Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Grading: An Omnibus

I've created this post as an "omnibus" of links to different items of interest that explain the grading system I use, along with helpful links for anyone who is thinking about grading alternatives in their classes (see links below). Meanwhile, I explain my own system of (not) grading here in this guest post for Starr Sackstein's blog: (Un)Grading: It Can Be Done in College.


Starr Sackstein is the author of Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School, which is a FANTASTIC book about alternatives to traditional grading. I highly recommend it! I read the Kindle version from Amazon.

MY (UN)GRADING: THE DETAILS

You can see other posts related to the topic of grading at this blog by using this link: Grading. The students learn about the Declarations and the grading system in their very first assignment for class: Choosing Your Schedule and Your Grade. I've also written about my frustration in using the Canvas Gradebook: Grading in Canvas.

And here's the really crucial information:

WHAT STUDENTS SAY: This is a collection of comments about grading from the students' end-of-semester course evaluations. And while you're at it, check out what the students say about creativity too. A big part of ungrading for me is unleashing student creativity! :-)

LEARN MORE

Below is a list of articles I've bookmarked on grading/ungrading, and you can find more resources by following the #TTOG hashtag at Twitter: Teachers Throwing Out Grades.

Mind/Shift's Katrina Schwartz: How Can Students Be Successful in a High Stakes World?  
No grades: Commenting on a piece of work forces students to internalize changes rather than focusing on exclusively on the grade. 

IHE's John Warner interviews Susan Blum: I Love Learning; I Hate School 
The third [wish] is that there would be no grades. In that way, the measure of success would have to come from elsewhere--from application, satisfaction, from how well the learning actually works. As another of my touchstones, Frank Smith, says in his wonderful The Book of Learning and Forgetting, most learning--aside from in school--is continuous, effortless, independent of rewards and punishments, and never forgotten. It is only in schools that learning becomes so difficult, dependent on rewards and punishments, and easily forgotten.

And also from John Warner about his own teaching: When Students Say Grades "Matter," Give Them a Choice (and check out his other blog posts in his ongoing experiment with contract grading)

Paul Thomas: Not How to Enjoy Grading But Why to Stop Grading (Thomas is a co-editor of De-testing and de-grading schools: Authentic alternatives to accountability and standardization; see the blog post for more about that book)

David Nagel: Ditch Grades Now, Focus on Student Learning
(report on a SXSWedu conference organized by Mark Banes)

Mark Oppenheimer: There’s nothing wrong with grade inflation. Grades don't matter anyway. Here's why.
Overall, graded students are less interested in the topic at hand and — and, for obvious, common-sense reasons — more inclined to pick the easiest possible task when given the chance. 

NPR's Anya Kamenetz talking with Todd Rose: Standards, Grades And Tests Are Wildly Outdated, Argues 'End Of Average'
In higher ed we have a brutally standardized system. It doesn't matter what your interests are, what job you want, everyone takes the same courses in roughly the same time and at the end of the course you get ranked.

Jeffrey Young (Chronicle): These Videos Could Change How You Think About Teaching.
Profile of Michael Wesch, including his "not yet" grading; you'll also find his great video, here, "The Sleeper."

Justin Tarte: 10 Signs There's a Grading Problem in Your Classroom. I learned about this one via #OklaEd chat! :-)

No Grading, More Learning. An article in IHE about Cathy Davidson: Her plan? Turn over grading to the students in the course, and get out of the grading business herself. Now that the course is finished, Davidson is giving an A+ to the concept. "It was spectacular, far exceeding my expectations," she said. "It would take a lot to get me back to a conventional form of grading ever again."

John Spencer: What Happens to Student Engagement When You Take Away Grades?
Kids aren't concerned about compliance in a non-graded classroom. Don't get me wrong. There are deadlines. There are creative limitations. There are routines. I believe that limitations can be a part of what makes creativity thrive. However, when grades are gone, students are less likely to worry if they are doing things the "right" way.


And Twitter may give us only 140 characters, Christopher Moore is able to sum it all up in a single tweet: feedback is everything, grades only reveal our anxieties over the system of assessment turning against us.


