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Tag: online writing courses

Computer-Mediated Pedagogy: Then and Now

Computer-Mediated Pedagogy: Then and Now

My student blog posts for ENG 704: Teaching Writing Online are rolling in and it warms that cockles of my bloggy heart. I think back to when I was a grad student taking Computer-Mediated Pedagogy from Dr. Kristine Blair in the early 2000s, then at […]

What a Teaching Writing Online course can do

What a Teaching Writing Online course can do

Any way I look at it, teaching writing online is more work for faculty than teaching in the face-to-face classroom. It is also more work for students, but this post will be looking at it from the faculty side and counting the costs, most of […]

ENG 704: Choosing a Blog Platform

ENG 704: Choosing a Blog Platform

An earlier version of this post was done for an ENG 725 on “Teaching Writing Online.” I will be updating those posts to include what’s new since then and to better fit the new course.

In my ENG 704: Teaching Writing Online class this spring, one of the things they will be doing is reflective readings responses. That should be no surprise, especially in an online class where face-to-face discussion takes some mediated contortioning. I know blogs seem so old-school now, but really, I have yet to find anything better for reflection, for “the long thoughts.” Since my first blog back in 2001, I have tried many blogging platforms. some of which have vastly improved through the years. All are free. Some need server space (which does have a cost), but most do not, a real advantage for teachers who don’t want that annual expense. Fairly early on though, by 2003, I decided that the expense was worth it and bought my own domain and paid for server space. Besides listing different blog choices, I would like to examine that choice also.

My decision to go for my own domain was completely wrapped up in the concept of a visible scholarly and professional identity on the web. As a Computers and Writing specialist within the larger area of rhetoric and composition, I felt that it was not only appropriate but mandatory for me to have a web presence. I also realize this would not be everyone’s choice. The domain was very inexpensive and still is: $7.50 – $15.00 depending on who does it. in 2003, server space through a host service was the only way to go. Since then, several free blogging services have branched out to allow you to use your own domain for your web address on their service. For example, Blogger does this. That means you can have a custom URL like superteacher.net and not pay for anything else but the domain registration fee.

I had other reasons to go with a hosting service though. At the time I wanted to use Drupal, which was really a wonderful CMS for the time. It is still good, and I’ll say more about it and DrupalEd in my list. Drupal was download-only, so I went with a hosting service that would download and maintain it for me. It was a good choice since I did not enjoy dealing with database errors or other horrific glitches that seemed to happen regularly to my peers who did their own downloading and updating. The main reason I did this though was because I needed more than a blog. I used subdomains to separate out functions between my blog, my teaching space, and my CV. As you can see from the tabs here, I still do that.

Here are some current blog choices. I am limiting them to free services:

Old Standbys

These have been around for a while and include some of the best choices for those who want a blog that has potential to also be a portfolio or LMS (learning management system)

  • Blogger. If Blogger then was what it is now, I would have stayed with it for a long time. It lets you use your own domain (for the cost of domain registration) and it has good themes that you can go in and tweak if you want a different color or pattern combination. It also allows either group or single blogs. It is owned by Google now, and its move towards being an innovative blog space with interesting features began on its acquisition.
  • LiveJournal. I used this early on. The “friending” concept  began here, and the loose collaborative groups that develop this way are very interesting. I don’t think it is workable for academic space though. I used it for a study that was the basis for my dissertation.
  • WordPress. The link is for the .com site where people can sign up for their own blog space for free. The .org site has free downloads for the software in case you want it for your own domain and server space. The WordPress themes are the big draw here. There are so many, and so many functions come with them. This site is a WordPress blog that allows you to tab to other subdomains. The Moon City Press site, another site I am associated with, is also WordPress, but its theme has a nifty gallery that rotates the new books and announcements. This is a choice with plenty of customization options while still easy to use for beginners. You can make it as complicated or as simple as you want.
  • Edublogs. This uses WordPress, and it has the advantage of its own dashboard interface that  has hand-picked widget options that are particularly useful for teachers. The only negative I have is that when I used it for a class, they had serious stability problems. That was seven years ago now and It looks like those problems are long-since resolved, so I would not have any qualms recommending it now. If you are liking WordPress anyway, consider Edublogs first.
  • iWeb. Don’t use this. I’m not even sure it still exists except on ancient Apple computers that came with it.
  • Drupal. I still think of Drupal and now and then am tempted to use it again, espcially at times like now when I remember using its easy polls as classroom discussion starters. As a freestanding blog though, it is overkill and keeps its geeky street cred by being tweaky and difficult for many initial users to set up. It stopped having a free hosted option in August 2016.
  • DrupalEd. This was designed for writing classes by writing teachers. I used it at Missouri State for the composition classes when I was acting Composition Director. It is free, and it you have a school that is interested, I can get you in touch with people who can give you advice on setting it up. This is not an individual blog solution; it is meant for a school or program.
  • Tumblr. I think this could work. I have not used Tumblr because I am not really a snippet blogger; I use Pinterest for my short, mostly pictorial posts. This is a good place to collect things or pieces of text.
  • Ning. I really enjoyed using this for my classes in the brief window of opportunity when it was new and free, before they cut off everyone who was not willing to pay. It is a great blend blend of blogging, social media, tagging gone amuck, and pretty effective community building. Missouri State’s Ozark Writing Project used Ning, but moved away when it went commercial. I put Ning on the list because the fond memories still linger, but not enough that I’m willing to pay $25 a month for their entry-level plan.

