I made a course blog for the Theories of Gender and Culture course – it’s still under construction, but here it is. Update: the blog has now gone into stealth mode – only registered students can read and contribute.
I had a really good meeting with our technology-and-education person Yolande Spoelder yesterday. She made me think about the didactic side of the blog – how am I going to use it in teaching — and had all kinds of useful questions and advice. First a bit on the technical side of things, more on the didactics below.
We decided to use the Edublogs site that Dave pointed out in the comments to my previous post. I could have installed a WordPress Multi-user blog on my own server space, but the edublogs.org URL just sounds better than an earmarks.org one, and – to be honest – I was a little worried that I might accidentally install the MU blog over Serendipities. There, I said it, I’m a weasel.
The edublogs system works really well. You register, name your blog, and you’re done. Students register as users on the edublogs site and then you can add them to your blog as subscriber/author/editor. The only disadvantage I discovered so far, is that you cannot fiddle with your theme. You have to choose one of the themes on offer — there are 85 themes to pick from, so that is not a real problem. But then, if there is something you would just like to tweak a little, you can’t. There’s no access to the templates, only the standard theme options to choose from. Which is just as well, perhaps, because otherwise I would spend to much time fiddling.
I went for the Fauna theme at first, but then discovered that it does not show the names of post authors. I consider that a problem on a multi-user blog. I posted a query on the edublogs support forum, and got an immediate reply — so their support system is good as well. That didn’t solve the problem yet, though, so for the time being I switched to the Regulus theme, which Yolande discovered does show author names.
I wrote an initial post to introduce students to the workings of the blog, but after talking to Yolande yesterday, I know I will have to do more thinking on the ways in which I can make the blog work in the learning process. I’m still working on the course content, but it’s time to make that step to the didactic forms I will be using during the course. Here are some of the things I need to think about:
- (How) will the blog postings be graded?
- Do I want students to reflect on their progress in their postings?
- How do I ensure a lively discussion on the blog? A clear set of rules could create a straightforward context, but perhaps it could also formalize things too much? Perhaps the atmosphere during the seminars is also a major factor in the success of the blog.
- Will I/the class give feedback on students’ writing as well as on the content of their analyses, if one of my aims is to get students to practice their writing skills? And how would that work?
Yolande had some great ideas, based on her experience with the use of Wiki’s in education at the Vrije Universiteit. You could, for example, open with a broad question on how students would define sex and gender and their relation to literary criticism, and use the answers in class to explore their ideas. Then, at the end of the semester, after having read all the theory, I could come back to that question, and ask students to reflect in a post on how their ideas changed during the course. I think that would work really well.
Another suggestion she made, was to integrate the blog into the writing of the final essay for the course. Students could post their outline, or their introduction, so that other students could give feedback on their work. Those posts would have a clear goal: to improve their final essay, and it would give the blog a clear function in the process.
Lots to think about still, but at least the course blog is there now, waiting for input!