Since I began this semester expressing some fears about blogging both courses for the first time, I thought I’d report back on how those went. This post will concern my long-running Swift and literary studies course.
I had my last class meeting on Friday, and the overall feeling of the group about the course and about the blog seemed positive. There were some iffy moments when students who were otherwise completely quiet became supersarcastic towards other students on the blog: one of the stranger consequences of the pseudonym-effect of people choosing screennames rather than their own names when they signed up for the course.
Rather than making blog contributions mandatory and graded, as I’ve seen other people do, I made individual questions, queries, further thoughts, etc. voluntary, while requiring that group projects be posted on the blog to be accessible for class use. I still feel funny about requiring blog posts or grading them, when the goal is to promote something at least resembling scholarly conversation.
One marked improvement was making my annotated bibliography assignments accessible to the entire class (and, incidentally, no longer marking these with a letter grade). Hopefully this change will circulate that information more widely than it has in earlier versions of the course, and seep into their research projects by some kind of conversational osmosis.
I’ve also had a large, take-home midterm assignment with an ECCO component (we had an on-campus trial for part of this semester) where I had students search for texts related to the topics on their annotated biblios, which I think went really well. I would really like to have this available all the time to my students, but, yes, there are a few economic realities to contend with here.
The only problem with the big take-home midterm is the length and complexity of the tasks involved, which take up a lot of their time in mid-semester (time well-spent, I think), but perhaps too much of my time in grading. I’ve been thinking of dividing it up instead into a number of smaller assignments, and figuring out ways to collaborate a bit with our subject librarians so that I feel that I’m handing out a more effective research assignment.
But overall, the blog really dramatizes the differences between their initial understanding of Swift and where they are at semester’s end, at least for the students who have participated fully in the class’s discussions. The writing- and research-process for even these students is by no means perfect (this is supposed to be their introduction to the major, after all), but they do seem to know that they are supposed to have a research- and writing-process. So perhaps we’re getting somewhere.
I like having the blog as an extra discussion zone, but I probably have to keep tweaking it to make it more effective, and continue thinking about my assignments and readings, on- and off-blog, so that students are able to move more smoothly from blogging to formal writing assignments.