Saturday, November 26, 2005

Personal space investment (or, How Much Is That Bloggie In The Window?)

Alan of CogDogBlog wrote about how he feels that he needs to have a personal investment in a blog in order to go through the trouble of actually blogging. In his experience, it seems that the only blog he feels invested enough in to maintain is CogDogBlog; the other, multi-user blogs he's been asked to participate in, seem to fall by the wayside for him, simply because they're not "his" space. For him, it seems to come down to an issue of the personal vs. the communal; in his own words, "It's not my house and my heart is not there."

I'm not sure I'd exactly call my blog my house, but blogging here these past few months has been interesting. I've gotten all sorts of snippets of ideas for how to work blogs into my course designs, which tend to be "computer enhanced" f2f classes -- a step below hybrid, but still using real and viable online ed techniques to make things happen. I envision a project-based class keeping a blog about the project; a class full of students blogging about the book we're reading; even students keeping freeform, no-defined-topic blogs, writing simply to let the words flow in a foreign language, to get comfortable expressing themselves without worrying about how many red pen marks they'll rack up on the page.

And yet...what kind of personal investment would those students have in their blogs? If blogging is the new-millenium version of a diary, what personal investment would anyone have in blogging as an assignment? If the purpose of keeping a diary is to pour oneself onto the page, doesn't the pourer have to have the desire to pour? Can that desire be mandated by an outside force, in this case the instructor? Or does the mandate itself result in a sort of artificial blog, with each entry becoming a tick mark in a box and nothing more?

Years ago I taught a remedial writing class at our local community college. Many of my students did very little writing in their daily lives, so in an attempt to get them used to writing regularly but in a low-pressure situation, I required that they keep an online journal at OpenDiary. There were no assigned topics, they could write about anything, and I even told them that if they wanted to keep their entries private, I wouldn't read them. The only requirement was that they make a minimum of two entries per week, even if each entry was just one sentence long. To my utter amazement, there were students -- kids who came to class and did their homework -- who completely blew off the journal. They knew full well that it counted for 10% of their final grade; they also knew full well that simply racking up the requisite number of posts would get them an A in that portion of the grade assessment. And still there were some who didn't do it. For one or two, it even made the difference between getting a C and getting a D as a final grade.

No investment.

I think that's my biggest challenge as a course designer: how can I get my students invested -- in the class, in the module, in the assignment?

I know what all the theorists say: make it personal, make it relevant, make it applicable. And to a certain degree I think that's true. But, a blog is about as personal as it gets; our assigned topics, at least in this class, are certainly relevant. And yet, how many of us have done more than tick off boxes -- one assignment down, four to go...two down, three left. My own internal imperative has led me to blog about knitting, spinning...the mandated entries stand out loud and clear, and while they're all written by me, they're not necessarily my "house," and so my investment in them is small. In the end, I'm not sure what I've gained by blogging, except for a level of familiarity with an unfamiliar technology.

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