Lessons from My First Time Using Tumblr

Tonight I’ll be giving a presentation to my English 516 class about my experiences and plans for using Tumblr in first-year writing. I’ll be doing a survey of my students on Thursday to get their final thoughts on their experiences, but the presentation is today, so here’s what I’ve thought about thus far.

Untitled drawing (3)

I call this “the Chelsea Lonsdale font.”

This semester, I had my students create tumblr accounts and post twice a week to tumblr. Whether they wrote something original or reblogged something, they had to write roughly 150-200 words in each post. I sometimes gave prompts, but for the most part, they were directed to post anything they felt was relevant to their research and writing. Here are some of the takeaways:

  • My students had a hard time keeping up with two posts a week. Most of them kept up, but a lot of them didn’t like it or feel that it was a reasonable work load. Given that this is a first year course, I could probably reduce the posting rate. This would give me more of an opportunity to actually read and respond to more of their posts.
  • I needed to provide more specific prompts more often. The open-ended nature of their tumblr requirements made it so they were less likely to remember to post, and their posts had less to do with one another. With specific prompts, they’ll all be writing about similar things, and will be more likely to reblog or comment on each other’s writing. It will also make it easier to bring the blogs into our face-to-face conversations.
  • Comments need to be possible and required. This is where tumblr is particularly frustrating; tumblr posts don’t automatically allow comments. Using a more traditional blogging platform, like WordPress, would make it easier to comment. My students did sometimes reblog each other’s posts, but I think there would have been more conversation if they could just comment. Reblogs are a different rhetorical situation than comments, so I don’t think they can take the place of comments.
  • I need to either make the blogs a more central part of the class or get rid of them. A few of my students commented on their midterm evaluations that they felt their tumblrs were pointless. While many of them saw value in the personal work that they were able to do on tumblr, it would have been much more meaningful if I had referenced their blog posts in class more often. This follows from my second point, too. It’s hard to reference their work in front of the whole class when one person’s post is only really relevant to that one person.
  • Overall, I need a more specific plan for what sorts of work I want the students to be doing on their blogs. This semester, I expected them to do everything at all times with their blogs: find and generate ideas for their research, maintain a sort of annotated bibliography, communicate with one another, help each other with writing, etc. I think all of that can still happen, but I need to give prompts detailing the specific work I want done each week or each posting period.
  • I think the blogs should take the place of more of the work in the class. I had my students do a lot of small writing assignments over the course of the semester that could have taken place online, with more opportunity for peer feedback. This would be beneficial both for me and for the students.
  • Blogging, just like any other pedagogical tool, can’t be an afterthought. It has to be an integral part of the overall framework for the class.

Here are some of the resources that have helped me thus far in thinking about where I want to take classroom blogging next year:



This is going well

So I created this blog, what, two weeks ago? Almost? And this is my second post. And so far, I haven’t written anything interesting. As a lame exercise in ironic meta-analysis, I’m forcing myself to write a blog post considering the reasons why I haven’t written any blog posts.

storm trooper blog

For one thing, I created the blog over break, and I didn’t feel like doing a whole lot of extra work. Then all of a sudden, I was working again, and I didn’t feel like doing a whole lot of extra work. I need to just add blogging into my weekly schedule, maybe by extending the time that I spend doing homework for Computers and Writing, since that’s most of what I’ll be writing about. Which reminds me…

I don’t know what to write about. How do I write about stuff I’m reading in this space? It’s not a private journal where I can record my reading notes. I don’t necessarily have anything interesting to say about everything I read. But what does it matter? No one’s actually reading this, which brings me to my third point, which is that…

No one’s actually reading this. I’m just getting started, of course, but it still feels super awkward writing for an audience that doesn’t exist. On Facebook, whatever I write will be seen by dozens of people. Many of them will respond, by liking or commenting. A funny post about my kids might get thirty “likes.” I know how to use that medium pretty effectively.

At the same time, someone might be reading this. Unlike a private diary, where I can do pretty much whatever I want, and Facebook, where (theoretically) only certain people can see it, this could be read by anyone, both now and (more likely) in the future. Thus, to the pointlessness and awkwardness of writing to no one is added the uncertainty of writing for anyone.

And lastly, I haven’t developed a professional, scholarly voice. I can write a decent academic essay, of course, but when I’m
writing online, I usually do it to make people chuckle. Years of writing on Facebook has conditioned me to speak in witticism and anecdote.

My solution is to talk to other grad students and teachers about how they have dealt with these concerns. The nice thing about being president of the graduate student association is that I can be like, “hey, let’s have a discussion about this” and then make it happen. Thus, there will be a roundtable discussion on March 28. (And you, my beautiful, magnificent audience, are invited!) In the meantime, I just need to actually start using this thing.

I’m about to watch Frozen with my three-year-old. He’s probably going to be singing that Let it Go song non-stop for the next month (that is, he will be unable to let it go), just like all his classmates. (meta: do I write about my kids here? is this rhetorically appropriate?)

-Joe (meta: how are you supposed to end a blog post?)