I have been using the "weekly response paper" as a pedagogical technique for years. Having students write short essays reacting to the material every week helps to stimulate class discussion, since people have at least the contents of their weekly response to share; also, presumably, writing the response has forced them to think about the material outside of class, and hopefully stimulated some novel insights. Traditionally I have students e-mail me their weekly papers, and then I embed comments in the documents and return them.
There are two problems with this procedure: the student was simply having a one-on-one conversation with me, and if I got behind on returning the responses (which always happened, every semester) then the dialogue flagged. The problem with a one-on-one conversation between myself and a student is that it often devolved into the student asking questions about the material, or tossing out an interpretation for me to correct, which is precisely not what I wanted to happen. And when the student got five or six papers back at the end of the semester after I'd been up for three straight days dealing with all of them, even that aspect was less than helpful -- since they'd usually already finished their final exams or papers by then.
So the problem was: how to promote conversations outside of class, while also ensuring that people were keeping up with the material and developing a defensible interpretation of it? The solution, I have discovered, is blogging: having students maintain a blog during the course, post to it once or twice a week, and also encourage them to comment on other people's blogs. I kind of stumbled into all of this, having caught the blogging virus from a former student and then tried it out as a pedagogical strategy this summer during a study-abroad program. This past Fall semester I used blogs quite a bit in my section of World Politics, and now for the Spring I am cutting the cord and adopting the "all blogs, all the time (except for final semester papers)" strategy:
- my Ph.D. seminar "The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations" is using this blog as a way of circulating insights and comments about the week's readings before class, and to reflect on class discussions afterwards -- as well as sharing their insights with the wider 'Net, including perhaps some of the authors whose works we are reading.
- my Honors seminar "Social/Science/Fiction" is going to be setting up several course blogs -- one per blogging group, with groups being determined by me on the first day of class next week -- to do much the same thing, although their requirements are a bit more stringent. (I'll post my "blogging rubric" in a subsequent entry if anyone wants to see it -- let me know.)
[Posted with ecto]