Blog Post

Tumblr in the classroom?

I am teaching a course entitled "Race & Visual Culture in U.S. History" this semester and have been looking for a blogging platform that offers a strong visual element.  For this reason, I'm considering Tumblr but I have not used the platform much. I'm wondering if any other scholars/users have used Tumblr for teaching purposes, and if so, if you could comment on elements you liked/disliked about the platform? How did you find that students responded to Tumblr?

If you've used it for a course and wouldn't mind sharing your URL, I would love to see your site!

Thanks so much,

 

Anne-Marie Angelo

Duke University

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7 comments

I generally use wordpress for course blogging, as I find it really simple to use and easy to organize and find information. So, I will use it as a way to compare/explain my experience with Tumblr. 

Last year, I asked my students to decide upon and configure a central online space for our course, giving them just a few technical specifications. They chose Tumblr, mainly because only 3 of the students in the class had ever created/used a blog before, and they had used Tumblr to do so.  It was the obvious choice for them, and I think that they were mostly happy with this choice. 

The technical specifications I gave them were:

1. every student (and myself) had to have their own password protected login

2. photo, sound and video upload and embedding

3. post-level commenting

4. keyword tagging

Here are some of the issues that we encountered:
(note: they did configure it themselves to do what they wanted it to be able to do, so some of these 'problems' were self-inflicted confguration issues, and might not be problematic for you).

1. some (not all) students had trouble uploading their own videos to the site. it did not seem dependent on file size or format- though sometimes changing computers seemed to do the trick, while other times changing logins on the same computer fixed it.  Some of this was probably due to how they configured/assigned admin roles. This didn't seem to happen when embedding youTube or other streaming videos.

2. There was no master navigation for the site. Tumblr is first and foremost a blog (though perhaps there is a way to create better navigation than what they offer automatically), whereas software like wordpress are content management systems, and enable more fine-tuning. Therefore, if students didn't 'tag' content, it was hard to find it easily, as the tags were the best way we had to find individual pieces of content. They posted a significant amount of content on a regular basis, which meant that if it wasn't tagged, you had to click through, page by page to find the right post.

3. the commenting system is somewhat hidden. My students chose to be graded on their engagement with each other's work and the course materials in a blogging format.  This meant that I had to read many, many comments, which on Tumblr is a very layered, click-heavy process.  I found it time consuming, but purely due to 'mouse-click' fatigue.

But, as I said, this was the students' choice, and they seemed happy with it. Also, because 3 of them knew how to use it already, they took it upon themselves to teach the rest of the class, and were able and willing to provide tech support all semester long. This really helped change the classroom dynamic early-on, which I was very happy for.

They also decided to keep it private so that they could have more open discussions, so I won't be able to share it with you.  I hope this was helpful!

Jarah

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I'd be really interested to hear what people have to say about this, too. My sense was that Tumblr could be potentially useful for image-driven (rather than comment-driven) blogging, since some of my favorite Tumblr blogs are largely about single images (or the annoyingly popular GIF) with snappy captions, but I'm hoping it works for other media, too. I've decided to try using it in my Rhetoric of Everyday Texts class this semester at Michigan Tech. The goal of the class is to help students understand rhetoric as both an art of production and as an art of interpretation--and to help them see rhetoric at work in their daily lives. To help them pay attention to rhetoric all around them, I'm asking each student in class to contribute and tag media "specimens" (embedded videos, links, etc.) that represent rhetorical principles and concepts in action. It's like a butterfly collection for rhetoric, only in Tumblr instead of a dusty glass case. (Happily, I didn't intend to measure engagement with this particular assignment, which sounds like a chore from Jarah's account.) I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I'd love to hear other thoughts on Tumblr.

Lauren

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I've never used it in a class, but I use it to house all of the submissions for the classes I've been taking online (Example for ds106).

I love 3 things about tumblr:

1. The "ask" system. By allowing students to "ask" each other questions, it provides them with student-generated writing prompts that show the interaction between students. This is better than a forum because it's more personal: classmates are asking *each other* questions.

2. The reblogging system: When a blog entry is reblogged, a comment on any copy of the reblog will appear on ALL copies of the reblog. This way, the discussion isn't stratified across tumblr.

3. The dashboard - if students are following each other, all of the material is easily available in one place. This allows the material to come to them rather than having to visit everyone else's blogs one at a time. That gets really tiring in larger classes. Wordpress sites feel very sectioned-off to me, and tumblr feels like a community, which is the way a class should be.

I think that so-called "ask-blogs" really represent the interactive nature of blogging on tumblr - my favorite example is the always adorable AskMLCBlobs (not by me). Like an interactive story book, the audience asks questions and the author/artist responds, exposing more of the story.

Answering this between classes, so might be a bit hard to read. Happy to follow up if you like. :)

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I haven't taught with Tumblr myself, but I set up a Tumblr for students taking the second half of our campus' required Humanities sequence as a summer course at Walden Pond. So far, two summers' worth of students have used it to share their thoughts about the course itself and the works on the syllabus, and to document their experience living in Concord and visiting historic places connected with Thoreau and nineteenth-century America.

If you go to it at http://humanitiesatwalden.tumblr.com you'll see a lot of text in the most recent posts, but if you page back through the blog, you'll find that the students have done some nice stuff with photos and the occasional video.

They needed virtually no hand-holding. Another advantage: the iPhone app makes it easy to take photos and post them on the go.

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Alice Marwick just today released her a syllabus she taught last semester on social media, and it has a fairly in-depth explanation of how the class used Tumblr. You can check it out at http://socialmedia3307.tumblr.com/syllabus. She does note, however, that she ran into a number of problems using the site, so I'd probably just test it out before your semester begins to make sure it fits for you.

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This is all great! I'd like to use a Tumblr for a new class I'm teaching. However it is 39 students. I'm worried this will prove to be unwieldly, especially with how easy it is to reblog, etc. ALthough Tumblr seems more suited that Wordpress for the course, which is on "bodies and spaces". There is so much on Tumblr around issues of oppression and exclusion it seems fitting but 39 students...

Every course Tumblr I've seen seems to be under 20 students.

What are some of your class sizes?

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As a student, I have used tumblr for many different projects and they have all been really effective in getting my point across. It's a really flexible platform that allows you to access direct HTML if you're interested in that, but it also has a bunch of great themes that are easy to use and configure, and uploading content is really easy.

It's also incredibly versatile in what you can use it to present: I've used it for photography projects, archive creation, web development, and in the most recent case as a way to formally present data findings:

http://urbanperception242.tumblr.com/

I think it's a really intuitive way to get students' content online

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