In my Word to the Wise: Writing for Religious and Social Change course, students engage in two main types of writing assignments. First there’s Digital Writing Assignments, all of which they post on their personal blogs. Options include, for example:
- Write a post reflecting on a time you changed your mind.
- Record and post a video of yourself. The video’s opening words must be, “So, one time in my religion class…”
- Write a list, BuzzFeed style. Share it via social media.
- Write a blog post with the phrase “9.5 Theses” somewhere in the title.
I call the other assignment category, Exploration Writing Assignments. These may be posted on students’ blogs, or they may just be turned-in only to me. Options include (some of which I stole/modified from Andrew Mara):
- Write a letter to the editor. Send it in. Receive 10 extra points if it’s published.
- Write a 750-word reflection on a faith tradition’s creed or Statement of Faith.
- Visit a place of worship for a religious service. Write a 750-word reflection on what, if any, social change issues came up.
- In 500 words, describe a social problem. In 500 words, respond with a viable solution. Make sure you include how it relates to religion.
When I designed these assignment categories, I wondered how—or if—students would approach questions of audience. So far, at least, as we’ve talked about their rhetorical choices, and as I’ve read their work, we haven’t noted significant affects of audience-shift on their writing. This puzzles me, somewhat.
Personally, knowledge of audience affects my writing enormously—both my content as well as how I approach the writing task. For instance, when I write for ON Scripture I always remind myself that the audience is not clergy, and many of them may not have much experience with church or religion. Such an audience is largely different from how I imagine this blog’s readers, or when I pen something for Christian Century.
When blogs first appeared, early educational experiments with blogs (or writing for “public audience”) highlighted questions about the public/private nature of blogs. Some scholars considered how blogs enabled expressivist writing, with bloggers writing what comes to mind, sharing feelings, and working through inner struggles. The difference between blogging and writing in one’s personal diary, of course, is that blogging is public. It’s shareable. And, further, the public can comment.
For instance, Fernheimer and Nelson viewed blogs as a way for students to comment on one another’s writing, participating in “on-going academic practice based on course-specific content” (16). (My Composition Theory course continues this approach, inviting students to engage a course reading while also requiring that we comment on others’ posts. While the course blog is public, the assumed audience is mainly (only?) our instructor and classmates.)
Following Rosa Ebery, Fernheimer and Nelson “suggest that instructors can use their authority to employ blogs in a way that increases student interactivity and engagement and collaboration between both instructors and students and students with other students. In so doing, blogs can help to mitigate the severity of the power differential between instructors and students (20).
In the design of Word to the Wise, however, I’ve imagined blogs and digital writing less as supports for students to engage one another (or me, for that matter). Instead, I hope that public, digital writing on blogs helps students engage the world outside of the classroom.
Academic writing is usually intended for a small audience. Instructors only read most undergraduate papers. This seems like a waste. Digital technology makes ideas easy to share; it also makes the audience much more interesting—and knowledgeable—than one professor.
This noted, I struggle with how to emphasize the public nature of students’ blogging (for their sites, see the blogroll here).
How do I help them get their blogs “out there”? How can we build their readership so their writing finds a public audience? How can we spread students’ words to the wise?