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.
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:
- Another blog (a tumblr, no less) from another grad student writing specifically about using tumblr.
- A Gradhacker post with 8 really helpful tips for using classroom blogs.
- A very helpful Profhacker post about specific issues related to classroom blogging.
- A detailed description of how one philosophy teacher uses blogging in his classes. Here’s one of his class blogs.
- Another teacher’s detailed description of their classroom blogs.
- A Profhacker post that deals more with social media than with blogging, which is still helpful when thinking about tumblr.