NOTES ON “Moving to the Public: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom”

NOTES FROM Moving to the Public: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom (by Charles Lowe, from Purdue, and Terra Williams, from Arizona State):

Lowe and Williams do a good job of bringing out the main advantage of blogs in teaching writing: blogs supply a real audience to student writers.

They review the importance of writers becoming more “rhetorically sensitive” by connecting to the “valuable public” — something already valuable in nonacademic writing… the need for students to go public, to receive feedback… so as to de-emphasize teacher authority and encourage students’ skills and confidence and to help them see writing a social activity (much of this from Bruffee).

Blackboard and WebCT emphasize content delivery and administrative functions, are limited to the members of the class, and don’t participate in the wider web public.

Past attempts to create an artificial audience always fail more or less. The student always knows that the real audience is the instructor.

Problems with having students make their own webpages: a) more complicated software, b) teachers have to serve as technical support and “techno-rhetoricians” (e.g., using graphics, layout — visual rhetoric), c) webpages are usually static html, little or no opportunity for response from an audience, and d) students sometimes get carried away with “eye candy” — images, fancy layouts, Macromedia Flash, etc.

Lowe and Williams then spend some time discussing the issues of private versus public writing. They seem to be admitting that blogs present a lot of ramifications re the best way to bring out writers, the best way to provide them with a safe place for risk-taking and with a chance to use writing to “compose their lives.” Lowe and Williams seem to want to say that maybe students can use social writing just as well as private writing to compose their lives: “Isn’t it possible that the paradoxical situation of creating a risk-free space in which to enable risk-taking has lead compositionists to forget a primary purpose of privacy, which is to provide a comfortable writing space, comfort which can also come from community.”

Another point that hit home with me — that shyer students, the ones who may not speak up much in class, will often participate a lot more in blog discussions. YES!

I like this quote (that they quoted) from Mark Federman: “Unlike normal conversation that is essentially private but interactive, and unlike broadcast that is inherently not interactive but public, blogging is interactive, public, and, of course, networked — that is to say, interconnected.”

They continue with lists of specific ways blogs help student writers (reducing anxiety, etc). While pointing out how it provides real audience, they point out that Peter Elbow himself came up with freewriting as a way to avoid anxiety. Private writing became the next way to create an anxiety-free writing space. Now “public writing through weblogging can do the same.”

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