I've taught my students that online writing requires a fluency in both informal and formal modes of writing. Blogging only works if it has the low threshold, casual quality that invites regular and personal sharing. When students set out to make each blog post as though it were some academic paper, it kills the spirit of blogging.
At the same time, when conducting academic blogging, or simply more serious blogging, there comes a time when the blog must become something more than an outlet for personal expression or random observations. That is to say, for people to take a blog seriously, one must take the medium seriously, as well as the subject or content. And that means not always skimming along the surface.
I taught my students that they are going to have to use their blog posts not just to document their reading, exploring, researching, and learning, but to develop their thinking into something that has depth and coherence. As for depth, this means researching and referencing outside sources (some of which should be scholarly in the traditional sense). This shows a willingness to put one's thinking into broader contexts. As for coherence, this means linking intelligently among posts within one's blog (to demonstrate development of thinking and of arguments). Past students have worked toward creating what I call "hub posts" to draw together their best thinking through a central argument and links to their posts substantiating that argument. (See this example or this one).
And given that we have begun a group project, students must now use their individual blogs as a staging grounds of sorts where they will prepare their contribution for the overall group effort. Their blogging is going to have to become not just more focused and serious, but more coordinated. They must read their literary work, research about it, and also engage their peers' blogs less in terms of fulfilling a class requirement and more in terms of working toward completing our common project. Their blog cannot be simply a vehicle for general observations or personal expression; they must use it to rehearse and perfect their individual contributions, as well as plan and execute the group's goal.
This is a lot to ask for three weeks' work, but since my students are accustomed to blogging daily (5 times per week), they are ready for this level of engagement and focus. In my next posts, I plan to talk through what my own individual contribution could be to this group effort, and to think through our organization (of our content and our group). I wonder, though, if students are just awaiting my lead.
Will students step up?
As I'm trying to think things through, I'm hoping to see my students do the same, taking ownership of our group project and defining their roles within that. I'm eagerly checking my feed reader for blog and social bookmark posts updating me on my students' thinking and acting on this project. I'm looking for students to take initiative here. This will be the true test of their mettle: will they need to have their hands held every step of the way, micro-directed in each aspect of the group project? Or, knowing the purpose and parameters of our project, will they step forward with workable ideas and begin organizing among themselves? I'm anxious to see...