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A new Talmud: blogging as discursive scripture
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:
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.