I’m essentially running a large scale blogging experiment with my Novel studies class this semester, in effect blowing Carrie Leverenz’s advice to only try one new thing a semester out of the water. (I’ve also complete revamped the comp II course for a new book, so it’s pretty much a new teaching experience too for the moment.) I really do try to follow her sound and sanity keeping advice. Yet, the more I planned this novel studies class on Jane Austen, the more and more I realized that I didn’t want to use Blackboard for our course website. I have issues with its unwieldiness, and I am concerned about the intellectual property issues involved with using a corporate platform for course design. Do I own the course? Does Blackboard? Does the school? I decided to use WordPress to set up a course website, a decision that has lead me to a whole world of possibilities. The amount of information, websites, and fan sites devoted to Jane Austen is dizzying. I’d never be able to curate the wealth of information out there about Jane (I find myself thinking of her more and more as Jane and not Austen) by myself. WordPress allows me to give my students contributor access to the class blog, so they can do some of this work too. I’m sure there’s a pedagogical essay in here somewhere, and I admit, one of the other reasons I chose this route was because I wanted to be able to keep their writing in a more permanent way. Blackboard only archives things for six months.
And then, of course, they can blog. They can write and comment about their own experiences with the texts we’re reading, with their own conceptions of Jane Austen. Nevertheless, I find that this experiment requires me to be more personal, more aware of my own reading habits and prejudices and scholarly persona. In some ways it’s almost too personal, too uncontrolled. I have no way, beyond my students’ awareness that most of the writing they do here is being assessed, to control what they choose to say or post. I can comment, I can edit and delete “troll” like comments, but that doesn’t mean that those comments won’t be out there for a time. Most of these students have never blogged before, and at least one seems to be excited about the possibility. (Signing up for WordPress account means you also get your own blog.) I’ve never been part of a group blog before. This is truly a teaching experiment, and I’m more nervous about it than I’d care to admit. But, I’m also elated and excited. I don’t know how the course blog will evolve. I don’t know what it’ll turn into at all. I like that aspect.
Note: I’m not going to share the course blog/website here just yet. I’m not sure how public I want it to be, and I want them to get comfortable with the blog before they consider the fact that they may have readers outside their own classmates.