Blogs (as a substitute for papers)
Many instructors use blogs in philosophy classes. Frequently, the blogs are used as short supplementary assignments where students are required to post a certain number of comments. One problem is that students go to the blog, do the minimum, and then check out. Christopher Long, at Penn State, has experimented with making student blogs a major part of his course. As he puts it, the "blog is the course." At the center of his effort is a rubric that defines what is required for a good grade in his course. He tells the students that at several times during the semester he will review all of their postings and give each student a grade on contributions for that part of the semester. One of the elements in the rubric is that the posts need to be distributed through the semester, so part of getting a good grade is to post regularly, rather than just before the date when he reviews the posts. Long tells us that students are still actively using the blog, even though the course has been over for several months.
Robert Boyd Skipper, at St. Mary's University, has developed a somewhat different methodology. He also makes blogs a central part of the course and uses detailed rubrics. A common way to use blogs is to have a discussion board for the whole class, where students can start a thread or comment on someone else's posting. Skipper's model is different (see his article in Teaching Philosophy). Each student has his/her individual blog, and other students visit that blog and enter comments.
TΦ101 has been using blogs for parts of courses and has developed some blog instructions and grading criteria. Our experience is that a blog is most effective for more "relevant" material, such as feminism, where students have strong opinions. It is also important for the faculty member to be a regular contributor to the blog, so that students know that the work is valued by the faculty member. Although it is hard to get the students to do heavy analysis in their blog posts, it appears that when they do return to a formal writing project, their writing is stronger.
Christopher P. Long, Cultivating Communities of Learning. Teaching Philosophy 33:4 (2010), pp. 347-362.
Robert Boyd Skipper, The Blog Assisted Seminar. Teaching Philosophy 34:2 (2011, pp. 119-132).
Update: August 15, 2011