Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Technology

A new Talmud: blogging as discursive scripture

Religion 204: Scripture in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Prof. Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus

 

What was it?

Jonathan had his classes participate in a class blog, where the professor and students contributed posts and comments.

The blogs were hosted on blogger, an easy-to-use blogging site run by Google:

And why did he do that?

The blog was intended to:

  • Stimulate discussion and extend it from inside to outside the classroom
  • Focus discussion in class
  • Encourage students to interact with each other
  • Provide an alternative form of class participation
  • Stimulate students to read and plant discussion "seeds" based on class readings
  • Connect the analytical to the personal

What was the assignment?

Assignment design is very important to the success of class blogs. Jonathan chose to integrate the blog posts tightly with the readings, and to motivate the students with a significant blog participation mark (25% of the course final grade).

The following was the assignment as given to students:

Web Blog: Short reflection writing assignments to be posted on individual blogs set up specifically for this class. See instructions on Blackboard.

Students will blog what they are learning throughout the term, and be able to comment on one another's questions and insights. At the end of each class session, I'll ask you to jot down at least one brief comment summarizing the gist of the day's class, and one question prompted by the day's discussion ˜ and any other questions or comments you want to add.

Likewise, for each reading assignment, jot down at least one brief comment summarizing the gist of the reading, and any other questions or comments prompted by it. By the Thursday of each week, post a digest of your comments and questions on the readings and class discussions on your blog ˜ not more than 1 page, single-spaced for each week's posting. I'll ask you to do the same for each of our field trips. You should make at least 12 weekly posts.

Finally, you must contribute at least ten comments to any of your fellow students' blog posts during the course of the term. These are both for your own benefit ˜ to get you to begin to think analytically, to focus your thoughts on what you're learning, and for the class as a whole ˜ to stimulate class discussions.

(Preparation of the readings and class participation will be evaluated primarily on the basis of your contributions to your blogs, and count for 25% of the course grade)

And did it work?

Jonathan has done this blog before, and plans to repeat it again. In general, the contributions were of high quality, fun to read, and the discussion was very constructive.

Jonathan liked having a single blog for the whole class (as opposed to each student having their own blog; see Gabriela Torres' blog class assignment) which gave the feel of a round-table dialog.

The level of reflection and analysis was high, and much better than equivalent participation on a discussion board. Students used the blog to post much more personal material.

The fact that the Spring 2008 class had access to the Fall 2005 blog discussion meant that Jonathan could reference (and link to) past discussions by previous classes ˆ an interesting opportunity afforded by the medium.

In terms of participation, the blog made it much easier to evaluate (as the blog can call up all the postings by one person). In one case, the on-line medium served to bring out greater participation in a student who was otherwise silent in class.

What didn't work? What will he do differently next time?

  • The assignment called for 10 posts and 2 comments ˜ as only 2 students fulfilled that quota, the requirement may have to be adjusted.
  • The assignment also counted for a lot of the grade -- a full 25% of the final mark; while this was useful for encouraging participation, it probably was too high.
  • The biggest issue is establishing full participation -- it can be tricky to ensure that the class is participating as a whole. For example, two students did not contribute to the blog at all, and some only added comments (no posts). One student had had a previous bad experience with public blogging and asked to submit their postings on paper at the end of the course. Therefore, "bloggophobia" (whether it be fear of technology or public discourse) can be a factor.

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