The Less Than Definitive Guide to Grading Student Blogs

Using Blogs in the Classroom

At the behest of my fiancee (who happens to be a superb part-time professor at Grand Valley State University), I’m writing this post about using blogging as an important part of the educational process.

It should also be noted that this post is directly relevant to those outside education as well: every organization should be encouraging employees to blog about work-related content.  Not personal gripes or gossip – but about their day-to-day struggles and triumphs, or about their trade/craft/field.  Social media engagement is the modern equivalent to networking in trade groups or local business associations.

Why Would I Want to Engage in This Sisyphean Undertaking?

There are any number of reasons why blogging is a great component to add to virtually any course, no matter what grade level one is teaching:

  1. It’s the New Paradigm:  It’s actually irresponsible for educators not to help students become familiar with modes of expression like blogging; publishing online is now the dominant way ideas and information are published.  Not teaching blogging is the equivalent of a 15th-century teacher having students write on cuneiform tablets instead of learning a printing press.  I’m not being hyperbolic either; that’s how revolutionary social media is in the pantheon of human communication.
  2. It’s Familiar to Students: As one might expect, the students entering school now have grown up on social media.  They don’t know it, but they’ve actually got a lot more writing experience than classes of decades past because of what they’re sharing on Facebook or Tweeting, and some research is beginning to show that they’re more sophisticated communicators as a result.  Being a good educator is about making important concepts relevant to students so that they’re willing and able to assimilate them.  Using the same communications platforms that students are is an important step.
  3. It can Make Assignments Seem Easier:  Perception is reality, and when students see that they have to write a 2,000-word paper, it’s daunting.  Writing ten 200-word blog posts isn’t.  Hacking perceptions to help make work easier is an amazing courtesy to afford students.
  4. It can make your job easier: Rather than carting around the equivalent of six reams of copy paper, you can check in whenever you have time.  Frequent, periodic grading is far superior to the usual: walling ourselves into a room to grade towering stacks of assignments for hours at a stretch.

Where Should the Blogging Take Place?

This a more complicated question than it seems at first glance.  The basic choice that it comes down to is what’s easiest for you vs. what is most engaging for them.

For example, it may be easiest for you to grade student blogs that are built into the course content management system (like  Blackboard or Banner) your institution uses, or to use a platform offered by a textbook manufacturer (as the system is native, keeping track of new submissions and grading them is much faster).  You also avoid any issues of compliance with your institution because the system is within its control (think the Missouri ban on teachers interacting privately with students online).  The problem is, however, these blog services usually suck ass; they’re clunky to use and don’t offer much in the way of features.

The alternative – allowing students to choose their own blogging platform – may result in more engagement and higher quality work because it allows students to choose what is right for them and gives them opportunities to really push their creativity in publishing content online.  Freed from limits imposed by a CMS, they may begin incorporating multimedia content, using images more freely, and generally devoting more time to their work.  The problem is, of course, keeping track of and grading these blogs.

How do I Keep Track of Student Blogs?

Fortunately, the infrastructure of social media makes this relatively easy no matter what direction you take on where students publish their work.

If you use a course content system (ala Blackboard) everything is together in one place and synced with the gradebook.

If you don’t use a course content system, here are some tips to make the process easier:

  • Use an RSS Feed Reader to Track the Blogs:  Virtually all blogging platforms publish RSS feeds and you can use these to track all of your students’ blogs in one place with ease.  They’ll be time/date-stamped so you can monitor completion, and you’ll be instantly notified of new content (or revisions).  In most cases you can also subscribe to comments on those blogs – so if that sort of interaction is a component of the assignment, you can monitor that easily as well.  [Tip: my perennial favorite RSS reader is Google Reader.]
  • Stick to Public Blogging Platforms:  Don’t post comments/grades on your students blogs; instead email grades or hand them out in class.  This will help keep you in compliance not only with FERPA, but also your organization’s standards for educators interacting with students (in the event that they’re strict).  Publishing a blog is a voluntary public act by a student – so it’s perfectly legal for a faculty member to view that publicly-available content with no legal repercussions.
  • Avoid Facebook: For starters, “Facebook Notes” is a terrible blogging platform features-wise.  Another problem of Facebook is that it can create compliance problems if your organization has strict guidelines for contact with students via social media.  Also, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure there’s no easy way to export Facebook Notes: Zuck has your content and he’s keeping it.

What Should I use Blogging for in the Classroom?

The quick answer is “everything.”  Here are just some of the ways you can use blogs to replace traditional assignments.

