Really interesting. It’s gotten me to thinking…

I have not used blogs in my courses, but have used discussion boards through Blackboard. I’d provide a prompt and students would respond to it, but not usually at all to one another – it was frightening how much it could look like a classroom, with all the conversation filtered through the professor. So while I imagined it as a furthering of class discussion outside of the bounds of the classroom, it didn’t become discussion or conversation so much as it just got stuck in individual responses to a professor’s prompts. Interesting in theory, lousy in practice. I had abandoned it and wasn’t sure how to get back to it until reading this.

Perhaps the reason it went poorly may have been to the lack of directed rhetorical “rules” for responses, or “moves” if we posit it as a game as George does in the link you’ve provided. These, I thought, were helpful and are especially good for a writing class when we’re teaching students rhetorical strategies. I also think they might provide useful directed strategies for responses for other classes, too, with some adaptations.

I’m not sure about the “scoring” aspect of it, though. My hesitation might go to goals. What outcomes are we looking for from discussion – Are we looking for the students to generate a particular “type” of discussion? Are we looking for them to participate in and of itself? Are we interested in the content of their responses and evaluating their worth or are we interested in the rhetorical means through which they respond and evaluating them on those terms? Both?

One issue for me is that I’m always somewhat reticent to grade class participation too heavily. Some people don’t speak too much, some way too much. Some add a lot to the discussion, some very little. Having class discussion be an end in and of itself, it seems to me, leads to students feeling that they have to talk but not necessarily bringing much of value to the conversation. They know their grade depends in part on how much they talk, not necessarily on what they add to the conversation. I’m less interested, usually, in participation than I’m interested in engagement – though they need not be mutually exclusive.

Indeed, what does academic engagement look like? Does engagement mean that the student speaks in class – or online? Or can students be engaged and learning even if not talking? Again, it takes me back to our outcomes. It would depend on what it is we’re striving for as teachers. Ones that point to oral or written communication, for instance, might suggest that yes, we do want our students to be able to present themselves powerfully in how they speak in class – or through a blog.

By the way, Kathleen, I’d say that your own blog has really kicked in recently. I like the way you’ve been using it as a tool to think your way into and about issues – I believe you said in one post that this was a goal of yours, to see if and how you could do so. From my perspective, it’s going well and thought I should tell you so. For me, this was like one of those few and far between valuable mentor group meetings back at that private institution to the East!