MSCTC Class Blogs Saturday, Feb 23 2008 

MSCTC has unveiled its redesigned website. One new feature is the link to classes that are using blogs as assignments. My students’ contributions to the team blogs are now more visible to all sorts of visitors to the college website!

Feel free to leave comments on their posts. 🙂

Project Ideas for blogs or wikis Friday, Feb 22 2008 

I have saved this list all semester in a draft! It hasn’t changed too much, but here is what I am currently thinking about using as my project for the Weblogs and Wikis class:

  • Thrift store finds:
  • I love finding goodies at thrift stores. There are at least half a dozen in North Fargo and Moorhead alone. Concerns: my budget. my time. a place to put it all. Benefits: this would be fun. There are hundreds of crafty type sites and this is sort of a related niche–junk store finds. I just googled “thrift store blogs” and found this entry. Both the blog and the “research” (heehee) would be a great stress reliever and force me to make time for what I enjoy. What a hoot this would be. In fact, I can start with things I bought in the past (or is that cheating)?
  • Mommy blog
  • Drawbacks: market is saturated with mommy blogs.  I’m lucky if I get to see McK for 5 hours a day during the week. I’m a little schizophrenic about certain aspects of my home and school life and she is one.  When I’m at school, I’m focused on work and my students. From the time I get home until the time she falls asleep, I focus on my daughter. Besides the logistical nightmare of working while a toddler is running around, I sort of like our quality time to be separate from school work of any kind. She can see that she has my attention during those times. I’m also not a great photographer and a blog filled with grainy, out of focus pictures of a toddler easting and sleeping and playing just doesn’t seem to shout “hey read me!” I think, too, that I want my blog or wiki to reflect my professional interests more. Benefits: Two birds-one stone theory. Play with daughter and do homework. That just doesn’t seem compelling enough.
  • The role of literature in composition courses
  • Benefits: since this has been a recent department concern, the research and keeping track of it seems like a logical idea. I am passionate about literature. I think there is a lot of material out there that could be collected into a wiki space. Drawbacks: Somehow this doesn’t excite me as much as thrift stores or the ideas below. I just sense that after a week or two of posting and researching, I’d tire of merely collecting resources that may or may not be useful to anyone but myself.
  • travel literature wiki
  • I am going to be teaching a special topics course in the fall called Travel Lit. Currently, my colleagues have taught Horror and Supernatural Lit last spring and Banned Lit this spring. Drawbacks:  Is this reading that I have time for right now? No. Will I soon? probably. Without the 3x week meetings online and my hybrid course that finishes up in April, I’d definitely be able to re-purpose those time slots for this project. Benefits: I could use a wiki space as a notebook to develop an outline, a syllabus, a reading list, possible class assignments and projects, and to record my own reactions to works I am reading and considering. I have already read a handful of books, so until I have time to read more, I can start writing about what has been considered. Also the wiki could grow as the class starts–students can contribute, etc. Major concern: if I do all this work and the class doesn’t fill–we’ve never run the course in the fall and these are relatively new, unheard of classes. If it is cancelled and I have crunched all this into spring instead of over the summer, will it be a waste of time?
  • Student wiki  (for novel material and student-created content)
  • I think this one has the most practical application so I started it already–will that count against me?
  • When I first heard of wikis, I signed up with pbwiki and then did nothing with it. I recently set up cw1102.pbwiki.com to create an experimental place for my 1102 classes. Two sections (on campus) had the choice of reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which I have used for a couple of years now, or The Kite Runner, which I chose for its modern relevance and the lack of current online material (minus info about the movie, of course). I wanted my students to create their own cliffnotes, so to speak. Future classes will be able to use it. Blog stats indicate that others are looking for Kite Runner essay material 🙂 So far, I students have been in groups discussing the elements of the novels. I also ask some specific questions for them to consider. Then I decided to post this to pbwiki. Since I didn’t ask them to type their first set of work, I am slowly adding the content.  However, for the second group assignment, they are typing which will make it easier for me to post. I hope to soon have students post to the wiki itself but I need to arrange for us to meet in a computer lab and prepare some basic (really basic) instructions on how to log in, edit and save, as well as some ground rules. The will also do a creative, fun group project and can use the wiki space for planning.The benefits are obvious. The drawbacks: I’m not certain this will fit the project for the class. It’s collaborative, but I am merely providing the structure, some resource material and my students are creating the rest of the content. Even if they create it and I end up posting it, it’s still not my writing.