  1. Make Work Bite-Sized: Given the diminishing attention spans of most students, why not break a long writing assignment into several manageable chunks (or at least offer students the OPTION to do this)?
  2. Get Them Out Into the World: Interacting with the rest of the world is an important skill to reinforce in any classroom no matter what the subject.  Have students write replies to blog posts written by other authors – and make sure they link back to (and source) the original post; that way the author they’re replying to can be alerted of the trackback and potentially create an organic dialog.
  3. Broaden Their Media Horizons: There are so many amazing tools for creating interactive multimedia presentations that everyone needs to learn how to use.  Blogging creates an opportunity for them to practice new media creation beyond the usual (and dreaded) PowerPoint slideshows.
  4. Help Them Create an Identity / Portfolio: Important to any aspiring professional is creating an identity to which one’s work can be attributed.  Anything online is indexable and searchable by prospective university admissions staff or employers.  For most students, educators can do them a huge favor by helping them publish more professional/socially-acceptable content online (to balance out unprofessional/undesirable content).

Hope this helps; if you have any questions or comments – I’m always thirsty for feedback or to share insights.

Up Next:  “The Less Than Definitive Guide to Incorporating Twitter Into the Classroom”

56 thoughts on “The Less Than Definitive Guide to Grading Student Blogs

  1. Rai says:

    This is a great idea! It would definitely be an easy way for both teachers and students to get to know one another on a more personal level, which would end up making the classes more fun to go to.
    I have a professor who requires us to read a blog about theatre and take a quiz on it. Not exactly what you’re envisioning, but better than nothing!


  2. PCC Advantage says:

    Just an absolutely brilliant post! Thank you for sharing your ideas on how to use blogging in the classroom. I work at a private college and we’re always trying to think of more ways to engage the students…this may be a way!

    Thanks again and congrats on being Freshly Pressed! :D


  3. Mikalee Byerman says:

    This is fascinating — especially because I recently got a huge influx of hits to my blog from a San Francisco State University blog. As it turns out, it was a blogging class, and the instructor (whom I don’t know) had instructed her students to read my blog as homework — and post feedback about how my blog might influence their writing style!

    It was great — for me. I got to see for myself unsolicited, impartial feedback about my writing and blog design. AWESOME!

    Before this experience, I don’t think I realized that blogs have found their way into modern education. I used to teach J-School courses at my state university — pre-social-media boom!

    Very interesting post…


  4. deanasobel says:

    Thanks for this excellent post! It’s great to see teachers embracing technology…not only does this prepare students for the job market skill-wise, but it instills a good work ethic. I have several friends who are elementary school teachers and they are beginning to introduce blogging in the classroom. The kids love it! It was really interesting to read how blogging works at the university level.


  5. Sophia Morgan (griffinspen) says:

    Really good post. Lots of schools (at least where I live) incorporate online grading, e-mailing, and private online accounts for whole classes. But I have yet to hear of blogging for school. Still, online assignments and such for schools and universities has come a long way in the past number of years. Thanks for talking about this.


  6. d1esel6 says:

    so i’m a little lost.
    why would (or why should) professors teach blogging?
    it’s a free form type of thing for people to express their opinions or just post random thoughts.
    there’s no format, there’s really nothing to be learned from it… so why would it be taught!? and what exactly would they be teaching!?

    i know i’m a 31 year old student (STILL) and recently i’ve had classes where assignments can be posted to an online site where the teachers can read and grade the papers… but it’s still supposed to be in the MLA format, there are still guidelines… it’s basically the same as writing a paper except you don’t print it.
    additionally, there is a site where teachers can posts topics and students can respond. but that’s still not blogging.

    so why not do THAT instead of blogging, which generally doesn’t call for any type of formatting or anything. and blogging seems so personal i don’t get why companies would want their employees to blog (but have restrictions on what they blog about)… or students.

    that’s like… “oh let’s teach a class in texting” or “i’m enrolling in the facebook status class”.

    blogging is really the online equivalent of having a journal or diary… and schools don’t teach “writing in your journal”.

    so yeah i don’t get why blogging is something that needs to be taught!?
    and i’m still curious on exactly what they would teach in that class.


