As you know, I am a big fan of having students blog. And, as you also know, I recently decided to have my masters class move into having a multi-authored class blog as opposed to individual ones (see our blog here). The semester is now in full swing, and students are in fact blogging (it’s required in one class and optional in my other). There are, currently, no major issues. However, I did spot some interesting struggles that students expressed before anyone had ever written a single word for a post.
The struggle some of them faced was grounded in freedom.
Now, the directions allow students to write about anything they wish so long as it relates back to the class in some manner. They have a very wide berth of acceptable topics. It’s so wide that they would actively have to work at NOT being on topic to fall short here. So my advice is to pick something they are interested in and write about it.
Once you’ve got your topic, then you have any number of decisions to make about future topics. You could do a series of posts on the same topic. You could explore one topic the entire semester. Each post could be different. Again, any variation is fine.
Then of course comes the time when you actually write it and post it. You decide when you will do this. You schedule it (I have a sign-up sheet so posts don’t get double-booked), and then write it when it pleases you.
What was expressed to me was that the act of blogging – as I have it structured – was overwhelming (at least for some). Students explained that they had always been told exactly what to write about, when to do it, when it was due, and so on….It’s not that my assignment lacked structure – there are boundaries to it – but the structure does allow for a lot more freedom than they have experienced in their academic careers.
This really isn’t surprising when you think about it. This is pretty typical of how students experience school. What I’m asking them to do – while I don’t think it’s all that out there – is radically different. I think, but this is my interpretation, that the blogging assignment might have raised some anxiety levels.
So, what do you do when your students express this kind of discomfort? Well, if you’re me, you feel pretty ok about it. However, I recognize that it’s an unpleasant position to be in as a learner. But here’s my advice from the teaching end of things:
- Acknowledge that the discomfort makes sense
- Tell your students to go forth and do it anyways
I know. That’s all I got. I totally understood why anyone would feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable or any number of things. It made perfect sense to me. That said, the only way out is through. All you can do, as a student, is pick something to write about and get to writing.
What’s the worst that could happen? I can’t tell that much of anything bad will happen. Even if you fail to get something up one week, I have bonus opportunities worked in. You have to make it your goal to fail.
So I did exactly what I suggested. I acknowledged the discomfort and told them to dive in. And you know what? So far, everything is peachy awesome fine. Yes, sometimes I have suggestions to make for improvements but they are minor things.
However, what does this say about our educational system at large? How are we moving students through it, and what are they experiencing? How are these experiences shaping them in ways that support their abilities to be creative and how are they being constrained?