I started writing this post last weekend, and then managed to delete it. And then I didn’t have the energy to retype it.
The blogging idea went over well with the students for the most part. My visions of students reacting in anger to being asked to write did not come true (not that I really expected them to– it was just part of my general new-semester, new-project anxiety). There were reactions of apprehension and some confusion. A lot of the initial apprehension was relieved when I told them that we would have blog set-up workshops, where I would walk them through setting it up and then teach them the basics of LaTeX, as implemented by WordPress (which is fortunately significantly easier than learning true LaTeX, but challenging enough in it’s own right.).
The workshops went really well. There’s a computer room that I was able to reserve (although we did end up having one in a lab, when there was a miscommunication about the room reservation). The workshops with 12 to 15 students in them were best– enough so that they could help each other, and not so many that it was hard for me to get around to them all to help debug their LaTeX expressions. There was one workshop that was way too crowded, and two that had fewer than five people. We had seven workshops total. I could have gotten away with fewer probably, but I am generally opposed to requiring students to attend events outside of scheduled class times, so I did what I could to lessen that burden.
At the end of each workshop, I answered any questions they had, and often they asked about what I expected them to write about, and especially what I meant by “substantive”. In a few cases, I could tell that they were less than thrilled with the vagueness of my answers. So I acknowledged that it would be clearer if we defined substantive as “at least 500 words”, but that wouldn’t be an honest assessment of substance. When they said, “I’m trying to figure out what you want,” I tried to keep bringing it back to the purpose statement– this is a vehicle for building certain skills. They’re still nervous about how they’ll be graded, and I’m going to keep trying to get them to focus on building their skills.
And so now they’ve been blogging for a week. I may try to write more today or tomorrow, but for now I think I’ll close by quoting Gardner Campbell:
I suppose if students are not a little confused about blogging at first, they’re not really on the road to grokking it.
I definitely have several students who a still a little confused, but I think I have a few that are starting to grok it.