My Dog Ate My Computer

In  “Learning to Write Publicly: Promises and Pitfalls of Using Weblogs in the Composition Classroom” Benson & Reyman make an interesting point:

“While blogs have the potential to reach a wider public audience, many students reported that they felt that the anonymity of writing with a screen name and the perceived sense of writing for friends and classmates, as opposed to a larger public audience, made thinking carefully about potential negative consequences for their writing irrelevant” (20)

Just be warned that blogging does not necessarily induce audience awareness. There are loopholes where students can use the internet as if they were writing in a private space.

Blogs should encourage two-way communication rather than one-way commenting and collaboration that wikis offer.

In “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts” by Will Richardson, the first chapter talks about blogs which are a collaborative medium. At first, the internet was only used to share text and data. Then in 1993 came a period of people being able to read and write to the internet.

People use blogs for a variety of topics including personal passions to politics. People can also mix modes by posting photos and audio files. Even the Obama campaign was successful in 2008 because of the group forming ability that the internet has. However, education is slow to adapt these new changes.

How can we keep up? We are seeing, as Richard puts it, “A new model of journalism evolving in front of us” (4)

Journalists now include people in this participatory culture of fact checking the news so that journalists can write better. Children are “always on” (5) and they are building vast social networks with little or no guidance from adults. Students become fearless in posting their content online which is a definite change from how students used to be shy when writing anything in print.

Richardson says “It’s the conversations, the links, and the networks that grow from them afterward that really show us the profound implications for lifelong learning” (9)

I like the idea of lifelong learning. When you learn things in class, it doesn’t  just end there. Blogging is a way to continue on learning after the class ends.

Another interesting fact is that many schools have major filtering programs where people who write inspiringly and educationally about their work can be blocked off from student access. Even though blogs are open to a lot of people, a lot of it is also closed off too. There is also the issue of keeping students safe and issues with publishing names, writing responsibilities and we are obligated to teach students what is acceptable and safe.

Richardson says, “These teenagers use these sites [weblogs] more as social tools than learning tools, and their behavior is sometimes reckless” (20) We now as educators have an added responsibility.

I liked this quote:

“It drastically reduced the frequency of ‘I didn’t know we had homework’ and ‘That was due today?’ responses when my students didn’t do their work. I’d simply say it was on the blog” (21)

Now students can’t say, “My dog ate my computer!”

Blogging is a good way to archive learning. We have to learn how to evaluate blogs for accuracy and trustworthiness since anyone can write them. Some bloggers prefer to stay anonymous. We might want to find out the reputation of the blogger for credibility of the source.

Another interesting quote that differentiates blogging from writing a traditional essay:

“That’s not to say keeping a blog is all work and no play however. Don’t be afraid to include some posts that are totally personal or just for fun; your readers want to see the person behind the blog as well”

In the article, “Erasing Property Lines: A Collaborative Notion of Authorship and Textual Ownership on a Fan Wiki” by Rik Hunter, he says,

“The answer is that thankfully there are vastly more editors who want to make it right than those who want to make it wrong. When mistakes occur or vandals strike, the collaborative efforts of the group set it straight, usually very quickly” (56)

The edit histories usually prevent vandalism because you can undo the changes. I wonder how this can be applied to other aspects of life such as cheating in school and plagiarism.

Tryon in his article, “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition” talks about how blog entries have mixed reception among academics and journalists. Blogging has the reputation of being used for political commentary. He says,

“Actually I have no idea how to make my own arguments except that I try to stick to the facts and I always admit when I’m wrong which fosters credibility in all future arguments” (129) and also

“Humorous forms of argument were often more successful than the professional discourse readers might encounter in other contexts” (130)

As you can see from the last two quotes these lines of thinking is not even imaginable in traditional academic genre. I think that blogging has expanded the way we reason now. We are more curious about author credibility and entertaining our audiences than ever before.

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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!