    1. Sarah says:

      I tend to agree, although I’m not quite as negative about the idea as you are. Blogging probably has a place in the classroom, for the reasons stated above. But, if students have short attention spans, as the writer says, why not help them stretch their abilities? Writing ten 200-word papers is not equal to writing one 2,000-word essay. I’m not saying it’s useless, but the experiences and requirements are not comparable. The last thing we need in this country is to cater to short attention spans! We need people who can devote sustained attention to an idea, argue coherently, persuade through reason, follow a complicated line of thinking. Short papers (or blogs) are OK to get things going, but I sure hope there’s more beyond that!


      1. Derek DeVries says:

        I agree; we should definitely be encouraging longer attention spans and the task of completing a long paper has many differences from the short-form publishing of most blogs. That said, however, blogs are infinitely flexible and could be used as a tool (if structured the right way in an assignment) to assist in the task of crafting a very long, developed paper.


    2. Derek DeVries says:

      I think the main problem is that you’re defining blogging far too narrowly. While random thoughts and opinions make up a lot of blog posts, blogs can be used for myriad other purposes – plenty of scholars publish academic work via blogs (and still more scholars discuss those publications on other blogs). Businesses use blogs to reach customers, employees, or constituents in an easier-to-read (and less expensive) manner than an old-school snail-mail form letter.

      I would say that professors should teach blogging precisely because it’s a free form of expression. As a result, it’s grown dramatically in use. Similarly, so have many other social media platforms. These free forms of human communication are going to become the dominant way in which we engage with each other (if they haven’t already) and they’ll build upon each other to give way to new forms of expression.

      What it’s teaching is preparation for the working world to come (just look at how the traditional publishing industries have been thrown into chaos by the mass migration of reading audiences to the Internet – marketing author Seth Godin has given up on traditional printing because it no longer suits his topic/audience).

      In a general sense, any writing is beneficial (even posting opinions or random thoughts) because it allows us to engage in a cognitive process of contemplating the thoughts in our stream of consciousness which on a neurological level we process the world around us. In a specific sense, blogging can be used to teach virtually anything and is limited only by the creativity of the teacher. There’s no law that says one couldn’t write an academic paper entirely in a blog; in fact, being able to break a long work into individual chunks is one way to make it much more manageable for students.

      Similarly, nothing is stopping any given writer from publishing blog posts in APA or MLA format. The reality, though, is that those tried-and-true formats ultimately have a shelf life and will eventually be retired because they’re not as effective or efficient as, say, notations embedded in a pdf or flash file, or even as useful as a simple hypertext link. Their benefits are tied to writing in print form – and actual print media have been on the decline for a couple of decades now.

      The platforms you’re talking about where teachers can read/grade papers usually exist because they’re bundled with at tool like Turnitin that scans the paper first for plagiarism (against all the content published on the web and a database of papers that the company has on file). There’s no reason those same tools couldn’t be fed an RSS feed or permalink URLs from the blog posts and do the exact same sort of scanning (and in fact, some of those platforms do that). That’s one of the benefits of course management tools that offer blogging services – they can automatically use services like Turnitin to scan the blog posts in real time instead of bothering with a file upload.

      Why not teach a class on texting or crafting Facebook statuses? Those are now the dominant forms of human communication: there are nearly 700,000 Facebook status updates published every sixty seconds, the UN stats from last year show that worldwide 200,000 text messages are sent every second. The more important question is; why do we spend so much time teaching students DYING forms of communication?

      Millions of people earn a living blogging. Millions more accomplish work blogging. Still more millions network and find job opportunities from blogging. I have a full-time job, but if I didn’t – I could use my blog to earn a living because it connects me to so many people and allows me to share my skills with them. I do speaking and training about social media as a side gig, and my social media presences are the sole way I advertise that (in fact I’m being paid to fly to San Francisco in March to do a training session). All because of publishing on social media (like blogs).

      Blogging prepares students for the job market because we’re entering into an era of radical transparency that is becoming a very ruthless meritocracy: because everyone can publish, if you want to be competitive in the job world – you had better be publishing so that prospective employers can find your work and assess it on its merits. I’ve personally sat on hiring teams and rejected candidates based in part on their lack of publishing and/or unimpressive work they’ve published. That’s going to become the norm.

      Thanks so much for your questions!


      1. d1esel6 says:

        thanks for responding to my questions.
        maybe i have a real cynical view on technology and social networking because these days tech stuff advances so quickly. as soon as one semester of “blogging” students is finished… dozens upon hundreds of new methods will pop up.
        that’s why i would prefer the “dying forms of communication” — they’ve had value for hundreds of years (at the very least multiple decades) and just because this blogging thing has become hot in the past three years or so doesn’t mean we should throw those tried and true methods out the window.
        — why not teach texting and facebook statuses!? because they are useless. so what if most of the world utilitzes these options, they don’t add anything to anyones life other than convenience.
        and as far as the millions finding work due to blogging… how!? i’ve been blogging for more than two years steady now and it hasn’t helped me any. if there was a class on how to turn your blog into $$$$ i’d DEFINITLEY take that class.


