweaked my requirements of postings for students (asking for quality posts of at least 10 sentences once every two weeks; each post was worth between 10-20 points) as well as how I introduced them to the classroom (at first I didn’t explain my fascination with them, now I do – makes students understand a bit more).