Teaching Writing in the Post-Blogging Era

Here’s a question. Why do we use digital technology in the classroom? Is it because it teaches writing well or because it teaches on the platforms on which contemporary writing happens? Or is it to seem cool?

Take the case of blogging. Remember when blogging was the cool thing to do with your writing class? Maybe it still is. But if people stop doing it, does it become less relevant to teach?

Here are some thoughts about 21st century writing instruction.

But let’s begin at the end…

… of blogging:

Googling around, I found this fun infographic.

(Infographics killed blogging, too, I imagine)

What we lost

1. Trying to get people to read your blog

And a lot of this:

2. Apologies for not posting

Actually, those were all posted in the last 3 years.

But we did lose….

3. The blogosphere:

And

Blogrolls! Citations made electric. Networked discourse…

replaced by the Zuckersphere.

And of course

4. periodic posts

….replaced by endless Twitter threads:

….actually a very interesting thread about feral hogs, but this is only part of it…

What took the place of blogs?

  • More blogs
  • Microblogs: Twitter, Facebook
  • Photoblogs: Instagram
  • Audioblogs: Podcasts
  • Videoblogs: vlogs, I mean, YouTube

Oh, wait, you know that already…

and… Medium

Pretty Medium, with all this white space, and a body built for

LONG FORM JOURNALISM!!

which is technically one of those….

Subject to CDA section 230

In 2014, Jonathan Glick defined platishers as:

that can ALSO be used for:

Course Sites

Or Assignments

And you can push the boundaries of what Medium can do…

And presentation-ware

That’s a shot from this presentation

So Medium is like Blogger, except on a shaky freemium business model but with big pretty type.

In fact, I suspect the form encourages stronger writing.

But Medium does not include:

  • The reverse chronological commitment
  • A blogroll
  • Control over layout and style
  • Easy theming of content
  • A sense of site ownership (& potential tool for branding…)
  • Any sense of security (site might go down tomorrow…ulp!)

What blogging still offers

(even if your bloglishing on a platisher)

A pubic drafting space

A space for individuality

A place to develop voice

A sense of continuity and development

A multimedia writing environment

A sense of writing through linking

So do we still teach blogging?

Do we teach old elements of blogging platforms on new platforms with different affordances and emphasis?

Is that like telling students to skip two spaces after each period?

Is that like teaching a student to write :-) when they can just put 😀?

Is that like teaching people to write essays on blogging platforms?

Is that like teaching people how use an iphone as though it were a pager?

The WIC Pager app for iphone.

or teaching mandatory essay writing classes in the 21st century

Best Blog Teaching Practices IMO

  • Students choose their own topics
  • Regular writing: once a week or more often
  • Not scrutinized: at least not graded like essays.
  • Blogging buddies: assign students to read and present each other
  • Once a semester students are presented by another student
  • Blogs are public (even with pseudonyms): keep this writing in the public eye.
  • Emphasize old-school practices: especially frequent linking
  • When blogs are graded as paper, include more strict specifications

Hidden Curriculum:

Blogging is (mostly) like magazine or column writing

Blogging can give a home to creative non-fiction

Good blog posts are driven by rich questions

A good post links the personal to the broader social realm or trend

And now for something practical:

A blog reading activity:

The wall between my backyard and my next-door-neighbor Mrs. Lee’s backyard is often just a technicality. Mrs. Lee likes to come over and knock on my garden gate whenever she hears me puttering around out back, so she can visit and we chitchat and then she scolds me for not watering enough. Mrs. Lee reminds me she waters twice a day and that’s why her vegetables don’t die like mine do. I think it is to my credit that I manage to smile and nod instead of reminding her that I don’t stay home all day like she does and in fact I am not home during daylight hours Monday through Friday. I like Mrs. Lee, she just wants my garden to be a happy place instead of a dustbowl. I just smile and nod, she means well.

It’s hard for students to hear this voice. So I asked a friend, Patsy Hinchey to read it for me, not as a performance, just to add that missing element.

