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Instructions for Daily Blogging of Class Readings

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From our class blog and icanhascheezburger.com

Brief Assignment Overview: 

Every day one student posts a blog entry covering the reading for the day. Their task is to summarize the reading selection briefly and accurately, to observe linguistic or thematic trends in the day's reading or across the text (or indeed texts), and to post 3-5 substantive (not summary-based) discussion questions to spur class discussion. Since this is a blog post, they are required to observe that genre's conventions, which for our purposes include adding images, personal touches, and candid (but rigorous) discussion of the text. Close to the beginning of each class, the student presents their blog post, walking us through the summary, explaining any critical observations they had about the text, and explaining their rationale for their posting style (why use certain pictures, captions, tone, etc.). 

Assignment Length: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

This assignment encourages at least one student per class day to think about how to present the text that they've just read to their classmates. I like doing this because I've sometimes found that students aren't always forthcoming about what they understand or don't understand in the text, and sometimes my discussion plans may assume a direction, or (less often) a level of sophistication that they aren't interested in or haven't yet reached. For example, I may begin discussions with a set of questions that make sense to me, the professor who has probably read the book at least twice, while they on the other hand are still unsure about what is actually going on in the text. By allowing students to speak directly to each other in the form of a presentation, I often find that things that I tend to overlook or unthinkingly find "obvious"--questions about character, plot, language--inspire much fruitful discussion from them. 

It's also often interesting to query them about the style they choose for their posts--this includes tone and imagery. Many of their images, for example, reference popular culture, thus implying a connection between the "old" literature that we're reading, and the newer forms of culture that they reference. Making the blog post itself a topic of discussion often how they connect our readings with popular culture.

Finally, since they often cite the text, and sometimes even outside sources, in their posts, the blog also gives me a chance to go over correct citation style with them.  

Media Requirements: 
Required Materials: 

You will need to set up an account with the blogging service of your choice--I use Wordpress. You will also have to make sure that each student sets up an account with the blogging service, and is identified as a contributor to the blog. 

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

Blog Post Assignment

Everyone must, once during the semester, introduce the day’s reading. This introduction will consist of a short summary of what happens, some background information about the text, and 3-4 discussion questions. For the summary, stick to relevant details; there’s no need to be overly inclusive. Do try to include some critical insight in your post. For example, you could relate the events in question to some of the work’s larger themes, or you could explain how the events in the reading relate to the larger historical/cultural context. This post should average 300-500 words, excluding discussion questions.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

First, set up your blog. Then you will need to set aside 10-15 minutes to direct your students to the blog so that they can set up Wordpress (or whatever) accounts. After class, you will then need to add each student to the blog by inviting them to contribute through the blog's "add user" service. (Again this will probably vary according to which blogging service you use.) Make sure that each student confirms their invitation. Invariably someone will forget and email you frantically the day their post is due wondering why they can't post. After that, set aside about 10-15 minutes each day for blog presentations. The class discussion often begins organically from the discussion questions. 

Instructions For Students: 

Everyone must, once during the semester, introduce the day’s reading. This introduction will consist of a short summary of what happens, some background information about the text, and 3-4 discussion questions. For the summary, stick to relevant details; there’s no need to be overly inclusive. Do try to include some critical insight in your post. For example, you could relate the events in question to some of the work’s larger themes, or you could explain how the events in the reading relate to the larger historical/cultural context. This post should average 300-500 words, excluding discussion questions.

For background information, you may include some biographical information about the author, some social or cultural information that is relevant to the text, or something about the work’s publication history. For this kind of information, I suggest you consult the Dictionary of National Biography and/or Oxford Reference Online (both available through the UT library database bank). The point here is to provide a cultural and historical context for the reading that will complement our formal analysis. You may consult Wikipedia, but don’t cite it, as it doesn’t count as a scholarly source. If you do use a source, make sure to cite it at the bottom of your post. 

 Your discussion questions should be critically inclined. That is to say, since you’ve already included a summary, your questions shouldn't encourage answers that encourage more summary: for example, don't ask "what happened in chapter 2" but rather, "what does a particular event in chapter 2 tell us about the theme of knowledge vs. emotion in this novel." You can highlight passages you’re having trouble deciphering, but make sure you ask a discrete question: instead of “what’s going on in paragraph 3” ask “how is the word “nature” functioning in paragraph 3” or some such. Be ready to present your thoughts and questions to the class on the day you post. 

Evaluation Suggestions: 

In accordance with blogging conventions, I wanted this to be a somewhat informal assignment that would encourage a more personal engagement with the texts. Therefore I graded this assignment pass/fail--basically if they do it they pass. If they do a poor job, though, I will send them an email with some comments. 

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

They appear to like the assignment, and I think I can see why. It gives them a chance to express themselves in ways that they may not feel comfortable doing in class--speaking out in class discussion, for example. Many of them are web-savvy, so they often bring memes and web-speak into their posts. I take this to mean that they are engaging with the text on their own terms. The blog posts also help me to get an idea of what they're really intererested in in the readings--sometimes I go with this and sometimes I acknowledge this interest and try to make it lead elsewhere. 

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