I’m doing a research project on “blogging as pedagogy” as part of a reflective exercise to digest the experience of doing a blog with my graduate cohort last term. I can’t think of a better place to write about some of my preliminary findings than here on this blog.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about translanguaging pedagogy and argued that the resistance to translanguaging pedagogy could stem from teachers’ desire for control over the flow of knowledge in the classroom. Creating a course blog meant giving that up – the blog became a shared space that we all contributed to. One of my research participants referred to the blog as a “third space for the course.” I intentionally didn’t give much guidance to students with respect to topics for posts – I wanted them to have ownership of their own learning and reflect on and write about course topics and issues that resonated with their own experiences. From a very preliminary analysis of the data from focus group discussions, interviews, and survey responses, most students appreciated this freedom to express themselves and their perspectives, share ideas and resources, and write for an audience of more than one.
It is this last point I’d like to focus on for this blog post. Writing for an audience beyond just the evaluator/ prof/ instructor can have an important impact on the development of students’ identities as writers; that is, they can see themselves as someone with valid and important ideas. In my class of 37 graduate students, more than half do not claim English as their first language, and many were very recently adjusting to living in Montreal and being a graduate student at McGill. Some said they experienced language anxiety that inhibited them from speaking up in class. However, what I’m finding in the data is that the blog was a space where students could develop (or nurture) identities as writers and this is because they were writing, not just to display knowledge to the prof for marks, but to engage an audience, connect with readers, share ideas. In fact, the focus group participants referred to each other and their peers as authors – something I have never heard among a cohort of students before.
The participants made explicit statements about how writing for a public audience shaped how they approached their writing:
“I wanted my blog to be interesting because of the audience. I wanted them [classmates] to comment on it or share some common thoughts or provide some suggestions for me.”
“I put a lot of thought into accessibility. . . . because it’s not just our class that can access it, it’s anyone. I wanted to make sure that what I wrote was understandable and engaging to some stranger who happened to type a key word into a search engine.”
“You have a larger audience, it’s not just your professor. . . . So it enhances communication among everyone. I think that’s part of what the graduate program teaches me. It’s not just like finishing the homework.”
“The fact that I was always thinking about potential blog posts had me engaging in personal reflection in just about everything we did.”
I see a richness in blogging as a pedagogy that is less evident in the writing for one model. I am not suggesting that we get rid of the writing for one model entirely – there is a very important rationale to writing an essay or research paper for a teacher, as long as students are going to get good, constructive feedback on their writing (style, structure, and content). This can help develop the skills needed to write a thesis or a manuscript, or write a successful grant application. However, if our graduate students are predominantly expected to learn within the writing for one model, how are we fostering an understanding of scholarship as “making knowledge together” (see Anthony Paré BILD post)?
I believe that graduate students should complete their programs with the skills to write academic papers, present conference talks, and engage a wider public. Blogging is just one way to achieve this last goal. I’d love to hear more thoughts, strategies, or approaches from you.