Lee Skallerup Bessette: Assessment as Care, Assessment of Care. Lee's post offers a beautiful defense of assessment-as-conversation, something the vocabulary of ABCDF obviously does not support very well: Grading and assessment become conversations, instead of two competing monologues. Learning becomes the thing, instead of stand-ins for what learning could superficially look like.


Also, check out this nice article in our student newspaper with remarks from me and from Rob Reynolds (he and I have been trading ideas about grading since we met at OU back in 1999): Test anxiety, grade inflation call traditional grading system into question by Lauren Massing.




(Un)Grading: It Can Be Done in College

This is a guest blog post that will be appearing in Starr Sackstein's Ed Week blog: (Un)Grading: It Can Be Done in College


I'm an instructor at the University of Oklahoma, teaching General Education courses in the Humanities. In this post, I'll explain my (un)grading system: the students do the grading, while I focus on feedback. I developed this approach based on my students' needs and my own belief that I can do a better job as a teacher if I take myself out of the grading loop. Here's how it works:

My Grading Challenge. I meet all kinds of students in my classes. Many are seniors who enroll in whatever Gen. Ed. courses fit their schedule. As a result, some students are interested in the subject; others have no interest at all. Some students want an A; others just need to pass. The courses are writing-intensive, but few of the students see themselves as writers, with majors ranging from accounting to zoology and everything in-between. They might love to read, or they might see reading as a monumental chore. You get the idea: diverse students, diverse goals. So, I need a grading system that respects those differences.

The Solution: Choices and Points. Each week, students choose the assignments they want to complete. They do one or two reading assignments (there are lots of reading options to choose from), they write a story of their own, and they leave comments on other students' work. They also work on their semester-long project. As they finish each assignment, they complete a "Declaration," a true-false quiz consisting of a checklist. When a student answers "true," the points go automatically into the Gradebook. I do no grading; all the points for all the assignments are recorded by the students themselves. Some students may be aiming for an A (more points), or for a B or a C (fewer points); that is all up to them — not me.

My Role: The Coach. Because I put myself outside of the grading loop, I can focus all my efforts on feedback and encouragement — on teaching, not grading. I provide detailed comments each week on the students' writing, and the students use those comments for future revisions. The comments are not a grade; instead, they are meant to help the students become more confident and skilled as writers. The students are also coaches, commenting on each other's work every week. We are all working on our writing, not thinking about grades.

Here are the things I like best about this approach:

1. The grades are objective. Students know exactly why they get the grade that they do: they manage the grading, and they have no grade complaints at the end of the semester. They might complain that the class is a lot of work, or they might complain about some other aspect of the class (which is good: I need their feedback!) — but there are no complaints about the grades, and that is a relief both to the students and to me.

2. The system is simple. Students do the work or not; they get the points or not — it's that simple. At any moment of the semester, students know exactly where they stand.

3. Grades are not a judgment. Students know that they can choose to work towards an A or B or C for their own personal reasons. An "A" student is not a better student than a "C" student, and getting a "C" in the class is not a punishment. A student might decide to take a "C" for their own reasons (heavy workload in their major classes, other life commitments, unforeseen events of all kinds), which is fine. As long as students pass the class, they are making progress towards graduation — and that's the goal!

4. There is no grade anxiety. Grades can be a terrible source of anxiety for college students (just ask them; they'll tell you), and if grades are making students anxious, they are not going to do their best learning. Removing anxiety about grades can refocus their attention on the learning itself. That goes for teachers too: I know I am a better teacher because I don't have to spend time worrying about grades.

5. The system promotes good time management. The assignments are meant to be completed in a single work session; some tasks might require 15-30 minutes while others might take an hour, but not more. I hope that as students see the benefits of this iterative, task-based approach, they can apply that same strategy in other classes where there might be only a few high-stakes assignments which the students must segment and schedule on their own.

Are there drawbacks to this system? Of course there are: if the grade is what goes on the transcript, students will think of the grade first and the learning second. I would far prefer to use a pass/fail grading system combined with portfolios of student work, thus highlighting the work itself, not the letter grade. Realistically speaking, though, I don't expect to see an end to ABCDF in my lifetime. I am just glad that as a college instructor I have the freedom to design a grading system that can minimize the damage grades can do. If you'd like to learn more about my (un)grading system, I've collected some materials at Grading.MythFolklore.net, including comments from my students. And if you have questions, let me know; this is an important topic that I am always glad to talk about! You can find me at Twitter (@OnlineCrsLady) or by email: laura-gibbs@ou.edu.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Grading: What Students Say


Update December 2016: I added student comments from the Fall 2016 evaluations to the list. Plus, I decided to do a similar post to see what students say about creative work.

