Journalism students’ blogging assignment

I know my audience knows more than I do. I’m asking for input on a 12-week-long blogging assignment I will give to my students.

  • First they have to choose a beat or subject area. I have to approve it, or else they choose something different.
  • Then each student sets up a new, individual blog.
  • They have to post twice a week. Each post is graded on a 10-point scale.
  • They have 22 opportunities to post, and the two lowest grades will be dropped.

These are the grading criteria, which pretty much outline how to be a competent blogger. (Not an excellent blogger, mind you, but a competent one.)

I’ve done this before, and grading 20 students can be tedious. But with a simplified rubric, it is also relatively fast.

One thing I’d like to add — but I haven’t figured out a viable way to grade it — is requiring the students to comment on one another’s blogs. Suggestions would be much appreciated.

24 Comments on “Journalism students’ blogging assignment

  1. Ideas, taken from classes with Deb Aikat and Serena Fenton at UNC:

    1. Require an old-fashioned blogroll linking to other students in the class (not sure how big class is — this is probably not overwhelming if you require 20 or fewer links. The students will appreciate this after class is over, when they want to look up a former classmate).
    2. Require a post that links and comments about a fellow student’s post: That would help with the grading issue of requiring comments on each others’ blogs.
    3. Require tagging and a search button. Some students might want to post outside of class assignments, so if you set a specific tag for class assignments, they’ll be easier to identify. The search button, likewise, will be useful later after class is over for students and others to find old thoughts ….
    4. Encourage the students to keep the blog public after class is over and continue to use it. Reminding folks that the sites can be used as fodder for job applications and demonstrations to future employers will increase the quality level of the work — or (in some cases) not. But for some, it will make a difference.

  2. Nicely thought out, Mindy. How about some bonus points?

    – embedding a video or a pic or a slideshare etc.
    – getting comments that are not from fellow students
    – getting the most traffic in the class
    – properly handling follow-ups or updates or corrections

  3. If at all possible, make sure the students understand that they can/should blog more than twice a week.

    Especially if there’s a minimum word count for those two posts, you’re going to get a few five-paragraph essays and/or attempts at inverted pyramid stories.

    A better alternative to those posts would be a steady stream of shorter posts, kinda like a blog, right?

    Or maybe you can require them to write two word-count based posts, plus two short “reblog” posts a week.

    Hopefully, they’ll learn how to link as well as how to write.

  4. I would also grade the overall presentation of the blog.

    Did they include widgets? If so – which ones? Did they explore the seemingly infinite possibilities of blogging?

    If you can convince them it’ll be fun to explore – you might get some cool stuff. Even if a student just copies the widgets you seem to have on the right (technorati, feedburner readers, sitemeter, etc) they will start to learn more about what blogging is about.

  5. In response to Andrea’s suggestion of keeping the blog public after class: It is in my experience having taken this class, not with Mindy, that my current blogging regiment was set after the course was over.

    This ongoing assignment was one of the more-enjoyable tasks of my online journalism track.

  6. I’m going to pick up on what Ryan said. Twice a week posting does not make for a compelling blog in the real world.

    How about having them each pick one week in which they have to post every day? It might be too much for either them or you to handle if everyone posted every day, but doing it by week would give everyone a taste of the real-world pressure to post and would go a little way towards balancing out the assessment burden on you.

    Also, is there a way to work the RSS concept into this assignment? They should be aware that many people encounter blog posts through RSS readers a majority of the time.

  7. I would be most concerned with originality of thought/content and supporting that information with links.

    If you wanted to award bonus points, you could toss a few points at the students for thoughtful comments on other blogs.

    What’s cool, I think, is that a “blog” can be many, many different things.

  8. I’ve used blogs in class too and found that students tend to either love it, hate it or just see it as another assignment.

    I have found that the most important decision is the choice of topic. The best blogs emerge when a student chooses a topic they are passionate about and have personal knowledge about. I had a student blog about the trials and tribulations of being a dancer, based on her own experiences. Another looked at gender issues in pop culture. What made these blogs work is that the students were engaged with their chosen topic and were able to make a contribution.

  9. For grading purposes, you could ask them to email you a list of links to all their comments at the end of the semester.

  10. Marketing and developing an audience for your blog should be part of the grading criteria. Too many blogs die because their authors think their audience will discover it on their own, and too many journalists are hesitant to take responsibility for marketing their product.

  11. @Ryan – you’re right, of course, that they should blog more than twice a week. But in addition to the grading concerns (when to look, and at what), a blog that will be graded needs to have parameters that help both the student and the teacher. Some kids would blog 10 times a day, and the quality of those 10 posts would vary a lot. So then it becomes really hard to quantify.

    I have found that a lot of them miss the second post of the week, often. The excuse they give is that they remember the post that is due on the same day the class meets, but they forget to post again because class meets only once a week.

    Well, that gives you an indication of how some students look at the assignment.

  12. @Digidave – we in fact have a (second) class session about widgets, blogrolls, stats and RSS. They are given time to add widgets, etc., during class. Then they lose points the next week if they have not added stuff to their sidebar.

  13. @mccxxiii – that’s a great idea, to have one week per person of “you must blog every day.” I think committing to once-a-day blogging is a good practice for most bloggers, even though I’ve not been able to keep up with it this summer.

