Category Archives: Writing about writing

Blogging as Process Work in the Composition Classroom

[Cross-posted from TECHStyle]               

I’ve been using blogs for a long time in my classes as a place for informal writing and reflection.  I originally used the blogs as simply an online repository to store weekly response readings but the more I’ve used them, the more I find that the actual medium creates a particularly dynamic space for writing.  Not only does a blog feel personal — you can customize your blog by adding pictures, links, widgets, etc. — but it also opens up for interactive writing via the comments and through external linking.  It is an excellent way to have students think about audience when they know that other people, possibly even outside of our class, will be reading their posts.

[Indeed, Brian Croxall‘s “Intro to the Digital Humanities” students over at Emory have had wonderful conversations about the articles they are reading with the actual authors of those articles who have come to comment on their blogs.  See some great discussions going on between student and author in the comments on posts here and here.]

I’ve also found that the students feel less pressure writing in a digital space in contrast to the intimidating blankness of a Word document. And students generally like the fact that they can vary their posts to include both serious reflections on the reading and more informal posts with links to related content or personal musings on current events.  My assignment calls for them to write at least one substantial post a week, but once they have done that, they can post as often as they like.

However, one thing I’ve found to be especially effective in the composition classroom is using student blogs as a place to develop longer essays.  This semester my students developed formal “literary analysis” papers on Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year by beginning with informal brainstorming and writing assignments on their blogs.  The full assignment is here, but basically the students moved from a “first impressions” blog post where they could do a free-write or brainstorming on their first reactions to the novel, through two “close-reading” posts where they selected passages to analyze, to an outline and tentative thesis statement as they honed their argument. At the end of the process, many chose to post their rough drafts on their blogs as well.  With each step, the students gave and received feedback via the comments (in addition to a session in the T-Square chatroom with their group members) and used peer-feedback to shape their initial ideas into arguments with supporting evidence.

I asked the students to write about their experience using the blogs to develop their papers and their comments were insightful.  One student, Anna, wrote that blogging the early stages of the paper led her to rethink the order of the writing process.  As she describes:  ”I’ve always been taught to write my thesis first and then collect evidence.  In this paper, I gathered material I found interesting and then shaped a thesis based on this information.  This was a different experience for me and I feel it broadened my writing process.”

Another student described how the format and the commenting helped her develop her writing.  She wrote that “the blog allowed me to see my work in print, which helped me recognize and revise errors or incongruities in my writing.  Posting my work to a blog also gave me feedback from my peers, and their comments helped me tremendously in shaping and focusing my paper.”

Some students found the constructive criticism of their peers helped them see things in their writing that they couldn’t see themselves. As Matt wrote:  ”After several blog postings on my specific topic, I became too comfortable with the material I had written making it difficult for me to realize that few others could understand my logic and thus I was less open to criticism. However, thanks to a particularly constructive review from Susan I had a small epiphany that although my writing and logic makes perfect sense in my mind, on paper (or in this case on a blog), most everyone else perceives my writing as simply an unclear, unorganized mess.”

Many were surprised by how dramatically their original blog posts differed from their final drafts, perhaps because they were used to thinking of a topic first and then working from that point towards a final paper.  Matthew observed that, “[w]ithout a doubt my rough draft and final draft differed immensely from the Literary Analysis blog 1 and 2.  However I think this fact is a very good sign because it shows that the blogging actually worked. It shows that by blogging I was able to transform a horribly mediocre bunch of nothing in particular into a well written literary analysis paper.  So I believe that if there are significant changes then that is a good sign of a successful paper.”

As I think these comments show, using the blog as a space for brainstorming and early writing freed the students up to focus on the ideas they had about the novel and then to work on gathering more evidence and shaping their ideas into arguments.  Posting these stages in a public forum meant that they had more stake in what they wrote (yet, interestingly, many said that they felt freer to write whatever they wanted in that space) and the feedback from their peers was often probing and insightful.  This is not to say, of course, that all students embraced the possibilities of the blog space; few of them actually posted links to external content or used images or other media to supplement their posts, but that wasn’t really the focus of the exercise.  The focus was on writing and on process, and for those things, the blog space worked really well.

To look at some of my students’ posts, check out our course blog here.  You can access the individual student blogs from the section tabs at the top.

