Looking Forward to Next Year

I just had my last class period with my English 121 class yesterday, and I’ll be grading their final portfolios over the weekend. I’ve already spent some time, obviously, thinking about what I want to do next year in terms of online platforms in my classes. However, there’s still quite a bit of planning to do, and I’ve realized how important it is not to think about the online component of the course separately from the rest of the course. As Julie Maloni writes in her Profhacker post, I have to “integrate”: When “blogging is part of the course requirements, it clearly plays a role in meeting the goals of the class, and you support and provide feedback to the students with regards to their blogging to the same extent that you would their essays and exams,” then students will treat blogging with the same commitment that they would more traditional assignments. This is the part I have to figure out in much greater detail: how can I make blogging play a role in helping students achieve the course outcomes? 

That question has to hold off a bit until I figure out exactly what the course outcomes are, as this summer will see the implementation of some changes to the first-year writing program at Eastern. We’ll be adopting a new book (probably Understanding Rhetoric by Losh, Alexander, Cannon, and Cannon), which will structure the semester for me a little bit, and which I think the students will really enjoy. We’re also introducing new, course-specific (rather than program-wide) outcomes, which will help to differentiate the two courses I’ll be teaching next year. My specific plan for using the blog will depend, to an extent, on these changes. 

That being said, I think I can begin laying out some questions that I need to answer over the summer as next year’s syllabi begin to take shape:

  • Do I want to use blogging in both English 120 and 121? Is blogging useful for the purposes of 120? How will I use them differently in each class if I use it in both classes? I’ll probably have at least a few students carry over from 120 into 121. If I keep the basic plan the same, then the returning students could potentially be relieved at not having to learn a new system, and they could teach the other students how to do it. All I’d have to do is change the prompts to fit the course outcomes and maintain the returning students’ interest.
  • Do I want to continue using the hub-and-spoke model? Or do I want to adopt a more singular, centralized model? I currently have a course blog (the hub) and then each student has their own blog. This seems to be working out, and could be tweaked to make it better. Students can feel more ownership over the presentation of their work, down to the color of their blog’s background. On the other hand, there are some benefits to having a single class blog, like this one from Jay Clayton’s first-year writing seminar: it gets updated at least once a day, it’s easier to assess, it’s easier for peers to comment, and it’s more likely to reach a wider audience. Dr. Clayton told me that his class blog gets thousands of hits from all over the world, which helps to reinforce the idea of writing for an audience.
  • Do I want to continue using tumblr? It has its benefits. It’s easy to make, it’s attractive, it’s easy for an outside audience to start following it, and at least a few students in each class will be familiar with it. But of course, it has drawbacks as well. It doesn’t have built-in comments, though there might be a way, especially if I do a single class blog, to fix that. Otherwise each student would have to add a question mark at the end of each title, which isn’t always rhetorically appropriate. I also know from experience that students don’t give their writing on tumblr the same attention to detail that they give traditional assignments. This might be different in a slightly more formal space, like WordPress. 

That’s all I can think of for now. Now I must turn my attention to the reflective essay that’s due today in English 516. It’s a reflection on my attempt to create a plan for tumblr next year, which I’ve already done here, on the blog, and I’ll also be reflecting on this, the blog, which is weird, because I’m sort of reflecting on the blog now… in the blog… 

All is contained within the blog; all of the blog is contained in all.