This semester, I had teachers in my masters class blog together on a single site as opposed to having their own individual spaces. Previously I had always asked the teachers to maintain their own blog. This wasn’t complicated. The issue was that it takes time to build an audience, particularly if you are starting from scratch (which I think I can say everyone always was).
For me, the idea behind blogging was for my students to connect their ideas with a larger audience. I also thought it was important for my students to have a professional online space that they could call their own and develop after the class was over. I saw having a blog, and an online space, as part of something they would benefit from professionally.
However, the majority of my students – at both the masters and doctoral level – do not have a consistent and well developed online presence. It can be a bit disheartening to learn that no one is really reading your work or that it doesn’t get read very consistently. So I switched over to a class blog this semester. It solves the issue of providing readership.
So what I want to do is evaluate how well it provided readership, but then I want to reflect on the limitations of having a class blog.
How Well Does The Class Blog Perform?
If the intention is to generate an audience, then the class blog lives up to what it’s supposed to do. It’s easy to manage, and if there are any issues (which almost never happens) I can handle them as the administrator. As of this writing, we have had views from 34 countries that are not the U.S. Our top five countries are:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
We have good numbers in terms of views. And yes, I know that we are our own readers. But I do like that everyone’s writing is all in the same place. It’s much easier to read what your peers are writing when it is located in the same spot. I know – from doing this with my Politics of Reading course – that it takes awhile to grow your readership. If we continued on with this blog in Year 2 then the numbers should grow.
In the end, I do agree that having a class blog – as opposed to individual ones – was a good move for building readership.
The limitations of the class blog is that it is a class blog. Stay with me for a minute. In my Politics of Reading class I think the class blog is an excellent idea. This is an undergraduate course, and the limitations I am about to describe I don’t think apply in that context. But in my masters course, where this particular class blog sits, I actually think that there is a trade off. And here it is –
Because we have a class blog, the teachers do not get to develop a site that fosters a professional digital identity.
Now, of course, for years I had teachers create their own blogs with the idea that they could do this and that they would continue to do it after the course. But it never happened. Here is why I think it didn’t happen (this is based on my own personal opinion and some anecdotal evidence):
- teachers were flat out not interested; as much as I didn’t want them to see the experience as JUST another course assignment many of them did, and many of them were happy to walk away from it when the course was over and never return
- the concept of developing a digital identity/presence was never embedded into the program, and it should have been.
Ok – if I’m being honest that second point was probably not going to happen. Why? No one else who teaches in the program has a digital presence. If you do not have a digital presence, if you do not understand what one looks like and what it takes to cultivate one, then you cannot help others do it. I did see instances where an instructor would have students use their blog for a course but it wasn’t done at all like a blog. It was done in the manner of writing papers and posting it to a blog. That’s not 100% accurate, but it’s the best way to describe it and get my point across. The idea being that when a different instructor attempted to have students utilize the existing space they were unable to do it well because they didn’t understand the format and purpose of that space.
At the end of the day, here’s my point:
As professionals, we need to cultivate a digital identity. We then need to help others who come through our programs do the same thing. For me, this doesn’t make sense in the undergraduate programs I teach, but it does make sense at the doctoral and masters levels. However, creating a digital presence needs to be an expected and embedded part of the program. It cannot be part of an isolated class. Students need opportunities to learn about how to do this and how to do it well. They need consistent and sustained opportunities across the duration of their program to develop it. Some of this they can initiate on their own. Other times, as instructors, we need to be pushing them to do it and giving them assignments to make it happen. However, we cannot help our students develop digital identities unless we do it ourselves.
So for now, the class blog makes sense. It brings in a diverse, world-wide readership and draws attention to the work of my students. But, as professionals, it limits them. While they do own the content they created as part of the blog – I do not care if they take that content and repost it elsewhere – they have not developed a digital presence or identity (or, if you want to argue that they have, then it would be a very limited one), and I do believe this is a downside for them. I do believe we are operating in an age where, as professionals, we have a lot to benefit from mindfully crafting and sharing our work with others. Not only can people benefit from our ideas, but we can benefit by getting feedback and expanding our professional network.
If done well, and embedded within a program, I think it’s a win-win. Let’s talk about how to make it happen.