2005-08-28

Teaching with the web

A post on web teaching by Sepoy at Chapati Mystery has got me thinking again about ways to use this huge information and communication resource to enhance teaching. In the past I have tried such campus-based solutions as a course mailing list, though this is a bit one-directional. I have also tried using the somewhat more intuitive Yahoo service for a dedicated course mailing list, though I found it was a lot of extra work without a clear benefit. Piggybacking onto an existing topical list was nice as a source of topics, but not everyone was motivated to take advantage of it. Our campus offers a "discussion board" feature through the Blackboard system, but it is one of those institutional software packages that is 90% filter and requires seven steps to do what could easily be done with one.

Sepoy makes the important point that "the instruments and tools of pedagogy should not stop when the time limit of the class is over. Discussion and interaction can and should take place outside of the classroom." I think everybody understands that as the carrot, but then carrots do not always get eaten. So up comes the question of the stick: "I don't think blogging as it exists in the public sphere is the same as blogging within the classroom environment. It has to be structured - rigidly so, perhaps. There should be reasons to blog and reasons to comment and reasons to do group-work. That is, graded assignments." This has always been a source of confusion for me, the fact that so little gets done at institutions if it is not explicitly required. However, I have no doubt that it is true. I think that to really inegrate the potential of blogging technology into teaching, there has to be some element that is obligatory, and subject to receiving or failing to receive a reward.

I am giving myself a semester to consider how I want that integration to work. In the meantime, I've begun a new blog mainly for the purpose of keeping access to all of the stuff I run across that looks useful for discussing or illustrating a point. It may become a regular part of my teaching, may become a more public resource, or may die a natural death. Whatever the outcome, people who are interested in sociology of media may care to have a look. Your experiences and suggestions (also anecdotes and jokes) about bringing the classroom and the internet together are welcome, of course.

3 comments:

coturnix said...

Have you checked out these:
http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2005/03/using-blogs-in-classroom.html

Eric Gordy said...

Thanks, Bora! This is all very interesting, and some of it might be helpful. I like the potential for interactivity, and also the ways in which the course material can be related constantly to ongoing events -- anything that breaks down the bureaucratic formality of the usual classroom routine. Sepoy seems to have a good system for making the blog format work in humanities and social sciences courses, too. Anything I do for this semester would mean changing the rules for the students after the beginning of the game, which I wouldn't do without unanimous consent, but I am looking at all of the things other people are doing with an eye to how the course might look next semester.

sepoy said...

In terms of assignments, I had "blog and comment" as 5% of the participation grade [which in turn was 10% of the grade]. But, I also made visiting the blog a crucial step in the class by posting my syllabus - and all subsequent updates to it - as well as lectures notes as blog posts. I also gave them lots of opportunities to get extra credit [up to 5%] for posting mini-reviews of books, movies and talks that pertained to our class topic.
Once the concept of "get credit by doing this blog thing" was firmly established, I actually didn't have any more need to stress it - they took to it like fish to water.