      2. Derek DeVries says:

        There’s certainly reason to doubt the mythic powers some have given to social media – it’s certainly not a panacea. One of the benefits of participating in it (like blogging) is that it helps build transferable skills (like critical thinking and communication) as well as a familiarity with the mediums so that you can move more easily to the new ones and use them in creative new ways.

        Technically blogging isn’t new (and its heyday was more than three years ago); the term was coined in 1997, and LiveJournal was up and running by 1999. I’ve been blogging in one fashion or another for over a decade; certainly not all blogging efforts lead to a payday. I just like sharing ideas and having discussion (so thank you); it’s only recently that I’ve tried to “monetize” blogging for myself. There are any number of ways to do it; you can look for sponsorship opportunities, you can sell banner ad space, or you can use it as a way to promote yourself (blogging for “free” to advertise a service you provide where you charge).

        Texting and Facebook statuses (and the much-reviled Twitter) are also valuable; it’s all about how you use them. My better half was offered her past two jobs as a direct result of networking with Twitter. The people of several countries in the Middle East and Central Asia just overthrew governments largely as a result of being able to organize with the convenience of Facebook and text messages during the “Arab Spring.”

        In terms of using your particular blog to earn income, you’re at a disadvantage because entertainment industry analysis & reviews is a really saturated area so it’s difficult to break out. One thing you would need to do is differentiate yourself from the crowd (MBA types would call it “identifying your UPI – unique value proposition”). Maybe there’s an underserved segment of the industry that you’re interested in that, if focused on full-time, could establish you as an expert resource. From there it becomes a matter of finding a way to get people to pay you for your services (which can be as simple as embedding Google ads in your profile). A couple of specific suggestions I might make is to look for other social networking platforms where you can cross-post your content – l like reviews on Pitchfork or entertainment industry discussion on GetGlue, Gawker, Digg, or Reddit. Social media is driving people away from searching individual sources for the type of content you’re producing and pushing them toward centralized social networking platforms where it’s easier to find and share content.


  7. Rasta teacher says:

    Thank you for an interesting view of updating education to the 21th century.

    One way to introduce them to blogging is to use it as a part of the education/teaching. I use one blog created for the sole purpose of one Spanish as a foreign language class I teach. Instead of the students arguing about what homework we had or me not writing it on the whiteboard I use the blog. It becomes their responsibility to check it for info and assignments.
    To make it a little more interesting I also ad links to videos, music, online television or newspapers dealing with Spanish speaking countries etc. Every week I also post one or two questions about countries where Spanish is spoken and the students compete who can answer the question fastest. I don´t publish the answers until the end of each week ;-)

    (All students at the Swedish government owned school where I work gets their own computer when school starts – they turn it in before the summer break. This is so that even children who can not afford a computer have access to computers as a learning tool. Free wi-fi is provided at the school. This is where some of the tax I gladly pay goes to)

    Take a look at our Spanish blog if you wish:


    1. Sarah says:

      I wish our educational system would catch up with Sweden’s! Great ideas here, including the one that gets computers into the hands of every student, regardless of ability to pay.


  8. etomczyk says:

    I think this might be a good idea. Anything that encourages the dying art of writing is worth trying (Tweeting and Facebook comments are just vomit — not the meal). Good writing skills could be encouraged and enforced through a project the students know and like. However, utilizing blogging as a course format won’t work unless the teacher sets up guidelines for each blogging unit, depending on what type of writing needs to be learned. In my opinion, it should be judged from that aspect. The blogs that are most interesting to me are the ones with a purpose and a theme. The teacher could structure the blogs to cover humor, angst, family, tragedy, political commentary, etc. My blog is a humorous storyteller blog (if you know the storyies of others, it gives you a greater understanding of their struggles and helpsyou appreciate them). My purpose was to bring joy to readers, while exploring a higher purpose of why we live and breath and have our being. It was also to attract a publisher which forces me to produce something beyond a “stream of conciousness.”


