Using New Literacies as Quick Fixes: Blog it! Wiki it!

I feel that blogs have become the Band-Aid to the myriad of problems in freshman composition. Students not motivated? Use blogs! Students not grasping audience? Use blogs! Students not interested in what you’re assigning them? Use blogs! Because of this reliance and potential over enthusiasm for blogs, I myself have grown skeptical.

I valued Richardson’s (2010) detailed explanation of Blogs in the classroom because he’s right – blogs can be very powerful when used in the right way. As a new teacher, I find myself struggling to have students write for authentic and real audiences, besides myself. Writing individual papers only aimed at me makes them both boring and stagnant. Blogs seem like a good alternative.

If we use blogs, though, like any type of new literacy, we, as instructors, have to be careful about how we introduce it in the classroom. Benson & Reyman’s (2009) exploration of blogs in the classroom showed me the many pitfalls of using blogs. I think one of the best reasons to use blogs is because of its direct connection to audience. As Richardson comments, “the relevance of student work no longer ends at the classroom door” (27). Students are no longer just writing for each other and the teacher – the audience is now potentially the whole Internet world. With this larger audience comes a new responsibility for students. Their writing now has both purpose (since it’s actually being read) and responsibility (if people are going to read it, I should try). Blogs work for the type of meaningful writing we want students to do and for the way we want them to approach, anticipate, and write for an audience. However, as Benson & Reyman (2009) comment, “understanding of audience does not necessarily lead to a strong sense of the potential consequences for their public writing” (16).  I’ve been a part of many class blogs, have created my own class blog, and have worked with students on their blogs here at SF State. They all have very few hits. My own blog has had 156 visitors from the US and 21 from Russia and then 20 from Latvia. I would say my blog is pretty representative of the kinds of blogs that students will write. I didn’t do much connective writing, so maybe that had an effective on views to my site. However, when I Google some terms I talked about like race, class, gender, my blog does come.

The point of this example is to show that, really, people are not reading my blog.

Students in the Benson & Reyman class discussed how they really felt that they could say anything they wanted to on a blog because they “had a perceived sense of a private, exclusive audience when writing to the class blogs” (18). While the potential audience is potentially massive, the actual audience seems to be fairly small for these blogs. And the students perceive that, negating the value of writing for an audience that blogs encourage.

If students don’t think anyone read the blogs, are we promoting audience awareness? Or are we just assuming there is a wider audience and turning a blind eye?

Because of my jaded view of blogs, I was intrigued by the discussion of Wikis. My knowledge of Wikipedia was cursory before these readings. I use it all the time and I frequently encourage students to do so as well, but I didn’t get how it works. I believe writing can be powerful when it is a collaborative, social, and constantly in flux. So, in other words, when it mirrors Wikipedia. Students who “purposeful[ly] work [at] negotiating and creating truth” understand that their writing has to be valued to be kept on the Wiki – it has to have purpose, be articulate, add something to the conversation, synthesize material (57). In essence, what some of the core values of freshman composition are.

I am intrigued by the idea of having students work on creating a document together. This could be revising and reworking our notions of genre through the semester, or adding to a list on good thesis statements. Either way having a place where everyone can add, and everyone has agency to change, what we are discussing. iLearn has a pretty user friendly version of Wiki’s built in and I’m trying this out next week in my class.

If Compositionists have been so struck by blogs why have Wikis been given the wayside? Blogs provide a platform to publish and write to an (imagined) audience. Wikis also provide a platform to write to an imagined audience but also encourage collective revision.

I think part of it is our reluctance to let go of authorship in the classroom. Blogs maintain this because each student writes their own blogs. With wikis, collaborative writing and learning takes place meaningfully and thoughtfully. While we can track who adds what, the goal of the Wiki is for information to be revised and rethought together, not for everyone to have their own independent voice. As Hunter (2011) suggests in his study of World of Warcraft Wikis, wikis both “erase a sense of authorship” (45) and “individual contributions are deemphasized” (54). This is very interesting to our notions of how we teach writing in the classroom: as a very individualized, independent, and frequently isolated activity.

            Wikipedia has always been scorned in the classroom for its unreliability. But more people have access to making it reliable than something written by one person from the The Times or Wired. I think part of our hesitancy with Wikis is the lack of authority, specifically in regards to assessment. We typically assign each student a prompt, to be completed independently. When we assess, through feedback and/or a grade, we are responding to that specific student. We know they wrote the essay. With Wiki’s then, this individual writer becomes problematize. How do I evaluate a Wiki that every one adds to? What about individual grades? What if nobody adds anything to the Wiki because it is already pretty good? I foresee problems arising when students post something in a wiki because they have to, not because it furthers the discussion. With these questions aside, I do think that Wiki’s add a new dimension to the classroom that values collaboration and revision.

As I hop off the blog bandwagon, I hop on the Wiki bandwagon. Students don’t collaborate? Wiki it! Students don’t see their revisions as purposeful? Wiki it! Students aren’t grasping the exigency of writing? Wiki it!

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6 comments on “Using New Literacies as Quick Fixes: Blog it! Wiki it!

