A student blog puts writing instructors in an interesting position. As the editors of the blog we are still in a position of power, but a position of power that is now one step removed from academic discourse (a more casual grading system, such as the check system, furthers this distance). I find it important to clarify this new role as the editor with my students, and to ask them often for ideas to improve the blog. I also like to keep my comments on the blog friendly, informal and inquisitive. In order to maintain the boundary between the blogging community and the academic discourse community, I think it is crucial to ask students questions on the blog but to refrain from offering feedback. Peter Elbow, in “Closing my Eyes as I Speak,” lends exigence to this philosophy:
As teachers, we need to think about what it means to be an audience rather than just be a teacher, critic, assessor, or editor. If our only response is to tell students what’s strong, what’s weak, and how to improve it (diagnosis, assessment, and advice), we actually undermine their sense of writing as a social act. We reinforce their sense that writing means doing school exercises, producing for authorities what they already know-not actually trying to say things to readers. To help students experience us as audience rather than as assessment machines, it helps to respond by “replying” (as in a letter) rather than always “giving feedback.” (65)
In redefining my role within the blogging community of my classes, I find it helpful to NOT comment on every student post. I want to be an active member of the blog’s community and not an “assessment machine” (Elbow 65). To further my mission of instructor as community member on the blog, I offer students extra credit for replying to my comments–with the hope that this will encourage them to invite me deeper into the conversation of the blog and deeper into the community. In an attempt to avoid the presence of an authoritarian presence offering extra credit I make it very clear that responding to my comments is entirely up to them.
I base my decisions on whether or not I am going to reply to a student post on two factors: did the student write something that really sparked my interest or do I have a question about something that he/she/zhe posted.
For the multimodal projects (and the bigger posts), I mix-up whether or not students receive feedback from me on their rough drafts. I learned from the first round of multimodal projects that it is important for me to give them feedback initially (to demonstrate a critical approach to feedback), but after that, giving them focused questions to answer about each other’s projects seems to be enough.
Here are the peer review questions I ask students on the rough drafts of the first multimodal projects (students produced the projects in groups of the three or four):
- Please give one example of why the message of the project is effective.
- Please give one suggestion for how the message could be improved–please refer to the rhetorical triangle for your suggestions (be specific about which piece of the triangles your suggestion falls into)
- Could the message be considered offensive? If so, to what audience? How might the group tone down their offensiveness?
- How could the group add more credibility? Could they improve their language? Demonstrate in some way that they know what they are talking about and have done their research?
- Is there too much pathos? How might they tone it down?
- Could they add more logos in the form of statistics and facts?
- Could they catch more people’s attention by adding more pathos? How might they do this?
For the final draft of the first multimodal projects, I ask students to sift through all the projects on the blog and address one that catches their eye. Then, they leave a comment on one post explaining whether they think the message is effective. Here’s an example: