6 Tips for Making the Most of Your Class Blog

We [Heart] Blog


Dustin Hixenbaugh

Image Credit: 

Taro Yamamoto

For several semesters I have had students engage in digital conversations using discussion boards on class management sites such as Blackboard and Canvas. This semester, wondering if writing for a public audience would increase their investment in participating in these kinds of digital conversations, I decided to set up a class blog. Since I have been pleased with the results, I thought I would share a few recommendations with other teachers who are either interested in starting a class blog or looking for ways to make more of one that’s already in use.

As previous Blogging Pedagogy writers have noted, there are many benefits to having students blog. Regularly posting their thoughts to a public site builds students' confidence in their voices. It gives them practice expressing arguments in reader-friendly language, and the comments they receive help them understand how effectively (or not) they have conveyed their ideas. These are experiences that students are bound to find helpful, whatever their major or career interests.

Blogging can also positively impact classroom culture. For example, Lisa Gulessarian observed that sharing a blog helped her students treat one another with greater empathy. As she reflected after one semester operating the blog, “The camaraderie in my class is one that I would like to recreate in my future classes." Tekla Hawkins learned through her students' posts what they found challenging about her lessons, leading her to make productive changes to her instruction.

Once you commit to having your students blog, you will want to spend a few hours setting it up. Our previous writers have also made recommendations concerning the preliminary decisions you will be making, and I will refer you to them if you want help selecting a platformdiscussing the differences between academic and internet writing, or encouraging students to incorporate images in their posts

My six tips take a longer view on student blogging. Although some of them suggest actions you might take within the first few days of the semester, my hope is that they will ultimately help you maintain--rather than simply begin--your class blog. If I have learned nothing else this semester, it is that blogging is an activity that is only spontanous in appearance. In fact, a successful blog requires thoughtful planning and a fair amount of energy and inspiration that must be sustained throughout the semester.

#1. Start by writing author biographies. This is an excellent ice-breaker. You and your students will learn a lot about each other from the information you share, and if you include pictures, you will also shorten the amount of time it takes for everyone to learn each other's names. Moreover, writing biographies helps students take their role as contributors seriously. From the beginning, they will appreciate that blogging is an exercise in developing an online persona and that they should write posts that make them proud and do not disclose details they are uncomfortable making public. (Note that biographies should never include FERPA-protected information such as students' grades.)

#2. Give students the freedom to select their own topics. Asking students to answer specific questions in their posts can hold them accountable for doing their homework and improve their participation in class. However, blogging can be more fun and even more rigorous when students determine their own topics. This semester, I gave the students in my "Rhetoric of Country Music" class free reign, and I am consistently impressed to see them taking on issues that are more personal and certainly more timely than anything I would have selected for them. My friend Beck Wise, who is teaching an English course on "Feminist Speculative Fictions," strikes what I think is a good balance, giving her students both structured and "free topic" blogging assignments.

#3. Stagger the deadlines. The joy as well as the misery of having students blog is that they can generate a lot of writing. Your students will benefit from writing several blog posts a week, but you will become overwhelmed trying to read--let alone grade--all of them. I decided to have my students write three posts of at least 400 words each. (They may write more, but not for class credit.) When I introduced the assignment, I distributed a sign-up sheet giving students the chance to select their own deadlines. They are happy because they chose deadlines that suit their schedules. I am happy because I have a manageable stream of 6-8 posts per week instead of an overwhelming flood.

#4. Stagger the publication. I allow my students the freedom to choose their topics, but I take control for determining when their posts are published. Usually, I receive 6-8 posts on Tuesday, which I then schedule to appear over the course of the week--ideally one per day. This is important for two reasons: First, releasing posts daily respects the habits of the typical Internet reader, who prefers a steady stream of content over an overwhelming weekly dump. Second, it ensures that none of my students' posts gets buried beneath the others. In effect, each student can count on being the class's featured writer for three days over the course of the semester. 

A technical note: If you are using Wordpress, you can schedule the date and time a post will appear from either the "edit" or "quick edit" screens. You can also schedule posts to reappear at a later time if your students accidentally publish them themselves.

#5. Walk students through the posting process. This is an obvious step that I forgot to take this semester and that has caused my students more setbacks than anything else. After spending so much time setting up my class blog, the Wordpress platform that I chose began to feel so obvious that I made the assumption that my students would be able to figure it out for themselves. In fact, many of them had to email me for help with such "obvious" tasks as locating the log-in button. Next semester, I plan to resolve this problem by having my students write their first posts as Word documents that will all be due on the same day. As a class, we will go through the process of transferring the documents to posts that includes images, hyperlinks, categories, and tags.

#6. Give students grades for their comments. The single best way to keep students invested in writing engaging, thoughtful blog posts is to ensure that every one initiates a conversation between students. (As a contributor Blogging Pedagogy and other sites where readers hardly ever leave comments, I know well how disappointing it can feel to spend time writing posts that generate no feedback.) This semester, I am requiring that my students write at least ten comments to their classmates' posts. My expectation is that each comment will be at least 100 words in length so that students can compliment each other's work ("I wish I had thought to write this post!") as well as contribute their own insight, story, or question. While I always enjoy the posts that my students write, the truth is that it is the conversations that are carried on the comments that lead to the most class participation and eventual student learning.


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