In the Spring Semester I used class blogs to foster class discussion in my online classes (see Feedback Loops). I was fairly happy with that assignment but I’m thinking about kicking the assignment up another level by adding contract grading into the mix.
During the spring semester, students were expected to post to the class blog once a week for 14 weeks and then comment on at least three of their classmate’s blog posts. I did not comment on every blog post (at least not every week) but I did post a weekly prompt to jumpstart the conversation and would then add comments where I felt the inspiration or need to respond. This is essentially how I told students to choose which blog posts to respond to as well.
I like this strategy because it gives the students a real audience they need to engage and I believe many students felt a stronger drive to write engaging posts as a result. This is low-stakes writing in that the post itself is not going to be graded as long as it meets the assignment expectations, but there is a purpose to the writing which engages and challenges (most) students (at least in my experience). I also like that this places more responsibility for the class discuss ion on the students’ shoulders which is where I believe it should be. It also has the great benefit of preserving my sanity. Students don’t expect me to comment on everything just because I am the teacher – they have to compete for my attention just like writers in the real-world must do.
What I would like to do with contract grading is to raise the expectation of the assignment a bit and reward those students who rise to the challenge by meeting the spirit rather than the letter of the assignment. Those who do as they are asked (weekly posts and minimal comments per week for 14 weeks) will earn a B on the assignment. In order to earn an A on the class blog assignment students will need to do some combination of attracting a certain number of comments to their blog post (I need to go back and look at the spring blog posts to determine a good number) and posting a higher number of substantive blog post comments (again, I need to think about that number a bit).
My hope is that it will increase the level of writing as the students consider ways to engage their audience – certainly it should inspire more thoughtful writing. I saw evidence (in student reflections) that some students certainly considered their audience and thought more about their writing due to the knowledge of that audience. I also hope this modified approach will spark more class discussion and student engagement as well. I certainly saw a difference between using discussion board and a class blog but I think there is still room for improvement.
How do you engage your students in low-stakes writing and class participation? I’d love to hear more about what others do – especially with class blogs.