I have been thinking a lot about grading this weekend in order to write up a guest blog post (more about that here), and a friend suggested that I use student comments as part of that review: what a great idea!

To search for comments, I went to the online evaluation system we use for classes at the end of the semester. The ratings (numbers) are made public through our Provost's website, but the really useful stuff — the students' actual comments — are not released publicly; only the instructors and university administrators can see them. So, what I did was to look through those comments, going back through the evaluations since Fall 2010 (that's when we went digital) to find comments specifically about grading in the classes. There's nothing fancy: I just did a simple Control-F search in my browser for "grad" (grade, grades, grading, etc.) to see what turned up.

The results were really intriguing, and very encouraging too. Most importantly, there really weren't very many comments about grades compared to other things, which is part of my goal! On the other hand, you can see from some comments here that students are so used to the teacher "grading" things that they would sometimes refer to my feedback as grades — so when they said I was prompt in grading, they mean I was prompt in giving them feedback on their writing. That's not surprising: the word "grade" is all over the place in education, and we don't talk about "feedback" very much by comparison. My goal, of course, is to change that, so that we are focused on feedback instead of the grading!

Anyway, without further ado, here are their comments:

It was nice to be able to follow the class and miss assignments without trashing our grades.

It was very fun and I learned a lot! I really liked that I had the freedom to write just to write rather than for a grade.

This was the most unique course I have ever taken as far as how it was managed and graded. This unique format gave me the ability to learn and express my understanding in a way that didn't come along with anxiety about grades. This is the first time I have ever taken a course and was not stressed about grades so I purely learned the material. It was amazing and I think I learned more in this course than I have in any other in a long time.

I loved that you could pace yourself throughout the whole semester and you had control over how you wanted to schedule assignments. There were many different kind of opportunities/assignments we could choose from so it was easy to choose something that we were interested it. Laura did a wonderful job at grading assignments and offering personalized grading.

Laura is great! She has put a lot of work to make this online class fun for students and she is so prompt about grading items and giving awesome feedback to students over their writing!

I had never taken an online course up until this point in my career, but this turned out to be one of my favorite classes I've ever had. You have the ability to learn as much as you would like to about the subject and the grading style was a welcome refreshment.

The self-grading was definitely a nice feature. Also the ability to work at your own pace and the freedom to choose your own readings. This class afforded me freedoms that I was not granted in any other class. I felt like I was being treated like an adult for once.

I liked not having to worry about my grade. I got to work as hard as I want to achieve my desired letter grade. She was very upfront about everything from the very beginning. SO SO organized.

One of my favorite classes I've taken at OU. The content, structure, and grading of the course was terrific!

I really liked it. It was fun and was all about learning not just a grade.

The way the class is set up and graded was very fair.

I loved the class because of the felxibility and the way it is graded.

The declarations were a really good idea. Even if I forgot to do it, I could email the professor to get the points. It was like self grading.

This was the first class that had a grading method like this. I really liked the way this course was laid out.

If I could take it again, I would. I cannot express enough what a great class this ended up being. It gets an unfair rap for being easy, when in actuality, it's exactly as difficult as you make it. You can glide through and do the bare minimum and still probably get an A, or you can rise to your own standards and push yourself and earn the grade you get.

I really liked how there were a lot of assignments and grades were given based on participation. I felt that I learned much more this way because the emphasis was on learning and creativity rather than a test.

Even though the workload seemed like a lot, she made it possible to still achieve the grade you want by offering extra credit every week.

I feel the strongest point of this class is the very self-paced, self-set tactics. You pick the readings. You set your schedule. You report your grades. The work is engaging and the professor is always available for assistance and support.

Very fairly graded, professor did an excellent job making sure we improved our writing.

I like that I was able to take control of my own grade.

Grading system is the best I have seen.

the grading was based on whether or not you did the work, so that was nice in the sense that we didn't have to worry about doing every little thing right.