My desire to attempt some form of gardening each year is so finely ingrained in me I don’t bother resisting, even though I tend toward more of a Darwin-esque “I planted ya’ll now fend for yourselves” philosophy, also known to some as “sheer laziness” and “I work long hours.” But I need to think I have a garden — it is a Southern thing, I suspect — and have learned that if I have to water a particular plant twice a day it probably is best left in the garden center or in the capable hands of someone who doesn’t commute three hours a day. Hence why I made the bold decision to plant nary a tomato this year and I feel VERY GOOD ABOUT IT. As it stands, we’re now in early June and I haven’t killed a single tomato seedling all year. The fact that I didn’t kill something I never planted is all the greater achievement.

source:

But how to read it? In class students can analyze it using:

A Fact-Idea List

The goal is to help students locate voice in specific textual maneuvers to learn how to create voice for themselves. But a written transcript of voice is only a score, potential till read allowed eternally or in one’s head.

But what if I still want to seem cool and HIP and CUTTING EDGE?

Alternatives to Blogger, Platishers, and CMS:

Or something a little more contemporary:

The Blogazine: a blog with a unique or custom magazine-style layout

Great post about Blogazines

or perhaps it’s time to leave dynamic sites altogether…

Jekyll allows the creation of static blogs with a little help from Ruby and Markdown.

Okay, but enough about blogging, what else do ya got? ????— Audience Member at this presentation

Other Tools & Techniques for 21st Century writing instruction

Blogging (or platishing?) is just one aspect of writing in the digital age. But certainly a key part of writing is collaboration. Here are a few of the activities I have been developing in collaboration with others lately.

22 Short Films about Grammar

Chain of Dependencies: a heuristic

The Chain of Dependencies is a heuristic to help students develop ideas for an essay by using a form of mind-mapping that emphasizes a necessary information that creates the overall argument.

I developed this tool with Jessica Cantiello in USC’s Writing Program.

Article about the Chain of Dependencies in the Journal of Teaching Writing (prepub)

Archival scan of the PDF of the published article:

Cool Medium article about the tool

Zotero for Group Evaluation of Sources

Zotero is a free bibliographic tool. Using the groups function, students can collect and share resources and then add annotations (through the note feature) as they evaluate them, discussing the reliability, strengths, and weaknesses of each source. .

Topoi Glider

The topoi is an ancient tool for developing complex ideas. This slider delivers sample topoi.

I show how to use the topoi in this video (from over a decade ago!).

Love Letter Generator

(This one’s for the ❤️instructors❤️)

So if you still want to seem like a cool kid —

or rather, if contemporary modes of expression are still important to you, you may want to consider:

Scholarship in the Internet Vernacular, featuring:

Katie Manthey’s Tumblr challenging sartorial norms

Memes

Listicles

Quizzicles

Infographics

Games

and more!

See the forthcoming issue of Hyperrhiz for more!

And if you love platform hopping, consider:

NETPROV

Online Collaborative Improvised Writing

Critically thinking disguised as fun.

The voluntary healing of necessary relationships — Rob Wittig

Netprovs run for 1–6 weeks.

Students:

  • play roles.
  • write to prompts
  • interact with each other
  • build on each other’s readings
  • solve problems collaboratively

LA FLood Project

The LA Flood Project in which students needed to survive an epic flood

Netprovs are platformagasmic!

Collaborative writing practices that pick up various writing platforms:

  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Vanilla Forums
  • Google Groups

Behind Your Bak

Behind Your Bak

You can join us for a netprov (tri-annual), just send me an email and/or sign up for the mailing list. We offer prewriting activities, background readings, prompts, guidelines and rules, and reflection questions. We also consult and support the development of classrooms.

(This was the text of a talk I gave at CSU Northridge. Email me with questions or leave comments below. )

writer/researcher of emerging digital writing forms. Prof of Writing @ USC, Dir. of Com. for ELO, Dir. of HaCCS Lab