Last week I blogged about why my students must blog. In many ways I was preaching to the choir. Most instructors reading my blog agree with my points and are not surprised by the merits of student blogging. Many readers are already blogging or have blogged with their students. Almost everyone agrees that any class activity that encourages writing and thinking and engagement with course content is a good thing, but there is just one problem – assessment. If done right a class blog generates a lot of writing. If you want to do it right then that writing should be read and given feedback. And who has time!
Remember one important thing! Yes, student writing should have an audience, but it is important to remember that the audience does not have to be you – and should not be only you. In recent semesters I have made the audience of my class blog the class itself. I am a presence, but most weeks I am no more present than any of the students – in terms of comments. I do general skim through the blog posts to get a sense of the conversation and ideas and engagement, but I only post when compelled by a question or idea. To provide that audience, my blog assignment comes in two pieces. There is the initial post which responds to my weekly prompt (usually crafted to recap or extend the class reading and discussion for that week) and then there is at least one extended response to another post. It is interesting that many students seem to have trouble choosing just one so they frequently respond to more than one post. Also, the act of selecting and responding draws them into the conversation so there is often more interaction than one post and comment. Perhaps the most interesting benefit of this method is that students work harder on their posts when they realize there is an audience and that they need to compete for readership. I know this because students tell me and I watch the evolution of the posts over the semester.
All this posting and commenting is great for learning and engagement, but how do you untangle this activity and generate a grade? I assess the class blog assignment two ways. First, there is simple participation. Students who post and comment regularly will earn at least a B on the assignment. This is easy to determine using blog stats and perhaps the easiest grade I generate. However, to earn an A on the assignment you need to inspire and engage – and I use badges to determine this. Actually, I don’t do anything with the badges. I hand that responsibility off to the class. We generated a list of badges and criteria as a class (using super heroes as that is the theme of our class) then each student was able to award each of those badges to a classmate, but they couldn’t simply vote – they needed to cite evidence (a specific blog post for example) to support their recommendation. (Note: I also use badges to grade my community building assignment)
This badge award process has some interesting benefits in addition to the original idea of saving my sanity. It requires students to go back through weeks of blogs to look for their evidence. Several reported that it was a much more interesting process than they expected to see how our conversations and ideas have developed. Furthermore, it reinforces the idea that the blog posts are not busy work – they are real writing for a real audience. We do this process at midterm and again at the end of the semester, so students who didn’t take blogging seriously the first half realize its importance.
What surprised me is how much consensus I saw. There were almost no outliers when it came to badge awards. The outstanding contributors to the class blog were clear and their efforts were rewarded. I have used badges for assessment for several semesters now and it is very interesting to me that students don’t argue grades determined by this method. They might try to sell me a tragic tale of woe (no matter how clear the scoring guide may be) when I am doing the grading, but they seem to respect the badge. Now I only need to work out a badge system for all my grading woes.