Laura was an effective instructor and gave more than enough opportunities to improve grade.

Also, the course was graded fairly and always had a fair amount of work for the grade.

Very fair grader.

I loved the grading system.

a good way to do an online course. very easy to do and get a good grade, but you do have to do the work and think about it.

I liked the ability to work at my own pace and the structure of the syllabus. The assignments were consistent each week, and challenged us to explore the creative side of our brains. The grading was always fair.

I loved being able to write what I wanted and not be graded subjectively. It made it easy for me to be creative!

Being graded based on completion rather than content encouraged me to be creative with my writing.

 I love that the course was graded on accumulated credit instead of percentage of credit; it encouraged exploratory learning that was perfect for the material.

I love how Dr. Gibbs is so hands off and lets the students learn by discussing things with each other, while at the same time being there when we need her. She is absolutely wonderful at grading storybooks. When she likes something she lets you know. This is really encouraging, especially for people who don't have much confidence in their writing. I loved the positive feedback she gave me.

Laura always grades extremely fairly.

You could work at your own pace, and the grading was very fair.

I really loved how interesting she made this class and how fairly she graded everything. You knew what to expect when going into the semester and that is what I like. If you worked hard you got a good grade and that is how I think classes should be. Also I liked how one bad grade did not screw you over like other classes.

I love the concept of grade declarations rather than waiting for each assignment to be looked at and put in by the instructor, and the grading system in general was one of my favorite things about this course. Everything was very clearly outlined from the beginning and it was easy to see where I was at points-wise I at any time I chose.

In many of my online classes I feel like I don't learn that much, but that was not the case whatsoever for this course. I also really enjoyed the grading system and the control we had over which assignments to do each week.

I know that this is an online course and you have to do more work in order to get a good grade but the workload amount seemed a little excessive. This still did not affect how much I liked the course though.

I learned a ton about topics I did not know. The grading was primarily completion which is great as long as you stay on top of things. Also, the assignments were fun and I learned a lot at the same time.

The grading system used in this class was very effective for the type of work completed.

Being able to work at your own pace was a godsend. It really helped to be able to anticipate busy weeks and get this course's work done ahead of time. My grades in my other classes were definitely better because of this.

I liked the freedom to work ahead. Access to most of the coursework allows students hold students accountable for their own grade. I enjoyed diversity of the material and the quality of the content.

I love that each week the student has the choice in which readings to complete. I liked the grading system being point based and up to the student.

I really enjoyed how prompt the grades were posted and the ability to manage time personally and control your grade from the start.

I am always worried about taking online courses because they are difficult to keep up with sometimes, but Ms. Gibbs does a fantastic job of not only being fair with grading, but providing feedback with all of the work that I did and helping me reach the grade that I wanted/deserved at the end of the semester.

I learned a lot and felt that it was graded fairly.

She designed the course in such a way that the students could work at their own pace and design their own grades. The motivation for this was high for me, encouraging me to want to learn more and do my best.

Easy to finish class early and graded based on completion. I also liked not having tests.

I like the way the class is graded. I find it really contributes to learning vs memorizing.

I love her grading system and her teaching methods. I was learning things without even realizing it!

I would say that the load is too high, but the grading is more than fair.

I really liked how reasonable Laura was. The work wasn't hard or too heavy, but she always made a point to be understanding if it was time for midterms, etc. She said she understood if we couldn't get something done and gave us a link to see about how much we could not do to still get the desired grade.

The grading system was really great; convenient, easy to figure out, and always felt like it reflected the work I'd done. The wide range of topics and enthusiasm of the instructor for the course material were the best parts; getting personalized feedback was really encouraging.

I like how we had the opportunity to think for ourselves. Our writing could be about whatever we felt like and were read without judgement. I also like the improvement in my proof reading skills. I felt like I was pushed in this area and therefore I was able to grow. I thank Laura for helping keep this course interesting but also challenging our learning but giving us multiple opportunities to make the grade that we desire.

It had a fabulous structure that included a good amount of work but allowed the student to complete the assignments and the course early. Through this course, I feel as though I was able to really improve my writing more so than I have in any of my honors college courses. Perhaps because this class was less pressure? I'm not sure, but I believe the structure and the grade upon completion with comments from peers allowed me to be more confident in my writing.