Faux Blogs (Proprietary Website Builders)

Wxi, Weebly, Squarespace, Google Sites, imcreator, and other similar sites: These are website builders, not blogs, and even when they have a free option, with the exception of Google Sites, they have several levels of pay tiers where most of the options occur. I left out the links on purpose. Please do not consider them for blogs, classroom LMS/CMS, or even what they say they are for– building websites. For one thing, there is actual blog software available elsewhere for free and you should use it. For another, if you need to make a website, say, for a web article you want to submit to a journal, you need to use Dreamweaver or other web authoring software. As an editor for a web journal, I sometimes get webtext submissions that use this kind of site and I have to tell them to build it themselves and resubmit. Web journals need to house all materials onsite for the sake of security and longevity. Sites like these may let you build a website, but they hold on to it–ownership is blurred. It is meant for small business owners who want an informational site and don’t know they could easily do it themselves for free using Blogger or WordPress.

New Kids on the Bloggy Block

I haven’t tried these, mainly because I am happy with Wordpress and truly need blog software that has paged tabs and complex choices that work for a CMS (content management system). Sometimes though, all you want is a place to write. That’s all. A place to write that other people can read. That’s all. There are some interesting new choices that will do that. Here are a few.

  • Svbtle. At first, I wasn’t sure about a blogging site so pretentious that it uses a “v” instead of a “u” in its name as if we were still Romans, but this site does have advantages for bloggers who just want to write and want to join a community of like-minded writers. It is so spare that it doesn’t even give a time-date stamp for entries, which for me takes it out of the realm of blog, but if you can work around that, it could work for a readings response blog.
  • Postach.io. Do you use Evernote to keep track of your ideas and projects? If you are, then this site would be worth trying. It integrates with your Evernote account and allows you to take an Evernote note and post it as a blog entry to Postach.io. If you don’t use Evernote, this is not for you.
  • Google+. I have this and I never, never considered it blogging. Upon refection, yes, it is blogging, blogging that met Facebook and had a baby kind of blogging. The core of Google+ is the circles, groups of other Google+ members that you add and place into “circles” that you define. For example, I am creating a ENG 704 circle for this class. I can then post and specify that the post only goes to people in the ENG 704 circle. Each post then has a specified audience, one defined by you. Most of my Google+ posts are for all my circles, but sometimes I post about things that not everyone will be interested in. An example would be my soccer posts. I only send those to my soccer circle. The posts for ENG 704 will be like that–they will only go out to class members. So, since I am making a Google ID a required tool for the class, you automatically have a Google_ page with a Google ID. All you have to do is access it and start posting. If you set up a ENG 704 circle, you can then let Google notify you when one of the circle posts. Easy-peasy. The down side of this and the reason why I never considered it blogging is that it can never be truly public. Unless you don’t use the circles or make all of your posts completely public, your Google+ page is not able to grow an audience in the way a traditional blog can. It also has no customization, which is one of the fun things about blogging.
  • Medium. This site is truly a community that you join. You post stories within categories and the site rates them. That is by definition a forum, not a blog. Quora added blogs a couple of years back, but it too is a forum and I don’t see it changing its focus.

The choice is yours. This is one time when free options may really be the best options. If you want to jump ahead to an article that goes into blogging more in-depth, skip ahead to one of your later readings, Why I Still Blog, from the Praxis section of Kairos 19.1.

