Benson and Reyman’s study on blogging in classrooms from “Learning to Write Publicly: Promises and Pitfalls of Using Weblogs in the Composition Classroom” posits the concept of writing in the academic context as private and lacking value and use for both students and teachers. Support of moving academic discourse into public discourse aligns with what the CCCC presented in 2007: “To restrict students’ engagement with writing to only academic contexts and forms is to risk narrowing what we as a nation can remember, understand, and create.” Efforts to move beyond the traditional academic discourse and into public discourse have been made and continue to be a hot topic as of late, and the form this study takes on is a participation in “civic discourse” that is deliberated and facilitated. In other words, students participate in blogging as the instructor facilitates discussion.
I found it interesting how Benson and Reyman felt that there is importance in the distinction of blogs from other online communication technologies, like Blackboard and WebCT, since the latter electronic spaces allow class members to communicate with other class members, but not with members outside of a particular classroom community. I’ll admit, I wonder if this even really matters. Yes, the “space” that students are communicating in when blogging is technically a public space, but so what? I can’t help but wonder if students genuinely feel a difference in their work. Maybe it’s just me, homework is homework no matter what. When something is assigned, it doesn’t matter if it’s in an isolated or publicized format. It’s still just classwork. There’s no way around that. Or so I thought.
Reading through this article, I knew eventually that my questions would be answered and my skepticism would be left unwarranted, and for the most part, my prediction was right. The results of the study are promising, as many students found themselves much more engaged and ready to express opinions and produce meaningful writing in this format, which is a win, I guess. And yet, I can’t help but shake a feeling of tension and dissonance with this study and with the concept of blogging in the classroom. Or, at least with one particular but crucial aspect of this activity: the idea of “network literacy” and interactivity with other people. Benson and Reyman point out that the guidelines to the activity “were formed with the goal of helping student bloggers to attract outside readers to the blogs” (27), which is admirable and seems effective, as I was concerned that blogging assignments was viewed as automatically pushing students into a public space when it wouldn’t be any different than a classroom assignment if no one from outside the class interacted with the blog. There’s still that risk though; if blogs are posted and it fails to attract anyone outside the classroom, than it’s no different from a classroom-specific assignment, potentially undermining the entire project. No interaction from the public suggests a disinterested public, which then highlights the failure of an assignment that is meant to foreground materiality (such as blogging). This failure is highlighted because the student would then realize that what they have to say is uninteresting and uninviting, even when that is not the case. But consider what they’re blogs and opinions are competing against, which is literally EVERYTHING that is on the internet. An assignment that banks on interaction from the public, I feel, is asking too much by depending on an outcome that is totally random and outside of everyone’s control, especially when the risk of no one commenting outside of the classroom is highly likely. It is also highly likely that I am giving too much weight to the impact of outsider commentary.
Even without the guarantee of feedback from anyone outside the classroom, blogging on a public forum still offers a substantially more engaging experience than the isolated vacuum that turning an assignment in to the teacher typically suggests. The potentiality of a public audience is can be made much more meaningful to students in this age of ever-changing and expanding notions of what it means to consume content but raising awareness of both the what and the how.