I loved the way this course was graded.

I thought this course was awesome because it gave us so much freedom to do the work whenever we wanted to. It was also good because as long as we did the readings and the writings we would get a good grade. This was new for me because usually everything in previous classes was graded hard. This took the pressure off worring about getting an A or B and actually learning the material.

Laura is very organized. Her students always know what to expect in the course and can work for the grades they want.

Despite the workload, it was very enjoyable. Also, since we had a lot of control over our grade, it felt much less stressful.

I loved how you could work at your own pace. There were so many points and opportunities for you to get the desired grade. It was great to know that you had a goal and it motivated me to do the work for the class.

It was enjoyable and creative. It was also easy to know where I stood in the class and how my grades would turn out.

Laura was extremely organized. The course was organized in a manner that was conducive to students' schedule. You are able to pick your grade. You get the grade you work for.

All students knew exactly how much work was required to obtain their desired letter grade.

I loved the course. The material is intersting, there is plenty of chances to earn the grade that you want.

It emphasized much more creativity than most courses that I have taken. It was a very nontraditional course but set up very well. Laura Gibbs did an excellent job of managing the course and grading fairly.

Laura did a great job managing the class, was always prompt with grading and questions.

The instructor had an extremely fast turn around time for graded assignments and was also very prompt answering questions.

I also appreciate the feedback from the instructor. She paid individual attention and feedback on my assignments and I felt like she spent as much effort grading my assignments as I did writing them.

I really enjoyed that she allowed for us to submit assignments on our own time and that we could stop working when we got the grade that we wanted.

You put a lot of time into the course but you get out what you put in. I also liked that you basically decided what grade you got based on how much work you wanted to do. You knew that as long as you did the work, you would get a 100. This doesn't mean it was easy though!!

I love that it was a "work at your own pace" kind of class. I love classes where I don't have to really worry about my grade. Therefore I was glad to do the assignments, because I was actually interested in them.

I always knew what grade I had and what I needed to complete in order to get the grade I wanted.


Open your mind with a new perspective.



Sunday, March 20, 2016

10 Tips for Building a Student Blog Network

I teach fully online classes, and blogs are "the classroom" where we meet online; it is how my students and I all interact with one another, and I've been using blogs this way for over 10 years now. There are lots of different blogging tools out there, but I've tried to make the tips below software-neutral, focusing on what you can DO with blogs... and then you can decide on the specifics of how to proceed with your own classes. So, hoping for a world in which everybody blogs (!), I've listed 10 Blogging Tips below... plus four pre-semester strategies to gear up and get ready to go.


GEAR UP:


Become a blogger yourself. Before you start blogging together with students, take a semester (or summer) beforehand to do your own blogging and see what it's like. Create your own blog, post regularly, and read other people's blogs too. Are there other people at your school who blog? Get in touch with them and see what advice they can offer. Ask questions, and learn how to make the most of your blog. Your experience and enthusiasm will be a big boost for your students as they get started! You might blog on topics related to your course, or you might keep a blog based on some other personal interest or project. For example, I don't teach Latin anymore, but I do keep a Latin blog: Bestiaria Latina.


Learn how to use a blog aggregator. A blog aggregator, also known as a feed reader, allows you to follow lots (LOTS) of blogs so that all the posts are consolidated in one place. You can organize the incoming posts in folders, and a good aggregator will also help you keep track of read/unread posts, along with options to search, filter, and label post content. Many people use Feedly, but I far prefer Inoreader. If you don't use a blog aggregator now, try Feedly first (it's very user-friendly), and then you might migrate to Inoreader later when you are ready to take advantage of the wider range of features that Inoreader offers. When your students start blogging, you will definitely want to have some kind of feed reader in place in order to keep an eye on their posts as they accumulate (see below).



Commit to a platform. For many years, I've been using Blogger (Google's free blogging platform), and I provide my students with all the technical support they might need to use that platform. I like Blogger because it is very easy to use and also because it is very javascript-friendly; those are priorities for me, and you need to discover what priorities are important to you. So, experiment with a couple of different platforms yourself, see what you like best, and then commit to supporting that platform with your students. But note: there is no reason that all your students have to use the same platform; Blogger is the only platform for which I provide technical support, but if a student is already using another blogging platform, that's great! I define the platform requirements in very basic terms — linkable post labels, no advertising, and full RSS feeds for both posts and comments — but beyond that, the students can make their own choice. Since very few of my students have ever blogged before, almost all of them choose Blogger, but every semester a few students use WordPress, and I am really glad that they do; it's a chance for other students in the class to see what different blogging platforms offer.


