Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.
When I first started using blogging in my classes it was in an advanced writing class as a specialized genre, presented as an extension of the classical essay form. This was easy to demonstrate to students because of the particular characteristics: the desire to discover, the conversational tone, the writerly movement between the specific and the universal, the strong sense of audience engagement. I also have students create electronic portfolios in many of my classes. The portfolios provided a place for students – as working writers – to revise their writings and showcase their work in public arenas.
This past semester, I deeply integrated blogging into my first year composition class. It was through blending these ideas that I realized the amazing potential of this genre for student writers in our digital age. It is not a question of merely integrating digital assignments into our classes. These student blogs were not just a collection of random thoughts written journal-style. The blogs my students composed gave them opportunities to create and manage their online identities while also creating a working portfolio for their developing academic careers.
In this class, I had students look deeply at their digital identities and connect rhetorically – through text and image – with larger audiences. Although some of them had blogged before, this particular blog had students creating spaces to explore their own interests while at the same time shaping serious academic writings and projects related to their areas of study. Although they sometimes questioned me along the way about the ”academic” nature of this writing, it is clear to me that the lessons learned were some of the most academically rich I got from students in years.
Here are just some of the goals and skills students took from this engaging project:
- Rhetorical awareness (audience, purpose, situation, context)
- An understanding of the relationship between text and visual
- The importance of contextualization as meaning-making function
- A sense of ownership and responsibility as a communicator
- An understanding of genre, format and conventions
The Assignment: Creating and Organizing the Blogs
- I have students use WordPress because it is easy and accessible. It doesn’t require too much prior tech-knowledge and has flexible templates that allow for modification and customization.
- Although students have some freedom to choose the direction and emphasis of their blog, I do have assigned categories that must appear in all of them. See my Revising and Shaping your blog Assignment) for details, categories and criteria. The common structure and expectations allow students to create both particular digital assignments and purposeful curation spaces.
- I assign students a series of digital assignments (See Literacy Timelines, Lifehacks, Composing Visually and Mapping for examples from previous MM posts) to give them heuristic practice using online tools and generating online compositions.
- I do my best to communicate to students that the blogs are “acts of composition” that draw upon many rhetorical strategies and writing skills. See my Revising Your Blog assignment for guiding students to identify the rhetorical situation, format and categories and rhetorical criteria expected for evaluation.
- I present the blog and its contents as a continuous act of deep revision. Students often engage in feedback sessions through small group work, full class workshops and weekly online commentary. They return to their blogs and reshape them and building them through these interactions.
Reflecting on the Activity
Although students initially struggled to fit the blog into their vision of what happens in writing classes, they eventually came to understand the connections through the semester. Their blogs started out lacking content, rhetorical awareness, organization, and visual components, but many students felt the rewards at the end of the term as demonstrated in their final course reflections:
Probably the most impactful responses involved students’ increased sense of rhetorical awareness through a stronger emphasis on audience and purpose. Nick says,
For me, overall this term I learned a vast amount of knowledge about writing. This course taught me to look deeper into subjects, and that grabbing the reader’s attention is important but keeping it is crucial. I learned different writing styles through the digital assignments and the blog and how they communicate a theme or purpose better than other styles. I realized that especially when I was writing my feature article because the writing style depended on keeping the reader’s attention and relating it back to them. With all of the lessons combined, I can confidently say that I am a better writer because of this course.
Or consider Savannah’s response as she reflects on her changes throughout the course,
As I look back into the first half of the semester and compare it to the second half, I see that my engagement with the audience has increased drastically. I found out that digital literacy is more than just writing, but composing and being visually literate. This correlated well with my work on my blog in that I eventually made it for myself.
Savannah and others repeatedly refer to a strong sense of ownership that was new to them within a classroom/assignment context. Although there were common categories and assignments, I encourage students to choose their exploratory blog posts and additional categories that might suit their particular interests, areas of study or future needs.
I feel as though these blog posts allowed me the opportunity to fully express myself, which was something I haven’t been able to do in the past. The beginning assignment posts were open-subject blogs that granted me the freedom discuss things that were important to me.
Phillip chose subjects such as a painting analysis and translation of a Hispanic artist, an examination of a peculiar object in his neighborhood, a critical examination of the purpose of blogging, a restaurant review of the Slice of Life Pizza, and his feature article on the design process that an architect typically follows when working on a project.
Or as Ty puts it,
everything you put on your blog is because you wanted it there – not something that you followed or found but something that you created. This is the place where your digital identity comes true — although I used Facebook and other things on the internet I never had a digital identity until this class.
Perhaps the most satisfying, for me as a composition teacher is that the project helped them create a space to continue their writing beyond the scope of the class. The way that this particular blog was designed opened spaces for them to collect and share work from their future classes and areas of study, their own place for critical reflection and a way to shape their digital identities and share their ideas with others.
Cam appreciates the fact that this is the “only place on the internet where I have my own domain, so I was proud of that.” Or, consider Savannah’s plans to use her blog in the future to store and reflect on her work as an architect (something she might use in a future portfolio) and also as a place to share her paintings and illustrations. She has come to see all of these projects as part of her digital identity and understands the importance of representing herself online. She says,
I plan to continue my blog further to where I have an active audience. I also plan to further my learning in composition for specific audiences through my blog; Relevancetome This course has taught me so much and can easily prepare for many online writings in my future. With how most of the world is now turning towards technology, I’m thankful this course used technology in each of the writing assignments. I will push my blog further with posting of new artwork and sharing my blog on my social media sites. I feel my blog has come a long way from the beginning of the semester, but has so much more to be done. A goal of mine would be to have many followers who love to view my artwork as well as read my compositions.
I have linked to some of my students’ blogs-in-progress and the Revising and Shaping Your Blog assignment. Check them out along with other multimodal assignments on my Acts of Composition website.
Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Southern Polytechnic State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. This week, Kim shares her blogging assignments and student responses to the activities. You can reach Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website: actsofcomposition.khaimesk.org
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