Using Blogs in the Classroom: Some Quick Ideas

As instructors, we frequently hear pleas from our administrators and departments to integrate more technology into our classroom teaching, to meet our online-savvy students on ground with which they’re already familiar. Yet, we often come up short when it comes to actually implementing “technology,” which is itself so broad and varied a term that it suffers from its own lack of specificity. What do “they” mean by “technology”? And more importantly, how do I use this “technology” if I’m admittedly not tech-savvy?

One easy way to incorporate a technological platform into the classroom is with a class blog. Blogs are an interactive place that can serve as a locus for discussion and group study outside of the classroom, allowing you as the instructor the opportunity for creating writing assignments without using up valuable class time devoted to course content. And one great aspect of this is that with a well-designed low-stakes assignment, your students will do most of the work and you can just sit back without taking on a mountain of extra grading.

At CityTech, we have a great blog platform in OpenLab, already available for every class. OpenLab has an excellent introductory guide for faculty, and their staff is also happy to work with faculty to design a site and assignments that can work for them. Once you’ve figured out the basics, there are a number of ways you can make the blog work for you using low-stakes, informal writing:

  • Create a short prompt. This can be a provocative question related to course content, a response to an article or statement made by a public figure, or a response to a particular aspect of the course content.
  • Post a piece of media for the students to “dissect”: either a clip from a film or TV show, a short piece of a documentary, a song or other piece of music, a news report, or a photo.
  • Have students post a critical review of an article, news report, event, museum/gallery/concert visit.

Require every student (or select a small number which rotates weekly throughout the semester) to write a short blog post. Then require every student to comment on at least two posts. This last part is key, because it requires the students to read and engage with each other’s work. You’ll find that the students begin to engage with each other in a highly collegial and productive exchange of ideas. As with all assignments, it’s important to still make sure we’re telling our students exactly what we want them to do and how to do it.

As an example, here’s a blog-based assignment I used when teaching music appreciation at Baruch College, and here are the student responses. I wanted students to use the vocabulary of the course to engage with music that they enjoy and doesn’t get covered in class, thus reinforcing core concepts such as form, harmony, melody, and rhythm.

We know that students enjoy this sort of online interaction for a number of reasons: it varies their mode of learning; it provides a way for them to engage in the class outside of the classroom; it prepares them better for class; it fosters discussion (and can be great especially for students who shy away from in-class speaking); and it utilizes technology that students know and with which they feel comfortable. A post last year from the Metawriting blog shows that one professor’s students responded “with overwhelming strong agreement” that “the instructor uses technology to establish good relationships with students.”

We at WAC support class blogging because it provides a platform for students to do expressive, low-stakes writing that isn’t graded in the traditional sense. Similar to using a journal (which we wrote about in this post from last fall), this kind of writing fosters “the building of connections between course content and real life experiences within one or two pages of writing.” In turn, students practice writing-to-learn, engaging with course content in a risk-free environment.

Have you used blogging in your classes? Share your experiences below in the comments.