“Learning to Write Publicly: Promises and Pitfalls of Using Weblogs in the Composition Classroom” by John Benson and Jessica Reyman offered a study that was meant to inform college writing teachers the pros and cons of assigning blogs in and out of the composition classroom. For the purpose of their study, blogs were defined as a public Web 2.0 writing forum technology. They acknowledge that blogging can give students the valuable experience of writing publicly amongst people of varying backgrounds and education. Blogging as a composition activity or assignment prepares students for professionalism in the digital age, where interconnectivity and writing in public forums is an aspect of daily personal and professional lives. Their examination of the students’ preparation and content on four composition class blogs, a course entry and exit questionnaires, and interviews with composition instructors showed that instructors will face challenges fostering digital literacy by forcing blogging as an activity.
While Benson and Reyman found that blogging offered opportunities for learning about writing in a public space, instructors still encountered issues of protecting students privacy. Blogging does create a writing atmosphere that is public and open, but student writing still needs to be assessed and evaluated in a protected environment which is difficult to create online. The balance of creating a public blog space for composition students while maintaining a safe space for learning can be very difficult, as also seen in “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition” by Charles Tryon. Benson and Reyman concluded that writing course blogs have the potential to teach digital literacy and citizenship, if instructors are responsibly protecting the students privacy (which means that the space should not be entirely public). This balance means that for a successful blogging environment, teachers have to “manufacture” a public environment without it actually being public. As we see in Tyron’s article, students writing to an entirely public audience can subject students to a space that is not conducive for student writing. Benson and Reyman hope that despite the challenges of blogging, writing teachers will still use blogs a collaborative tool to help students engage with digital literacy and learn how to professionally interact with meaningful, public forums.
Tyron also held the same hope despite the difficulties his students encountered when engaging with a public audience. He thought that the students no longer passive spectators but instead contributors to larger conversation gave students the opportunity to be a part of something greater than what can transpire in the classroom alone. He also found that the opportunity to blog inspired students to participate in a meaningful social and political way. He found blogs as a successful and valuable way to get students grappling with rhetoric and audience while learning about citizenship, democracy, and digital literacy.
Struggling with the issues of digital literacy is an undertaking that all composition teachers should be discussing and working towards. Writing using public and social forums is a form of composition that also addresses the complexity of teaching students to write across the curriculum. Whether a student’s interest is sociology or chemistry, there are many people writing publicly about the current issues, questions, and problems the field is facing. Allowing students to engage with conversations occurring digitally and publicly, gives students the opportunity for a tangible writing experience. One that they can understand the meaning and importance of. While I understood the concerns of Benson and Reyman that we saw transpire early on in Tyron’s article, I also think it is important for students to experience public criticism of their writing. Personally, I think it would be fascinating to allow students to engage with a public, non-manufactured audience, and take the feedback or commentary from their readers and incorporate it in revision exercises. I think that any opportunity that allows students to engage with criticism and revision can be turned into a positive one, and in a blogging platform, it could be massively helpful in teaching students responsible digital citizenship. In my experience, students respond to authenticity more than manufactured scenarios. I think even if it is encountering and embracing criticism, the authenticity of keeping blogging public can truly inspire students to write and read content that they have a passion about.