At the end of May, I started thinking about ways to revamp some of the assignments in my classes. There were two reasons:
- I wanted to increase student engagement with the material they read, with one another, and with me;
- The short essay — six to eight pages on a topic that I assign a few weeks in advance of a due date — is the only thing about my class that students consistently dislike and where they show the least improvement over time.
With the new semester set to begin on Monday, I thought I’d write a little bit about what I’ve planned. The model that I have in mind is a sort of on-going, virtual symposium that will make use of Tumblr to afford students a venue for their ideas. I’ve chosen Tumblr because it’s easy to use and because it’s social. In particular, with Tumblr’s Dashboard, students will be able to follow one another’s blogs and easily comment, like, and reblog what their classmates are writing.
The blogs will take the place of traditional writing assignments, but I’m not tossing out the notion of evaluating students’ writing altogether. In other words, they won’t be graded on whether or not they blog; they’ll be graded on what and how they blog. Here are the posting guidelines I’ll be giving them on the first day:
- Argumentative Texts should be a minimum of 500 words on a topic related to our course readings. All of these posts will be evaluated for the quality of writing and argumentation, and the ability to prompt (thoughtful) comments from other students will count as a positive. Students will be expected to write a minimum of one such post every other week. Each such post should be tagged #pols383 (in case you want to follow this tag to see what all of the students are writing).
- If students think that something they’ve seen online resonates with our discussions, they might write a Heroism and Justice in the News post about it. This should be a short post of approximately 100 words and should include a hyperlink to the original story, post, or item that they read. These posts should do more than describe; they should explain and/or analyze. Students will be expected to write a minimum of two such posts each week.
- Commentary on other students’ posts will count as a form of writing in this course; students may comment as often or as infrequently as they choose. Standards of civility, quality of argumentation, and writing apply.
The goal, ultimately, is to make students aware that political theorists can write for a larger audience, not just for a college professor who will read and then forget; I hope also to demonstrate that blogging affords immediate feedback and gives them opportunities to easily reevaluate their ideas and rewrite.
There is a course blog as well, which you can follow. Once the students begin their blogging next week, I’ll be posting a student blogroll here. I’ll be interested to hear what my regular readers, educators, and the community of Tumblr bloggers think about this little experiment … both right now and throughout the semester as the students become experienced bloggers.