  1. You can add Australia to your list – I’ve read your blog and think you make some very interesting points about these two forms. I agree with wikis as a more powerful digital compositional tool – I started on the blog bandwagon but also quickly saw that students lost the motivation and realized I was probably their only audience whereas a wiki’s collaborative nature is intrinsically motivating and quality control.

  2. I agree with your post on many levels and you made me LOL several times. Most people aren’t reading student blogs. The chances of Alexandra Wallace type catastrophe (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQR01qltgo8) are slim. We should guide the composing of student blogs, but fretting and worrying may be unnecessary.

    When you mention assessment and wikis, my mind boggles. I wonder what other teachers have done in regards to wikis and assessment.

  3. I hear and would likely echo your reasons for decrying blogs or new digital platforms as the quick fix for compositional problems in the classroom. I connect with the quote below most readily however in your analysis:

    “I think one of the best reasons to use blogs is because of its direct connection to audience.”

    One hundred percent in agreement here. One of the best authors I have read in a long time, Cheryl Strayed, took audience to a whole new level when her column “Dear Sugar” was touted to be the new “”Dear Abby” of our time. Her column appears like a blog…a running tapestry of comments and writing. Many readers have only found her non-blog fashion writing (novels, memoirs, etc.) through their online connections with her character, Sugar. She has even said, had it not been for the internet…she doesn’t know if her success could have been solidified. Therefore, people like me may not have come in contact with the richness of her contributions to the writing world.

    In terms of student collaboration. I think you are right in jumping off the blog bandwagon..and jumping on the Wiki bandwagon. It seems more user/editing friendly and a place where students can get their feet wet in new spaces. Overall, your blog made me laugh and it was also refreshing to see someone else who is not totally convined that blogs are the inevitable wave of future composition studies.

  4. I enjoyed how you constructed a notion of blogging/wikis as a kind of modern panacea for all kinds of compositional ills. I thought back to the Jenkins article about participatory cultures when he mentions the problem of people who don’t really understand digital literacy practices trying to assign them. All that really happens is that students perform academic writing online, which defies the entire purpose- why not simply have them write an essay? At this point, I am not sure which bandwagon to jump on; I’m feeling a little more of the “drawn and quartered” composition studies effect where I’m somewhere in the middle of all the bandwagons, but find myself unfortunately tied to all of them.

  5. I read your blog post and the responses with a knowing grin. Not for the words or the attitudes or concerns addressed. They are valid and come from a genuine concern for credibility. Yet what makes me grin is the reaction to collective construction of a textual product. You see, collective construction and collaboration has built the roof over my head and been the olive oil and focaccia on my table for a couple of decades.
    Working in electronic visual arts comes with a guaranteed accountability. Due to the tools used and the various aspects of production, from cinematography to editing and everything in between, I learned at an early age that in order to create a product, I had to collaborate, or I didn’t make a living. I had to be accountable and provide a solid product that seamlessly dovetailed with my co-workers’ efforts or I went back to waiting tables and serving other people olive oil and focaccia.
    When I think of presenting my students with a Wiki, I can latch on to this teachable moment because I have industry practice to back me up. Not just in my first discipline but in many others. I cannot think of a single profession where one doesn’t collaborate, either explicitly or implicitly, except maybe novel writing — and even then, J.K. Rowling has a proofreader. I can also take the wider view — the writing across the curriculum view — and explain to my students that much of the work we do is collaborative and we must be truthful and accountable to our co-workers or the job doesn’t get done. How do you think that olive oil and focaccia got on the table anyway?

  6. I just want to start off by praising your blog because you start off with a definite opinion—that blogs are a crutch—which made it easy for me to follow through your response.

    You say “I would say my blog is pretty representative of the kinds of blogs that students will write”

    I think the point you are trying to make is that your blog is the kind of blog that students will write, that you are concerned that there is not enough people interested in reading it. This is an important point because when you talk about your “representative blog” I take it that you mean that the form may be the same but the content can be different. Students can be writing for a science class or an English class and these blogs will still not be read.

    Your concern is probably related to the fact that you are not advertising your content enough on social networking sites. Also, our class blog is useful for teachers only—after all it is called Writing in a Digital Age. This content can also help out other people besides teachers—but I think the problem is we are directly referring to our class readings rather than phrasing it in a way that will be accessible to everyone. Many people try to summarize all the readings into one blog, but if a person were to stick with one point from the readings and build upon that, then there wouldn’t be so many topics for our audience to sift through.

    Another way I think we can increase views is setting up blogs with the same idea that Myspace or Facebook had—which is this idea of exclusivity. Do not confuse it with this kind of exclusiveness that our text mentions: “a perceived sense of a private, exclusive audience when writing to the class blogs” (18) This kind of exclusivity is for a class, but we should extend it to schools, making a blog exclusively for college students. Then it can start with those few people and grow. Right now our class blog is for anyone and no one wants to read information that is not really categorized. If we categorize our blog as a blog exclusively for college students and foster blog responses between colleges, then this may increase views. The point I am trying to make is to label our audience so the audience will be moved to read our blog.

    Also, WordPress, and eblogger in my opinion are limiting class blogs because we have to stick to a standard, boring format of posting. I personally would like to have a different background, differently colored scroll bars. Perhaps the Html is visually boring to outside readers. If there is a way to weave in more of our individuality and creativity into class blogs, then that may increase traffic.

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