Steve — thanks for the comments; as back in the day, your paths through these pedagogical thickets are always helpful. You’re absolutely right that the key variable in terms of evaluation — both of student engagement and of the class’s/the blog’s overall success — is goals. And that’s often the most elusive part of what administrators are these days referring to as “assessment”: being able to state clearly enough what it is we’re hoping for as an outcome such that we can evaluate whether or not we’ve gotten there. Assessment is the kind of thing that usually gives the Small Liberal Arts College (and especially the Humanist in the SLAC) hives; it smacks so much of the funding-driven, student-as-consumer, quantitative-standards approach to education that we (read: I) often stop listening as soon as the concept is raised. And yet it’s an enormous (if agonizing) part of what we do. Your questions about purpose and engagement get right to the heart of that conundrum: if we can be clear about the purpose, we ought to be able to clarify the evaluation. Right? (And oy. Those mentor meetings. Good to know this has been one of the valuable ones!)

Chuck — thanks for your thoughts, too. I’ve used Web Crossings in previous semesters, to rousing complaints by my students, who despised the technology (which was, in the install we were working from, painfully slow and impossibly ugly) and felt it was an artificial overlay on the class structure. Fortunately, my IT folks have abandoned Web Crossings and are supporting MovableType use on campus, so the tech end of things should be much improved. I think the key is going to be making sure that the blog is well-integrated pedagogically, not simply into the class’s structure (my students will do what I require, but they’ll grouse about it nonstop) but also into its issues. Anyhow, I’ll hope to chat some with Jill about her experiences soon…