By Lance Eaton
It began with my Contemporary Affairs teacher in high school. He was a copier. His classroom and office were fire-hazards filled with 3-4 foot tall stacks of photocopied articles that he would share with his students. In all of his classes, no one would escape a minimum of 5 handouts a class (there was no textbook; just handouts). By the end of the year, I had hundreds of interesting articles. But let’s face it, that approach is not sustainable and time consuming. But with that in mind, last spring, I started up a blog that I would use for teaching.
We all come across awesome material online whether its videos, articles, images, etc that we want to incorporate into our teaching. But sometimes, there’s just too much and they’re often tangents (albeit relevant tangents) to what you may want to focus on during your face-to-face time. In my blog, I talk about such material and then crafted an assignment (and for some, extra credit assignment) that required students to visit the blog and comment on blogs in the appropriate categories (I used the tag feature to turn each blog into a particular course subject). At the end of many posts, I include questions as a means of students to respond to if they don’t have anything to say and also encourage them to respond to other comments.
There’s many ways that you can use blogs within the classroom; but I like what I’ve set up here. The major challenge is, of course, keeping up with a blog. Most blogs die in the first 6 months; so I’ve beat that record so far. It’s not so much finding material (I have document file of some 20 pages of relevant links to discuss and integrate), but putting it altogether in a tone that fits my teaching but also a bit more informal and stylized for the Internet. However, that being said, it does increase one’s visibility and becomes something to include on the CV.
There are many different benefits to blogging for the classroom. But the one that excites me was that students found new ways of applying and discussing course material beyond just the classroom. But another interesting aspect was that I created ongoing interaction among students from different schools and different semesters. Though these weren’t face to face meetings like Jenny Ortiz has managed, it was still an opportunity (and ongoing opportunity) for students to connect and interact across colleges and universities through similar interests. And, students who take the class in the future will see what previous students have said in the comments section and respond accordingly. That’s the other beauty here is that when the semester ends, the ideas, thoughts, and comments keep going.
What other success (or failure) stories are out there about blogging for the classroom? What do you use blogging for within your classroom? What caveats do you have? What would make you consider blogging? Where do you fish for material? Is there a blogging program that you find beneficial?
About the Freeway Flyer: Lance Eaton has a Master’s Degree in American Studies from the University of Massachusetts in Boston where he focused primarily on Popular Culture and Gender/Sexuality studies. He also has a Master’s in Public Administration from Suffolk University, where his concentration was on nonprofit organizations. He teaches at several schools in the Greater Boston area including Emerson College, University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and North Shore Community College. He’s professionally written and presented on topics such as comics, zombies, audiobooks, and adaptation. He also keeps a running blog with his students at http://hitchhikingadjunct.blogspot.com. When not flying from school-to-school, he also enjoys reading comics, cycling, gardening and cooking.