With my ongoing interest in understanding the pedagogical purposes of weblogs, in understanding what they do with the intersection of reading and writing and how they help teachers to help students write better, this was a panel I couldn’t miss. I wasn’t disappointed: the four presenters offered a really useful and provocative prism through which to start understanding these things. And, actually, I just realized that this is one of the panels who I didn’t ask for permission to blog my notes, which means that I’m going to be sending out some e-mails once I post this.
Bradley Bleck went first, offering the results of a pilot study he performed in his own classroom with an eye to how the technology of blogging might help to enhance student motivation in writing. In an American Literature course, Brad had students use weblogs as daily reading journals, with the hope of fostering inter-student dialogue beyond the “grading black hole” of paper journals. (In writing this, it’s suddenly more clear why Brad asked the questions he did at my presentation, and why I had such difficulty answering them; we’re all familiar with the tension between wanting students to learn for their own purposes but trying to use external pressures and motivations to get them to do so. I can only offer here the neoclassical notions of opportunity cost and the marginal rate of substitution: in a system of finite resources [including time] one does one thing at the expense of another, and the neoclassical economists love to talk about work versus leisure, like how many weblog entries is Jane willing to give up so she can go to that kegger, and what are the grading rewards she gets from doing so versus the social-psychological rewards versus the intrinsic hedonic rewards — because I think most composition teachers want their students to get those intrinsic hedonic rewards, that pleasure in the act of writing itself, but dammit it’s a struggle to make them like it.;-) Brad presented a lot of hard numbers on students’ uses of computers, but maintained some skepticism about some of their responses to his survey questions, as I think any effective teacher-researcher would. The students who liked weblogs the most were, perhaps not surprisingly, the ones who had the most difficulty with other assignments, but the most provocative finding Brad offered was that there was no apparent correlation between student blog quality and other writing ability. Which — as Brad acknowledged — seems like a really strong demand for further research beyond this pilot study.
I don’t think it takes anything away from the excellent presentations that Brad, Anne Jones, and Dennis Jerz gave to say that I thought Derek Mueller’s presentation “Ping: Readdressing Audience in the Blogosphere” was absolutely extraordinary; I characterized it to Clancy as a tour de force, and I won’t be able to even come close to doing it justice here, but I’ll at least attempt to offer a brief sketch of Derek’s ideas.