So. Any suggestions? Reactions? If you read any one of these ideas and just say to yourself, “Oh! Hell no!” let me know.

A Dark Blogging Place Friday, Feb 22 2008 

yoga.jpg

Most days I would much rather post to a blog, read other blogs, or work on my new wiki than watch TV, grade papers, or do housework of any kind. I don’t really understand the concept of not finding a topic of some sort to turn into a blog post. Have you ever read Bill Bryson‘s I’m a Stranger Here Myself? He is a master at finding the everyday topic and turning into into short humorous revelations.

Once in awhile, in mid-post, if I get a little uncertain about my topic as I start writing, or if the writing takes me in an exploratory direction about something that interests me, I search to see what others are saying about the same topic. If I find someone who has written about it a lot better or more extensively, I am content that I’ve read about that topic and may even delete my whole post in favor of a new topic.  Sometimes I’ll still publish my idea and link to the others that I found. 

This week, however, I am feeling a little run-down, a little behind. I just can’t summon the attention span to pull my ideas together in a meaningful way. I feel like a fraud participating in the BarnRaising wiki assignment. People are raising a barn and I am still looking at the blueprints. I read a lot of the pages there and think that there are already great ideas in place. I struggled to think of a single worthwhile contribution to add to the existing discussion.  

Perhaps my intentions during Yoga tomorrow will be to reconnect to the WikiWay. ooooOOOOOOHHHHMMMMM.

Searching for Top Blogs Sunday, Feb 17 2008 

A new article at Read, Write, Web explores six different ways one can find top blogs. It gives the pros and cons of  various search tools including Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, and Technorati.

A Minnesota Blogger Saturday, Feb 16 2008 

The Blackboard Jungle, by another Minnesota blogger, had neat pictures illustrating “then and now” concepts. For example, she posts an old picture of a church and then a picture of that same church in 2007. While we see it everyday, it’s fun to see the pictures of the Headwaters and good old Paul and Babe contrasted this way.

Two Documentaries on Blogging Saturday, Feb 16 2008 

Take a break from your computer screens and watch some documentaries! Blog Wars, broadcast on the Sundance channel this fall, is about how blogs shape elections. Band of Bloggers, televised last fall on the History Channel, is about US soldiers who blog. I thought the soldier blogs and their stories ranged from scary or heartbreaking to humorous. All were fascinating.

Building a blog and an identity Monday, Feb 11 2008 

Some re-occuring questions with blogs are why do you blog? Why do people blog about themselves; after all, who cares?  

I was thinking about how much my knowledge of blogs has changed. I have had my blogger account for many years. It started as a simple account when I was teaching in Arizona so I could post directions for a definition-based assigment (a short hyperlinked essay). I gave directions for the assignment and a brief definition of “blog.” It was rough as most of my students did not even use email then. Each semester, though, I linked to past students’ essays as a model for the project.

When I moved back to Minnesota, I knew I still wanted to use blogs but I started slowly, using the blog for the same assignment. Though I invited students to post other writings, no-one took me up on that.

Then, as a probationary faculty who had to have goals and a professional development plan, I made it a goal to expand the use of blogs in my classes. I started using team blog for College Writing I first. The first assignment (after an overview of the rhetorical modes):

Pay attention to the world around you. Write about what you see, hear, experience. Then, write down how these could turn into essay topics for this course.

The ongoing assignment after that:

Five times during the semester, post a 100-150 word reactions to the class discussions, readings and/or assignments. Write about what you didn’t understand, what excited you, what made you nervous, or how it ties into other classes you are taking. In short, react to what we’re working on and talking about.

