BRIEF DESCRIPTION. Each week, (most) students publish a storytelling blog post on or by Wednesday. On Thursday, I put the students who have published the storytelling post in random groups of three. On Friday, that assignment becomes available and lasts over the weekend: students respond to the other two students in their group.
DETAILS. One of the tricky things with a self-scheduled course is finding ways for students to interact with each other about the work they are doing. In addition, not everybody does every blog assignment each week, and not everybody does blog commenting each week, but I still want to make sure that everybody gets at least one comment, and hopefully two, on their storytelling blog post. I also want to help students get to know each other, so I ask them to comment on each other's Introduction post as well; if they already know the person (and thus commented on the Introduction post previously), they can choose another post in that familiar person's blog to respond to.
Here's how I make that work:
- After the Wednesday grace period ends at Thursday noon, I can see which students have done the storytelling blog post; usually there are two or three students in each class who have not done that post (which is fine — they can make that up with extra credit later on).
- I copy the list of links to student blog addresses (raw HTML) into a text file, each blog address on a separate line. Then I delete the students who did not do the storytelling post.
- Next, I paste the remaining blog addresses into a randomizer.
- I then divide up the randomized links into groups of three and paste them into the page that the students see here: Blog Responding.
- I then copy the plain text (names only) into a text file, copy the group numbers after the names, and sort alphabetically to create the group index.
- If there is a group with two people instead of three, I just add "choose at random" to that group. If there is a group with only one person, I move a person from another group, and then add "choose from group (whatever)" so that the students in those two groups are responding to each other.
Just as there are two or three people who don't do the storytelling post each week, there are usually two or three people who don't do the responding. Overall, though, most people do get two comments on their storytelling (plus their Introduction or some other post), and everybody gets one comment. For extra credit, students can choose to comment on additional stories, so that increases the overall amount of commenting that goes on each week (those extra credit comments are free choice). This is not a perfect system, but in terms of overall effectiveness, flexibility for the students, and ease of preparation for me, it works pretty well!
HISTORY. For years, I tried to keep the groups stable over a period of three weeks. That just didn't work, though, because of the students who either didn't do a story in a given week. So, I finally decided to randomize the groups every week, while also having a comment on the Introduction be part of the assignment in order to give a sense of connection even when the groups are random each week.
GOALS. This is a really important assignment for all kinds of reasons!
- Get Feedback. Students give each other great feedback, and the feedback they give each other is often different from the kind of feedback they get from me.
- Learn to Give Feedback. In the process of getting feedback, students also learn about giving feedback and can hone their feedback skills.
- Discover Ideas and Inspiration. By reading other students' writing, students can discover ideas and inspiration that they can use to improve their own writing.
- Building Community. This weekly assignment (along with the Storybook feedback in Weeks 6-12) is a way of building a sense of community in the class.
I feel really lucky that the students do a great job of commenting on each other's blogs: they are very enthusiastic and offer lots of detail and personal observation. I try to create a positive climate of blog commenting with the comments that I leave on the Favorite Places posts and the Introduction posts from the first week so that when the students start commenting on each other's posts they will do a good job with that. In a separate entry here, I need to explain how I use Feedly to keep an eye on the commenting, just to make sure everything is going well — and it does!
Students regularly comment in the end of semester evaluations how much they like interacting with other students, getting feedback, and sharing ideas online like this. This type of interaction is admittedly different from a regular classroom-based class, and I would argue that this difference is a good thing. I won't contend that the interaction online is better or worse, just that it is a different, and that this difference is a positive value in and of itself. Who knows what kind of non-face-to-face communication students may need to use in their 21st-century careers? I hope that the online interactions in my classes can help prepare them for whatever may come!