Id love to hear in the comments how you use blogs in the composition classroom – what other uses have you found for blogging?

[Creative commons licensed image from Flickr user Kristina B]

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Creativity and Digital Pedagogy

I’ve been thinking a lot about the capacity of the digital humanities to open up assignments in traditional English and composition classes to more creative possibilities.  In my first-year writing course this semester, my students are working on an identity project.  The first component was a traditional personal essay, a short 2-page piece on notions of identity.  I followed the paper with a second assignment:  a digital identity project.  This assignment allows the students to transform their original piece into a more creative interpretation of their identity trait, thinking specifically about how their chosen medium contributes to the message they are trying to convey.  One of the goals of the assignment is to push visual communication to the forefront and to allow us to discuss visual design and rhetoric.  Another goal is to force the students to consider how a given medium contributes to the message it is communicating and to choose a medium based on those qualities.  I’ve given them some suggestions for the medium (slideshow, short video, Google Map, photo collage, Pecha Kucha etc.) but I’m hoping they will surprise me with their creativity.

So far, the students have responded well to the assignment and have generated some interesting ideas.  However, many of them responded with anxiety at the the prospect of an open assignment that leaves them free to chose the medium and/or technology and the message.  I’ve explained to them that part of the assignment is about actually making this decision — a decision they will be forced to make many times in the future — and that selecting a medium and connecting design principles to questions of communication are skills that will serve them well.

But I’m also hoping that the open parameters of the assignment will tap into their individual creativity and encourage them to think outside of “what is required of me for this assignment” and to consider how their skills and interests can best contribute to a successful project.  In this way, then, I’m hopeful that the flexibility and openness that — at least in this instance — digital pedagogy provides, will serve to bring that creativity into the classroom.

ETA:

One thing I haven’t touched on here is the possible clash between creativity and copyright, especially in a digital environment.  My students will be discussing this tomorrow, so that might be the topic of a follow-up post.

I will post some sample projects in a few weeks to showcase the students’ work.

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Filed under Digital Humanities, Teaching, Writing about writing

Welcome!

Welcome to the Arcades.  I’ve created this space as a place for me to do some informal musing on topics related to my research and teaching, with the goal that frequent short writing will keep my ideas flowing and my writing skills honed.  In fact, just writing this introduction I’m having to think so much about the flow of my prose, what “voice” I should have in this space, how to organize spontaneous ideas into coherent posts – it’s already working!

I’ve titled this blog “The Arcades” because I envision it as a vast space to wander around, framed and supported by the many thrusts of my ideas and interests.  I also think of it as a Victorian space, a space designed to be both ornamental and eminently practical (many arcades were designed as shelters for pedestrians).  Arcades also make me think of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, and — to bring in my interest in the digital — arcade games.  The picture on this blog’s header is of the Cleveland Arcade built in 1890 and captures the sense of space with structure that I hope this blog will be for me.

I’ll be writing about Victorian literature and culture as it relates to my research, but also as I see it intersecting with my other interests in Neo-Victorian and Steampunk literature, and my teaching in the digital humanities.  I can also envision posts dealing with general pedagogy, course design, and teaching with technology which are all topics I’ll be considering on a daily basis as I teach first-year English at Georgia Tech.  And finally, as a candidate on the job market, I will be chronicling my experience in the job search and using this site as a place to direct people who are interested in my teaching and research.

I’m also going to set myself some challenges related to reading and writing.  My first is my goal to complete a revision of an article draft that I have been working on this summer.  More on that to follow, but I will use this space to keep myself motivated about my writing and to set myself writing goals.  Secondly, I plan to write a weekly review on new journal articles and academic texts which relate to my research and to Victorian scholarship in general.  And finally, I have set myself a “Victorian Novel Challenge” — I’m planning on reading (or re-reading as the case may be) 50 Victorian novels (or collections of stories or poetry) by fall 2011.  I will post my reading list here and chronicle my progress in regular installments.  This would be a whole lot easier if I were a Modernist…

So, come on in, wander around, and say hello.  This is a big space, I wouldn’t mind some company.

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Filed under Books, Books, Books, Digital Humanities, Miscellaneous, Professional, Teaching, Victoriana, Writing about writing