Oct
2014

Blogging: Becoming Visible and Attracting Audiences

Today I’m presenting at The Teaching Professor Technology Conference in Denver, CO. While I have presented on my use of blogs in the classroom several times over the years (see this Prezi for a precursor to today’s work), this is the first time I’ll be able to share student responses from my Curious Stout Innovator [CSI] project. Also see here for the Blog Rubric I use as well as the ENGL121 Blogging101 assignment itself.

Background:

When I started my doctoral program at the University of South Florida in 2003, I was required to create a blog as part of my Rhetoric and Technology course. That first course influenced my entire program of study, my dissertation project, and my pedagogy. My project for the Curious Stout Innovators [CSI] program illustrates these ongoing efforts.

In the Fall 2012 semester I taught ENGL 335: Critical Approaches to Digital Humanities, the first course offered in the Digital Humanities concentration of the Professional Communication Emerging Media [PCEM] program. The course was a hybrid one that relied on Tegrity to “capture” the face-to-face meetings and share those recordings with the online students. However, to increase student engagement, I asked both groups of students to participate in “virtual Fridays” where they discussed readings and course goals on a WordPress blog, http://engl335digitalhumanities.wordpress.com/.

Some may critique assigned or “forced blogging,” a term defined in 2004 by Dennis Jerz as follows: “Since a ‘real’ weblog is a license to write whatever and whenever you want, an instructor who assigns the topic, frequency, or length of blog entries (in order to facilitate grading) violates the spirit that draws voluntary bloggers to their avocation.” However, this exercise was intended to emulate the burgeoning field of Digital Humanities, which defines itself as a social one composed of people with “a shared interest in texts, and the use of computational technologies to explore and understand them (as opposed to merely creating or distributing them)” (Alvarado).

This first cohort of Digital Humanities students flourished in their “open” posts, the ones that were to draw their classmates’ attention to online artifacts related to course goals; meanwhile, their posts designated to react to the assigned readings lacked originality and often were not even proofread. As such, my work with Renee Howarton in the CSI program initially aimed to create a set of best practices when using the course blog again in the Fall 2013 semester, this time with the added intent of networking with Digital Humanities students at other universities.

Due to lack of enrollment, however, I ended up not teaching ENGL 335 again in Fall 2013. Instead, I was assigned two sections of ENGL 121: Intro to Professional Communication, the first required course all PCEM majors.

Previous instructors of this course have asked students to create blogs, and given my personal experience and research history with blogs, I was excited to include a blogging component and this switch ended up working in my favor. Not only did I have a greater data set, but at the heart of the course was the goal of “understanding how technologies mediate communication.” For freshman and transfer students new to the major, frequent and focused blog writing and commenting upon the writing of others in the class opened their eyes to a new genre, one that offered them the space for much more depth and engagement than other social media profiles, i.e. Facebook statuses and Twitter updates.

As a result, I revised my CSI research project to investigate the extent to which weekly blogging showcased these PCEM majors’ creativity and helped cultivate their professional online presence. For several years now industry and academic experts in the field of technical writing have advised students and young professionals to create and maintain a blog, citing the ways it can help with a job search.

Today’s presentation, see the Prezi and resources that informed it below, shares the details from the project and the data collected, not from students’ individual blog posts, but from responses to the Final Exam Questions. I am pleased to see reflective comments that support my hypothesis that weekly blog writing pushed them to craft and design posts that were both meaningful and professional.

Additional Resources

These videos also help start the discussion on blogs and their history and varied uses:

Hope to see you at my #TPTech14 session later today!