More LMS review

After the great Moodle breakdown last semester, I had to scramble to find something to replace it that did not require me to do the upkeep. The one-click options that remained with my host were not going to work. Canvas has changed its terms. I’m […]

ENG 704: Enter the Wiki World

This is based on an earlier post, now retooled for ENG 704. This post is for my ENG 704: Teaching Writing Online class, but others are welcome to read it too. Oh, the wiki. So lightheartedly named, so prone to being fundamentally a part of […]

ENG 704: Getting started with Teaching Writing Online

An earlier version of this post was written for a ENG 725 on “Teaching Writing Online”

I’m teaching a graduate seminar in rhetoric and composition this semester and next week is the first week, the week to get our collective feet wet, and while we’re splashing in that virtual brook, be like Phaedrus and Socrates on that riverbank and ask some deep questions about what it is we do and how best to do it. From time to time this semester, I will be blogging about our readings in ENG 704: Teaching Writing Online, a new course that I piloted in 2013 as a ENG 725 special topic. Now that it is its own shiny-new course, I want to ask again, If kairos is the core of persuasion, and if what we teach in Writing I and II is how to persuade, mostly through writing, then how do we follow the NCTE beliefs for the teaching of writing when we can’t be face to face? This is something to think about. At the CCCC, the NCTE Committee on Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction meets every other year and is co-chaired by the author of one of the main texts for ENG 704, Scott Warnock. We will also have a reading from Beth L. Hewett, who is the other co-chairr of the OWI Committee. The committee’s NCTE page, which is interesting in itself, is here.

Speaking as one who greatly values the process time one-on-one with students as they draft that a computer classroom allows, I see this as the core question: How do we teach process in a content space? Or, for those who consider this more composing than writing, how do we create a studio in a content space? For the online course, no matter how many added bells and whistles, IS a content space. A CMS or LMS like Blackboard, Moodle, or Sakai when taken down to code is a database. It is a sophisticated way to sort and deliver content.

A lot has changed since I took a similar course myself in teaching writing online while a graduate student. At that point, Blackboard was a baby and the only option examined, and since it was light-years ahead of anything else at that point (Remember early WebCT? Ouch!), rightfully so. At that time the discussion board was heavily used to build community and to replicate classroom discussion, which can be a big part of FYC (first year composition), but not the most important part. The virtual classroom feature was touted for online office hours, but in real life students would just phone or send questions in an email. Looking back, I can see some real possibilities for the virtual whiteboard, but in practice it quickly turned into chaos. This was pre-Facebook (imagine!) and blogs were the primary social software out there, although there was NOT any blog module in Blackboard. Essentially, it was a CMS (content management system) not a LMS  (learning management system), and was a somewhat functional depository for course materials. I supplemented it in 2003 with a Drupal blog, a communal blog that all class members contributed to. Drupal was pretty powerful, really, even then. It had polls and chat, and it even had a wiki module that could be used to build an in-course textbook. Through that experience, I learned how to modify CSS and became more fluent in HTML, both very good things in the long run.

The options are vast now and much more user-friendly, but the question remains, How do we get the writing process modeled, get it analyzed, and how do we give the same quality of feedback as in a face-to-face class? Written feedback transfers fine, but what about the writing conference? How about workshop? Anyway you look at it, the situation is not ideal, but it is also not going away. Online writing courses are here and the teachers called on to “make it work” are commonly the teachers with the least power for significant pedagogical innovation, which is what is needed as the social media landscape shifts and expands. Per course, adjuncts, graduate students, lecturers– these are the front lines for teaching writing online and these are the instructors least likely to have a doctorate, or have a masters degree focused on rhetoric and composition rather than literature or another area. They are even less likely to have any coursework specifically in teaching writing online. I am thrilled that my university did something to change that dynamic with ENG 704.

Here is why I think Teaching Writing Online is an important course for literature and creative writing track MA students also: Truth be told, MA English grads in literature or creative writing who want a full-time teaching position at a university or community college will not be teaching literature full-time, if at all. They will be teaching composition, if they are lucky enough to get one of the very few openings. My department would love to hire, but economics dictate that we cannot. When an opening does occur here or elsewhere in our area, online teaching is the growth area for composition, and those who can say that they have coursework in it will have an advantage in the job market. Their teaching portfolios will have modules to show potential employers what they can do.

But I digress. How do we teach writing online? I’m going to go with the short answer for now and let my students work out multiple answers through the forum on our Moodle site. The short answer, I believe, is this: Not by doing the exact same things we did face-to-face.

Are they changing or is it me?

This has been a long day with many “welcome to the class” emails sent to new enrollees for my online class. I guess that means my welcome email works–I want students who think the class will be self-paced with no due dates or the ones […]

Resources as resources

I’m making my final edits for the online Writing II syllabus and just added more to the “responsibilities” section. This section is a shorter version of an email I send to all online student a week or so before the class begins. The syllabus section […]