Friday, September 29, 2006

Online Journals and the College Writing Classroom

I'm interested in hearing about how YOU use technology in your class(es).

I've found that with a bit of planning, and some searching for free resources, teachers can find a multitude of opportunities out there to help our students--many of whom would probably never give writing a chance otherwise.

I've written a review of a new onilne tool I've been using this semester:



This semester, I decided to try Web Biographies as an instructional aid. When I did, I noticed a marked improvement in my students' quantity—and quality—of writing. Over the years, (as graduate student, and now faculty) I've found that students want new ways to write, and to share what they've written.

Recently, my Composition students have been creating online journals for their own writing, and responses to the semester's reading list. The assignment is similar to the traditional paper based reader-response journals that I've asked students to write in the past.

In the old assignment, students kept a notebook, where they wrote creative works (poems, etc.) and personal responses to reading assignments throughout the semester. I've always enjoyed seeing how their ideas about literature and writing--as well as their own writing--changed as they discovered new genres and writing styles that they found most (or least) appealing, or became excited (or angry) about various issues raised in what they were reading.

However, now that I've moved my students' journals online, I've found that their responses have become more than just the required (and sometimes tired) weekly entries. My students have been engaged in regular explorations of their relationships with the subjects we're covering.

I've discovered that many of my students are already fans of blogging. Most students read blogs on an almost daily basis, and some have even been writing their own for some time. I am finally able to productively tap this reservoir of generative creativity by migrating their formerly handwritten journals to an online format.

Unlike the traditional paper-based assignment, students are able to insert pictures, music and video into their responses—whatever is the best fit for their individual talents and learning styles.

The fact that my students have the option to password-protect their journals has been particularly valuable. It has ensured that what they post is only viewable by their classmates (and myself). I had always wanted my students to be able to share their journals, but it was simply impossible to implement with the old paper-based system (some journals would almost certainly be lost, etc.).

Gradually, through their experiences with this culture of sharing, my classroom is in the process of becoming a true community of learners--a creative organization. Their familiarity with one another's posts has been directly contributing to greater student participation this semester.

And unlike other online programs that I've used at universities, such as BlackBoard, students get to KEEP their online accounts/writings after the semester is over. BlackBoard (in case you're not familiar with it) locks and erases all work by teachers and students at the end of the semester. They also own whatever work you upload to the system... This is their--no, OUR work--and I want us to have to opportunity to KEEP writing, and to OWN our writing. By using http://www.webbiographies.com (accounts on Web Biographies are free, by the way), they can continue their journals long after my class is over.

And what teacher wouldn't want that?

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