Build the blogging into your course design. In my classes, all the student work happens in the blogs; there are no quizzes or tests, and there are no papers. Your classes might also use blogs intensively, or you might just use the blogs for a once-a-week reflection activity; it's all about what will work best for you. To see the kinds of work my students do in their blogs, take a look at this week's assignments: Week 9 (and that's a typical week; my courses use a week-by-week module design). Just how blogs will fit into your course design depends totally on the course. As a general design principle, though, I would advocate for consistent assignment(s) so that your students will get regular practice and reinforcement; that's especially important if your students are new to blogging. After a few weeks of doing the same type(s) of assignments each week, the blogging will become easy and familiar!



And then... LET THE BLOGGING BEGIN:


1. Start students blogging right away. After a brief overview of the class, the very first thing that my students do is to start their blog. Here's how that assignment works: Create a Blog.  I follow that up with a fun ice-breaker type of assignment: Picture a Favorite Place. My goal is for students to feel confident and excited about what they can do with their blog right from the very start. It's also a great way for me to start to get to know the students; I subscribe to their blog posts and comment feeds in Inoreader (see below) as soon as they create their blog, and that allows me to keep an eye on their work from the very first day of class. I also make sure to cover important technical issues right from the start: labels on blog posts, comment configuration options, name display / profile settings, creating links, inserting images, etc. That way, later assignments don't have to cover technical issues and, even more importantly, students can feel confident and in control of their blog right from the start.


2. Encourage students to customize their blogs. This is easy to do since the students are highly motivated to customize and personalize their blogs; some of them start customizing their blogs immediately, which is wonderful to see! To give them the support they need, I use "Tech Tips" for extra credit; the Tech Tips are not just limited to blog development, but the blog tips are definitely the most popular. Here is my Tech Tips list for this semester: Tech Tips: Blogger. The classes I teach are not technology classes, and some students are not interested in developing their technical skills at all... and that's okay. The extra credit Tech Tips are there as an option for any student who's interested. What's nice is that as the semester progresses and students watch each other's blogs take shape, even those students who were not originally interested in tech exploration often become curious about how to customize their blogs too. Also, while I've never had a student actually lose their blog, I encourage students to learn how to back-up their blogs along with any other work they are doing for class: Back-up, Check-up and Review.


3. Use labels/tags for blog navigation. If students blog every week (and my students are posting several times per week), their blogs are going to fill up with content quickly. Using labels for navigation is then essential: the consistent navigation that labels provide is how other students can quickly find posts at any blog in the class. So, for example, students label their Introduction post with the label "Introduction," and that makes it easy for other students to find that Introduction post later (see below); so too with the "Comment Wall" post, etc. I make sure to provide explicit instructions about labeling posts in each blog post assignment starting from the very first blog posts. Here's a screenshot of label navigation in a blog sidebar; some students opt for horizontal label navigation instead, and either way is fine of course — it's their choice:




4. Encourage use of multimedia in posts. Right from the start, I emphasize the use of images in posts, along with giving students a crash course in image licensing and helping them to find public domain and CC-licensed images to use in their blogs: Finding Images. I also make the use of images (and image citation) part of their blog post assignments. Then, as the semester goes on, I also encourage the use of video and other embedded media in blog posts; here's an example of a video-based assignment that I use in the review week mid-semester: Music for Your Comment Wall. Being able to work with images and video in their posts is something that can be highly motivating for students, especially for students who are less confident in their writing.


5. Build blog commenting into the class. Students are posting in their blogs every week, and they are also commenting on each other's blogs. I don't use discussion boards at all; instead, I use the blogs as the locus of conversation. To help the students get to know each other week by week, I use randomized blog groups, and that randomization also helps ensure that each student gets more or less the same number of comments each week. How it works: each week, I sort the class into groups of three students at random (I just use a spreadsheet with a randomizing column to do that), so each student is thus commenting on the blog of two other students each week while receiving comments back from those same students, and I also offer an extra credit blog commenting assignment for students who want to do more commenting. I also make sure to show students how to check their comments, using email notifications and/or the blog dashboard.