Again, it’s more of a journal. I get a lot more feedback on who “gets it.” I can also direct them back to these posts for topic ideas when they are needed.

This semester, I am also requiring my 1102 students to post to a team blog. They write short journal reactions to stories before we discuss them in class. Then, periodically through-out the semester, students are required to write a post-class-discussion entry to the blog. The purpose is to record any changes in their interpretations or to react to the discussion overall. I’m really excited about this approach because they are writing more (it is a writing class, after all), there is a before-and-after snapshot of their comprehension, and it (can be) great practice for building up to a literary analysis paper.

This move to team blogs for each section allowed me to convert my original blog into a journal where I can react to class discussions and assignments as well as put some personal information. I didn’t decide to do that simply to write about myself. Two events contributed to this decision:

First, at a conference I attended last summer, the facilitators really pushed for faculty to be accessible in ways that appealed to students: Facebook, Myspace, and blogs. I joined, and I am glad I did only because I have re-connected with some high school and college friends. However, I don’t go on the page much, I don’t go looking for my students, nor do I add folks I do not know personally. I then was invited to join “friend” two Facebook pages (as part of a Phi Theta Kappa project and an MSCTC initiative to get students more connected). I joined but, again, I never go to the site. However, I do not know how much students care to find instructors on these sites. I never looked for mine there, but these were not applications we had back then. Thus, I decided that the blog is the best place for me to reveal any personal info with the class I decide to share. Since I link to that blog on my team blogs, my students can easily access it. This is especially important for the online students so they can, if they so choose, find out more about the instructor they never see face-to-face.

2.  I guess I’m a little tired of the misconceptions I’ve encountered in the last year.  Where do students get the idea that all instructors listen to is NPR, Enya, and Beethoven? No, I do not read grammar guides for fun when I get home from work. No, I do not watch PBS on a nightly basis. No, I will not live on my email on the weekends to answer questions about assignments. Yes, I went to see Nickelback last year and Seether/Three Days Grace/Breaking Benjamin/Skillet last fall. Oh, I’m going to Bon Jovi for the fifth time (or is it sixth?). Yes, I do play video games (by the way, I forgot to mention that Condemned: Criminal Origins was the a game I could not play at night in the dark).

Writing about myself on my blog allows me to let my students see that I am a person with diverse interests; a couple have left or emailed me comments on posts that related to THEIR life, so I also learn even more about them than I might in class. I don’t share it all, I try not to be as snarky as I probably really am, and I hope I present a balance of work and personal information (I’ll have to check now that I’m thinking about it).

And wouldn’t you just know it? Someone else writes about this same topic (as I just discovered in a quick google search after I wrote this whole spiel). It figures.

Legitimacy of Blogs Wednesday, Feb 6 2008 

The discussion about the legitimacy of blogs has been on my mind all day. I don’t know that I can begin to answer that effectively without first setting some parameters. Not all blogs are created equal.  Even the “BloGGa” example, if updated, could be legit to his/her audience if their expectations are met, the blog fulfills their needs, and is read. A serious, academic blog must be judged by different criteria than a celebrity-inspired blog. By “legit” do we mean professional or reliable or something else?

What about my London Blog? Should I not call it a blog since I have not posted regularly or recently? I used the blogging medium, but it was a one-time “project.” My class blogs are probably not legit blogs either as we are not tracking web-sites nor are the students merely posting freely (they are often, but not always, responding to prompts). So am I, again, just using the technology of blogs and really creating a web-page on a blogger site?

I often stress the “credentials” angle to my students when they access resources for research, but Cranky Prof, who is anonymous but claims to teach at a lib arts college, is consistent in her posts about family and job, maintains a particular style and tone (even if it is ranting), and links to relevant information. As a reader who visits her site because parts of it relate to my experiences, who is looking for a laugh or to commiserate, and who often just wants to laugh, I find this blog legitimate.

Some may think a blog isn’t legitimate until it gets an award or other distinction, but so far the only criteria I am willing to dedicate myself to right now is a solid base of returning readers.