Summertime, When the Teaching is Easy…

Well, maybe not “easy”, per se, unless by “easy” you mean “really, really hard”.

This week was the first week of the summer session of my women’s studies class, “Gender, Race, and Class”. While I’ve taught about a half-dozen summer sessions of anthropology at the community college, this is my first summer session at the university and my first in women’s studies. Summer classes are a ton of work — class prep every day, unmotivated students, only a couple weeks between intros and mid-terms, and then again between mid-terms and finals. They tend to be breathless, jus-in-time affairs.

So, naturally, I use them to test out new ideas and teaching practices. This summer I’m experimenting with student blogging; each student has to post twice a week and comment on three other posts on the class website. I’m doing this for two reasons: First, because I want to shake up the typical teacher-student relationship where I find out all sort of interesting and useful information about each of my students but they never find out anything about each other. Which is a shame: especially in a course about gender, race, and class, the diverse experiences and perspectives of their fellow students is easily the best resource they could draw on. Blogging will, I hope, provide a channel for the sharing of this resource. Secondly, the field of women’s studies is based on a pedagogy of public engagement. Blogging forces students to write for a public audience, which means they have to give at least cursory thought to their relationship with the rest of their society.

So far, it’s been pretty successful, though all most of my students have written is their introductions. And the class itself has been moving pretty well, though I somewhat evilly assigned some really difficult reading to slog through the first week. Approaching the start of every new semester is worrisome, because each group of students has its own personality, and you never know when you’re going to get a class that, for whatever reason, just doesn’t work. Every professor has, at some point or another, no matter how good or popular they are. So it’s been a relief that this class has, so far, been pretty responsive, and there’s already been some pretty productive in-class discussion.

I’d be happy to hear from other professors who have integrated blogging into their courses; I’ve done a lot of web-searching and mostly turned up K-12 educators who use blogs, not many folk in higher ed. If that’s you, please drop me a line!

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