6. Revisit Introduction posts. Each student writes an Introduction post in their blog during the first week of class. Then, as they comment on other students' blogs each week, they comment on the post(s) for that week AND they comment on the Introduction post so they can learn something more about that student, learning about each other. As a result, the Introduction posts get the most comments of any other post at the blog, and I encourage students to tinker with their Introduction post all semester long, adding pictures, videos, etc. Since my classes have appx. 40-50 students, the Introductions are important because students are meeting new people in class every week all semester long. Because they are Gen. Ed. classes with students from all the different colleges and majors, the Introduction posts are a lot of fun: the students are doing so many different things with their college careers!


7. Use Comment Wall posts. In addition to creating an Introduction post, I ask each student to create a "Comment Wall" post. The Comment Wall post provides a space where someone can leave a comment that is not in response to a specific post at the blog but instead as a conversational comment left for the blog owner. In my classes, the Comment Wall space is useful for all kinds of reasons: they provide a place for following-up with someone who may have left a comment at your blog, for complimenting someone on their blog design or asking them a question about their blog, and also for leaving comments about class work that is not blog-related, such as comments on project websites. Of course, just how that might work for your class depends on your course design and activities. Like the Introduction post, the Comment Wall space is where students are "presenting" themselves to other students in the class, so I encourage them to add a picture to the post, and later on to add video of some kind, just for fun.


8. Use randomization to increase discovery. Especially when a class is on the large size (as mine are), randomization is an important way to help all the students get to know as many other students as possible without a lot of work on my part. I use random blog groups each week for commenting, and I also build a blog randomizer so that students can visit the blogs in class at random: Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics. If students are looking for a specific other person in class, they can use the Blog Directory, but if they are just browsing, they can use the randomizer instead. (I build that randomizer with a wonderful free tool built by one of my students which you can find at RotateContent.com.) I also use the blog randomizer when I have some free time, especially at the beginning of the semester, so that I can spread my attention throughout the blogs randomly!


9. Reuse blog content. A great way to let students see that you value what they are writing in their blogs is to reuse that content. So, for example, in one assignment I ask students to reflect on the commenting culture in class, and I then collate their comments into a webpage: Thoughts about Comments. To get even more use out of their remarks, I create a randomizer which I can then use as part of the commenting assignment itself, reminding them about the different ways that people value the commenting process; you can see the randomizer at work in the yellow box here: Week 7 Comments. Of course, just how you want to reuse the content in your students' blogs will be based on your course design overall; the key is to think about the possibilities for reuse that blogs can offer, very different from classroom discussion which is not so easy to harvest and reuse. In addition, I try to design assignments so that the students themselves are reusing and revising their previous blog posts, building on past work for new assignments and also learning from what they read and see at other students' blogs.


10. Be blog aware. As the students begin blogging, I comment on their first posts, but after the first week, the commenting is very much student-to-student, and I comment only very occasionally on the blogs. At the same time, I keep a close eye on them using Inoreader as my feed reader. I have a folder for the incoming posts in each class, and I also have a folder for the incoming comment stream. This lets me easily keep an eye on all the posts as they come in, and I also try to keep an eye on the comments. This way I can get a "vibe" of how things are going in the class, seeing what students are thinking about, questions they have, etc. If I notice a problem (the most common problems have to do with image formatting), I can quickly comment, and I also cover questions and problems in the daily class announcements (and my class announcements are in blog form of course) based on what I learn from watching the blog stream. There's always a lot going on, but with a feed reader you can keep an eye on it all, learning and observing. Here's what my Inoreader view looks like, and you can do much the same with Feed Reader or whatever other blog aggregator you prefer:



So, I think those are the main points that I have in mind as I use blogs in my classes, but please let me know if you have questions I have not answered here or if there are questions you have as you build a class blog network of your own. I am a huge fan of blogging as a tool for creating and sharing online, and that means I'm always glad to brainstorm with others about how they might be able to make blogging a part of their classes too. Blog on, everybody! :-)