I have increasingly been making my students blog about their assigned readings for class for a few reasons. One, I assume that forcing them to write in a public forum will increase their self-consciousness & encourage them to actively try to write better. Two, I believe in transparency & inclusiveness to the maximum extent possible. In the age of social media, it is fun to be able to include the author of an article or chapter in a class conversation as we are having it. We can Skype authors in for guest appearances, engage in live Tweeting with them (do you live Tweet your courses? let us know in the comments below!), or have extended conversations via blog comments, among other options. I've engaged in all of these & think they all enliven course material & increase the chances students will remember some things (for whatever reason).
That said, I've written up separate sets of instructions for my various classes, but I thought posting a more general set of "best practices" for blogging about course articles would be helpful for others & anyone who hasn't yet realized that students need to be told some of these things. I hope this is helpful. Here they are:
- Article reviews should generally run around 1000 words, which is equivalent to approximately two pages. Think about blog posts like they're articles in Newsweek, something you can read relatively easily in one sitting but with the requisite Who, What, When, Where, Why, & How of journalistic endeavors.
- Provide some background on the authors of the article or chapter you are discussing or summarizing. This means you will likely have to Google them and read their faculty or Academia.edu or whatever bios or even do a little deeper investigation.
- Summarize the major points or contributions the article or chapter makes. This seems rather obvious, but I notice that students will literally write, "The author discusses [blah]. Then she talks about [blah]." You're not giving a sports play-by-play. Synthesize the article or chapter in a manner similar to what may have been done or could be done in an abstract but in words that are more intelligible to you, an undergraduate, without putting the author down for using "big words" or being well-read.
- Put the article/chapter in context with other readings you've done in the course you're in, things in the media the piece remind you of, or whatever--i.e., bring something else to your summary & show that you've made a connection.
- Indicate what you did not understand & whether that was because it was (at the moment) over your head or because it was not clearly written (things that are not clearly written can fool you by merely seeming to be over your head).
- Strive for a tone that reflects the public forum of a blog while providing information that is also particular to the course. In other words, do not start your review off with "This week we were required to read..." or "This week's reading..." or "This reminded me of last week's reading because..." Even though everyone in the course knows what you are talking about, NO ONE outside the course knows what you're talking about. A better beginning would be, "An article published by [name] in [year] entitled [title] tests the hypothesis that..." Or, if it's a review article: "[name] published a great synthesis on [topic] in [journal or book]." You can even be funny, dynamic, or name-dropping ("My droogs KT Capuchin & Agustin Fuentes smacked it out of the park with a bad-ass synthesis of social network analysis & ecological niche construction in the Lende & Downey edited volume Encultured Brain (2012)!"). And while that last one was really schmaltzy, the point is that it's referenced; & the reader, no matter who it is, can piece together what I'm talking about without being in the course
- Include graphics. This can be tricky since you also should seriously avoid copyright infringement, but there are four ways to get good graphics:
- Scan images (e.g., tables, figures, etc.) from the article or chapter you are reviewing or other published scholarly material that you can cite.
- Utilize graphics that are approved for use. This article will provide some guidelines and the second page has links to numerous sites with media commons: http://www.blogher.com/bloggers-beware-you-can-get-sued-using-photos-your-blog-my-story
- Contact the author and ask for graphics. This will make your post especially awesome and unique because, let’s face it, every hack blogger out there is using the same graphics they’re glomming from the internet. Plus, the authors will be grateful to see you highlighting their work and likely very gracious in helping you.
- Take a photo yourself. You all have smartphones. "But first, before I publish, let me take a selfie."
- If you're collaborating with someone else on your blog post (which, in my classes, you more than likely are), your partner should read and approve your blog before you both post. Proofread each other’s work. Be sure the review your partner has prepared doesn’t make you cringe. If it does, provide them feedback to help fix it. If your partner does a half-assed job despite your best efforts, let your instructor know (confidentially).
- Give your post a snappy title that is at least slightly different than the chapter/article title (though it can play on it or be included).
- Make sure you assign your posts to categories and give them tags. If you need new categories created, email your blog administrator a request. Otherwise, they can’t be searched unless someone’s keyword is, for no apparent reason, “uncategorized.”
- Finally, & this is obvious, but, for the life of me, folks fail to do it. PROOFREAD YOUR WORK. Poor grammar & spelling, unless it’s contextually appropriate (e.g., slang is usually fine in blogs BUT ALSO HAS SPELLING CONVENTIONS) will probably get your grade dinged.Honestly, Microsoft Word AND WordPress have spellcheck, so I don't get it (whoops, WordPress is telling me that "spellcheck" is not spelled correctly. I think I'll just ignore that & keep typing, hoping my professor doesn't notice?).