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‘How are you going to grade this?’: Evaluating Classroom Blogs

blogging tips[Editor's Note: This post was written jointly by Jeff McClurken and Julie Meloni.]

Several of us at ProfHacker incorporate blogs into our pedagogy, and we have written on a range of course blog-related issues such as “Integrating, Evaluating, and Managing Blogging in the Classroom” (Julie) and “Tools for Managing Multiple Class Blogs” (Amy) among many others. In this post we (Jeff and Julie) will offer a few specific tips for evaluating course blogs and addressing the common question “how are you going to grade this?”

No matter how the evaluation criteria is spelled out on the syllabus and reiterated throughout the course itself, students are likely to continue to ask “how are you going to grade this?” Jeff notes he also receives this question frequently from other professors when they hear about his blog-related assignments.

As with all assignments, Jeff says his method for grading blogs depends on what his goals are for a particular assignment—he has used blogs as online reading reaction journals, as a way for students to continue class discussion, or, in a few cases, as the form for digital research projects. Julie uses blog assignments in similar ways, using both specific and open-ended prompts as a way to jumpstart future conversations based on student engagement and also as a space to work out final project ideas and receive peer feedback (here are examples of prompts in a literature course and a cyberculture course).

Both Jeff and Julie look for thoughtful responses, good writing, original ideas, taking advantage of the medium (linking, video, audio) where appropriate, and, of course, actually posting the blogs on time. [Jeff notes that assessing the blog-based projects is a little more complicated.] For Julie, at least, her general rubric for blog evaluation is a slightly modified version of Mark Sample’s rubric in “Pedagogy and the Class Blog”, which she suggests everyone read at some point when working through this question of evaluation.

For Jeff, since in some cases he asks students to post twice a week, in at least one class he has done two grades for blogging: one for an overall grade for all blogging, and a second grade, in which students picked their two best posts, revised them, and then submitted them for a separate grade. On the other hand, Jeff says he has a colleague who only spot checks to make sure that students have completed the blogs, but then has them create a portfolio of the best 2-4 posts at the end of the semester for him to provide a grade. Because Julie has been fortunate to have small(ish) classes (typically less than 30 students in each), she reads and assigns a grade to each post, and for the first several weeks offers a comment on each until the communities run themselves.

Following are some tips to improve the blogging experience for all involved:

  • Talk to students about what they think makes for a good blog post, both at the start of the semester and after they’ve been writing posts for a few weeks. This is especially effective if they are reading each other’s blogs, something you can encourage or require them to do (Julie requires comments on others’ blogs, in various ways).
  • Provide feedback early on about their blogs, as they’re just getting used to the medium. This does not need to be an actual grade. Some people use a simple check system (Check-plus, Check, Check-minus). Jeff notes he generally just tells students that they’re doing fine unless he tells them otherwise. Julie does assign a grade in the gradebook, but does not report each specific grade to students unless they ask; instead, she tells students if they are consistently performing below a 3 (on a 4 point scale) and also provides specific comments along the way to indicate questions/issues/problems with students’ posts. Jeff says that though he tries to push people to think more critically and more analytically in the comment section, he conveys truly negative criticism in person or via email, not in public (and Julie agrees with this).
  • Highlight particularly good blogs in class and/or on the class blog. You can also provide models/exemplary student bloggers as examples of what you want, though you can also intimidate students if you overdo this. Note, however, that if you provide models, you’ll also get better results. This, perhaps, is one of the most important tips we can give. If you haven’t blogged in the classroom before and thus don’t have a “bank” of exemplary posts, look around the internet for some from similar classes at other institutions. Here’s an example of a post from one of Julie’s classes that highlights good examples of blog posts for a specific assignment. This post is also an example of the sort of overall assignment wrap-up post that Julie uses on the course blog—in addition to any individual comments, after each round of evaluation she writes a general comment on the course blog.

If you think evaluating blog posts is a daunting task, don’t worry—you’ll get better, quicker, and more efficient at assessing these as you do more of them (which is good, because you could spend all your time grading blogs if you’re not careful). We could go on at some length about all the nuances of evaluating blogs in the classroom and ensuring that blogging has a purpose besides just reducing the use of paper.

What about you? If you have implemented blogging in the classroom, what are some strategies for evaluating blogs that you have used with some success (or failure)? If you have not implemented blogging in the classroom, what questions about evaluation might you have? Let us know in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user liewcf]

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