I've been puzzling over how to think about blogs in a writing course. Well not puzzling over whether I might use them were I teaching a course at the moment -- I would in heartbeat, but how.
As a teacher, the technology behind a service like Blogger is too good not to experiment with and in; it's a really a good pedagogical playground. I could use a Blog as simple course interface -- a place to post a syllabi. I could ask students to keep blogs, assigning them different prompts or activities to post.
They might keep a blog for research projects. Or as shared and public reading journals. Or really, anything else we can think of to write on that's course related. With any luck, some would come out of the experience with a newly discovered writing voice, along the lines/along the way Austin Lingerfelt describes in "(this) space", an essay on blogging and writing.
Though at this point, my thinking is that blog use in the course would be better used as a way to simply introduce students, if they're not already blogging in some form, to the technology and possibility offered. It would be optional to make the blogs public, though for some that's half the fun -- being read. And like any kind of writing tried in a writing course, the goal would be to find enough ways to prompt students to write interestingly, or rather to find an interest in what they're writing despite the fact that it grew out of a required course (as first year writing courses, the kind I most like to teach, are).
Much would depend upon where I taught, the context for the course I was offering, and what I was contracted to do by the program as an instructor of that course. But choosing to experiment wouldn't be an easy choice to make.
The harder question for me, and frankly the more interesting question, is what's the future of blogs as pedagogical tool. Not among the trailblazers, like Jeff Rice and the folks he links to in his "TechRhet" entry (an entry that comments on a techrhet email list discussion about the role of blogs, a discussion I took part in and that forms the basis of this rumination). Trailblazers and people who jump and make use of a new, or relatively new technology and do cool things are interesting to study and learn from. And a lot of them are in fact asking questions about blogs and teaching.
But I'm always more interested in what to say to instructors who are not pioneers.
I ask this because I spend a good part of my job for Bedford/St. Martin's traveling to campuses, often giving workshops on teaching with technology. And not just technology we offer as a college publisher, but very often on helping people use the technology at hand, whether that's word processing software in a networked computer lab, a course management system they have on campus, or an amalgamation of freeware, including blogs.
The thing I find is that there needs to be a compelling reason for teachers to change what they're doing and the technologies they're using. Sometimes teachers are self-compelled. They might stumble across an essay like Austin's (linked above), and be moved to try blogs. They might hear a good teaching story at a conference. (I heard several at Computers and Writing 2004.) They might be motivated by a technology grant or teaching and technology program on their campus.
Unfortunately too, many teachers are compelled by circumstances not of their choosing. The department might be feeling pressure to do more with technology in way or another. And so instructors might all be given course WWW sites and asked to use them in some way. Or they might be under pressure from students to do more online.
And there are the vast majority of teachers who simply see no reason to switch what they're doing; they remain uncompelled, or unmoved by arguments others find compelling. And often for good reason: what they're doing is working for them. How they teach writing fits into their course loads, their lives, the way they manage their time, how they respond to students, when and where they do work, and so on.
So for these teachers, what advantages do computer-based, and more significantly, blogs, however you want to define them, offer? Why use a blog, why add a new technology layer onto what one is doing? How can we make clear the advantages? How do we help teachers learn how to shift the way they work? How do we keep learning curves gentle rises and not rock-face climbs?
Those are the questions that I think matter not only with Blogs, but with any new technology. They were the questions that mattered 20 years ago and 10 years. They mattered with email lists and file sharing and MOO's and chatrooms; they matter now with Blogs and they'll matter in the future with whatever new technology or innovation changes the way students and teachers write and teach and learn writing.