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Today TOMD73′s blog has a post that explores the possibility of using blog assignments as part of a course.
I did something very like this with a class of about 75 university students, mostly juniors and sophomores.
Instead of calling it a blog, I called it a website. I had all of them use the Google website app so that (1) everyone was required to follow the same steps and (2) they could very easily create access to each other without “going public.”
With so many students, I formed the group into teams. Students would comment on the websites of those in their team. I gave very specific instructions about the kinds of comments they were to make, and explained that the quality of their comments would be a variable in their final grade evaluation.
Building a website of 5-7 linked pages was the major course project. Students could select their own topics, with two provisos: (1) the topic had to be related to the course topic; (2) I had to approve their selection.
Class met weekly. Each week students were given a series of steps to be completed by the next class period. These steps moved them gradually to completion of their website projects by the end of the semester.
The course was a philosophy of religion course for non-philosophy majors, with special focus on the New Atheism.
Many of the students produced excellent websites that they could be proud to make available to the public.
On the whole, I was pleased with the results. Most difficulties related to the size of the class. This type of assignment would have been much easier for me to manage with fewer students.
Here are some of the more significant challenges I encountered:
- Mastering the technology so that I knew what I was asking of the students and so that I could explain it to even the most technologically timid.
- Getting teams to work with so many students. There was considerable troubleshooting early on while students were learning the steps to get up and running. But more important, some students simply didn’t participate. I hadn’t counted on this since they were required to. This complicated things for the conscientious students, since part of their assignment was to respond to the comments they received.
- Helping the students work within a template of 5-7 pages that would do justice to their topics. Creating website pages differs from writing a paper. Developing and linking ideas is handled differently. Ideally, a decision to create a website rather than to write a paper should be grounded in the conviction that a website better serves the purposes of the project—especially because of the way material can be packaged (e.g., audio and visual tools can be included, and convenient links to other valuable items can be made).
- This project required more assistance from me than many other assignments. The student-teacher ratio made this a challenge. But one advantage is that I did get better acquainted with many of the students.
- Grading these assignments proved to be time intensive. This isn’t a bad thing. But you need to expect this when planning a course that includes this type of project.
Would I do it again? Absolutely! It would be much easier the next time around. But it has to be the right kind of course for this to count as a suitable assignment. I especially like it that students that have excelled have something to offer the rest of the world the moment the course is over!