  14. Great assignment.
    I’m still struggling with an assignment addressing the same issue — getting students to read and respond to the work of their peers. I’m also still learning the technologies I’m trying to teach as well. (Thank you, Mindy, for your absolutely essential guidance!!)
    I’m still thinking it through but I’d like to find a way to create a graded assignment using peer editing.
    This is still in process but my idea is to have each student choose a classmate’s blog and write a thorough review using the rubric I provide as well as their own added criteria.
    For XX number of points they’ll write a response to the blog’s author productively assessing the blog’s content, writing, presentation, creativity, gadgetry, readability…am still coming up with this part.
    I need to build in a way to keep them from commenting mainly on the bells and whistles and not directly engaging with the content.
    Another concern is that this only requires them to read/respond to one other person’s thoughts.
    What if everybody chooses only a couple of blogs? Do I care?
    And, are their comments public? On their blogs? On Blackboard? E-mailed only to their classmate and me?
    Thanks for helping me think this through, and for the excellent model assignment you provided.

  15. I teach online journalism at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia and have included a semester long blogging assignment now for the past two semesters – I think I actually got the original idea from you!

    To encourage commentary I spend(as some others may have suggested) a class on establishing the importance of the ‘circular conversation’ in blogging and how this is important for journalism. In the tutorial groups (I have about 15 students per class so this works well) we establish a blogroll of other students in class – then I explain the idea of the pingback.

    Then at least one of the 20 posts required for the semester assignment must be in response to what one of their peers has written and they use a pingback so that it appears on the other’s comment section. I stress that the response must add to the issue or debate that is originally discussed. All my students are blogging on media analysis and issues so this works well.

    I also have all students install sitemeter and require that one of the final posts is an analysis of their sitemeter reports. I find this helps get everyone reading each other’s blogs as well.

  16. Pingback: SOME TEACHING IDEAS « AngelesHernandez- CALL and ICT Language Learning: theoretical backup and class use

  17. @Angie – I like that idea. It could be for extra credit, or maybe each worthwhile comment would be counted as a quarter-point, up to a total of 5 points.

  18. I’m revamping the online publishing course at Columbia College and am trying to crack this same nut, with a similar over-arching blogging project as well.

    Absolutely, commenting is an important skill to reinforce. For my students, I’m thinking about requiring them to comment on at least three (maybe more??) of their classmates blogs over the course of the week. These comments would just be graded on a check, check-plus, check-minus scale–essentially something that will feed into an overall participation grade. But it gets them into the routine and the practice of commenting.

    In order to make the whole thing easier for grading, but also for their own tracking, I’m going to be building a feed-based “metablog” that will collect all their various posts into one stream (thank you Yahoo Pipes) for the class site, even though their blogs will also maintain separate identities.

  19. I think Rob brings up a very good point regarding marketing and developing the audience. I was in an online journalism class at the University of Miami in spring 2008 and it seems like no one else did anything to promote their blogs — they basically wrote for the professor and their classmates.

    (Brief background: I started my blog on my own a few months earlier and came into the class with a small audience.)

    I don’t know whether you should grade the results of any marketing and audience development work, but I think grading effort would be a very good way to evaluate the students. For example, did they post their links on appropriate outside sites such as Facebook, related Web sites/forums and in comments on other blogs?

    Or, another option, grade for effort during the first half of the semester and grade of effort and results the second half.

  20. @Greg – now we’re getting somewhere. I think perhaps they could e-mail me links to their comments on other blogs (not just fellow students) and their Site Meter graph. A weekly report on what they did to promote their blog. Yeah, that would make sense! Thank you!

    So, first half — writing the posts. Second half — gaining traction.

  21. I want to qualify this by saying that I am in no way a journalism expert; but I have been blogging for several years. This sounds like a great idea for an assignment, but I have a concern about marking for audience/marketing efforts, and that is the potential that you are rewarding students for liking what other people like.

    As one commenter already noted, blogs where the blogger is passionate about their subject will be better; but an audience won’t necessarily reflect that in some easily linear fashion. You have one student who is obsessed with trendy clothes, where there is a large potential audience and s/he quickly gets external readers and comments and an impressive sitemeter graph. You have another student who is passionate about the mating habits of an endangered tropical tree frog, where the potential audience is small. You probably don’t want to give the first student higher marks; but how do you distinguish between a good blog written for a huge market and a great blog written for a small market?

  22. Great guidelines Mindy. I’ve been using this assignment for a year in my public affairs reporting class (where they blog about their beat) and an online journalism class (where they can choose the topic). The blogs are great for the public affairs reporting because their work is actually being PUBLISHED somewhere, so the sources tend to take the students more seriously. One question – my dept. chair has privacy concerns. She doesn’t want the students to post much identifying information since we are a public university. But I believe our students need to develop a Web portfolio – and the only way to do that is to use their full names. How many restrictions (if any) do you put on them? Do you leave it up to them whether to use their full name, post photos or other details about themselves? Is this a concern at most universities?

  23. @Rebecca – I agree with you, our students need to develop a Web portfolio — and they need to be accountable by using their full names. Perhaps your chair is unaware of how much personal information most 20-year-olds have already shared all over the Internet — in many cases, too much.

    However, I did tell them in 2006 that they could create a pseudonym for their blog, if they wanted to, because anonymity is a free speech right in the United States. This would allow students to write about sensitive issues that maybe they would not want everyone to associate with their name.

    Of course, I told them, I and the other students in the course would know who they are! So it would not be pure anonymity.

  24. As an almost-graduated j-student at UT, just wanted to say a big thanks for using I had two classes in which we were walked through how to set up a blog and write an entry – at I suggested to both my profs that we use instead (noting that no major newspaper uses Blogger and a bunch use WP), but they wouldn’t hear it. Frustrating.

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