I have been using blogs and discussion boards in my courses for as long as I have been teaching. Depending on the course, students are required to post to a class blog either once a week or before every class session. At times I will ask the students to respond to specific prompts, at times I will ask the students to post their own comments and questions about assigned readings, and occasionally I will ask students to post initial ideas or outlines for their more formal written assignments. Frequently I require the students to comment upon each other's posts. The students' blogs then become a central element of each class session. I'm confident I don't need to give a rationale to the HASTAC community for why this is a sound pedagogical practice, so I'll skip that altogether and jump straight to the point.
I had been wanting to more seamlessly integrate my students' short response essays (i.e. blogs) into the other forms of assessment I use in my courses. I mostly teach upper-division culture and literature courses on Latin America, and the prevailing wisdom in my field is that a term paper is the gold standard for end-of-semester evaluation. I toyed around with the idea of creating a specific assignment sequence of blog posts that would lead to a final research paper; that was successful, but I wanted to go further.
In my most recent seminar on rewriting the conquest of the Americas in contemporary genre fiction (science fiction, detective novels, conspiracy theories, etc.), I took full advantage of the experimental nature of the course content to also experiment with a new final assessment. Instead of a final research paper, the students had to select five of their blogs from the semester to revise into short essays. Here is the assignment in full:
Choose five of the texts we have studied this semester (including plastic works, performances, and films); for each text, write a short analysis (500-600 words) commenting the most significant elements of the text. Do not write any fluff or filler; the professor will be your reader, so you do not need to introduce the texts or summarize the plot. You do not need to consult outside sources, but you are required to support your interpretations with textual evidence. You are encouraged to develop and expand your original blog postings on these texts, but if your interpretation has changed significantly, you are welcome to completely revise your position. In any case, please include the corresponding blog posts when you submit your final exam.
I also gave the students the option to write a traditional research paper instead of the "short answer" option. Only one student wrote the traditional research paper, although I had to repeatedly assure a few other students they were not "taking the easy way out" by selecting the short answer option (whatever that meant...).
The experiment was a smashing success, at least in my own opinion. For my colleagues who feel uncomfortable with an upper-division seminar that does not culminate in a 15-page research paper, I respond: the students will get that experience when they take you class next term.
I was able to teach revision in a way that is much closer to the kind of writing students may be doing outside of class. For at least one student, the very concept of *revising* a blog post was in itself a revelation. We did an in-class guided peer review session the last week of the course; this helped many students, especially since I focused the peer review on identifying textual evidence (or lack thereof) in support of their analytical/interpretive claims.
I will be making one change in the future: I will add a mid-term exam where the students will revise one of their early blogs into a short essay, essentially reproducing the conditions of the final exam on a smaller scale. This will serve as a trial run for the students and allow them to get feedback on the revision portion of the assignment before the end of the semester.