  9. rach says:

    I just started teaching and was intrigued by this post. I just started teaching part time myself and have come to realize that not many students want to create and maintain blogs. According to one of my colleagues, students are the only consumers who want less for their money. I feel like social media and new and emerging technology classes would have students who couldn’t wait to use things like blogs for educational purposes, but my freshman Intro course could really care less. Overall I think blogs are ‘outside of the box’ and education is in a need a huge ‘out side the box’ reform.


    1. Derek DeVries says:

      I totally agree; unfortunately far too many students do want “less for their money” and don’t fully wring every last drop of opportunity from every class they’re in. Social media beyond blogs (particularly Twitter) can be fantastic tools to use in the classroom as well.

      My better half (who I mentioned in the beginning of this post) received several messages from students she taught last year thanking her for introducing them to Twitter (which has become a staple for the public relations profession – which is the subject of her classes). She’s been able to place over a dozen students in internships purely based on networking relationships she’s developed and maintained with Twitter – and one student now has a full-time job (right out of college) as a result of being on Twitter.

      You’re absolutely right – higher ed needs freshening up.


  10. lindseylooo says:

    I love this idea. I’m a college student and would love to see some creative classes geared toward blogging.

    Recently I’ve understood that writing…IN ANY FORM (key words here!) is a good thing. Just write! If you need a blog to do so, do it! Students should learn the very unrestrictive side to writing, just as they learn Grammar and syntax and MLA and such.

    Also, schools DO teach “writing in your journal”.


  11. lyndatoews says:

    I use blogs for all of my English classes in a similar manner as Rasta Teacher above, however, I teach adult basic education students and many of them are not wealthy enough to own computers, so there is mixed participation, and I have to allow for that. I once taught a regular Grade 10 English class to blog in order to produce personal anthologies of poetry. It was a nightmare to grade, so I was really hoping for something a little more “definitive” in terms of the grading of student blogs.

    I am already a convert to blogging as a learning and writing activity. To add to the list above of reasons to get students to blog, I think the main one is motivation. Everybody loves to see themselves published and they are willing to actually write, and pay attention to their writing, in order to do it!


    1. Derek DeVries says:

      I’m completely with you on the barriers that the cost of access to technology creates. In fact; I *just* blogged about the impending crisis with the Post Office and the impact it will have on the Digital Divide.

      Fortunately there are some fantastic developments on the horizon like the laptop rental program Google is working on setting up (and the way they’ve freed up so much valuable software by making it web-based; like the Google Docs suite of products). I’m also heartened that mobile phones have dropped so far in price that sub-Saharan farmers can afford them and use them to get better prices for their crops by texting local markets.


  12. bravebrave says:

    Wow, I wish someone had been this insightful when I was a HS student ten years ago and ACTUALLY blogging. As it is, I find this post really motivating to keep up with a second-stint-through-university blog. This really seems humanities-friendly as opposed to the sciences, unfortunately, but a great idea nonetheless!


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  14. redplace says:

    I am most impressed by this blog! I have always liked the idea of using blogging to help students with their learning. I want to engage students! Not so that they turn their heads away from an assignment and call it gay. Now it’s time for them to enjoy their work, and take pride. Blogging takes a lot of pride in one’s words and voice.

    Thank you for the advice ~


  15. grovesprof says:

    Great post! One suggestion I’d add: Using one centralized blog in class is also useful. I find the idea that peers are reading the work (and may comment on it) helps improve proofreading and overall quality. It also allows the better students to model for those who are struggling.


  16. Dee says:

    This is a really unique and intriguing idea! I never thought of blog forums in this way, and to use as a teaching tool but it makes SENSE! I am being a teaching assistant for the first time this year in my first year in the English Lit MA program at carleton and this makes me think for the future.


  17. bluemoonfarms says:

    I am currently blogging for a ENG 497 class in Shakespeare. Blogging seems a little more informal, so I feel more freedom in the comments and writing that I do. And, using a WordPress platform to write ~1000 words weekly is so much easier than the clunky discussion board built into the university’s proprietary online system that the 100 level students I TA for use.

    I also love that I can share my “school” blog with friends and family. Sometimes getting comments from them is what encourages me to write more.


  18. sheila says:

    21st century literacy in public education is a must if we are going to continue to address the issue of a flat global world. It is without question that the digital natives to our technology are coming into school versed and familar with the world of technology and we would be fools as educators to not view their lived-lives of technology as means of teaching and educating. There is a world of networking that teachers and students can engage in that will certainly forward the education of our children and create a better global participation


  19. luvs2rit says:

    I enjoyed the post and the comments. Although some have difficulty understanding why blogging should be part of the curriculum, I am in favor of meeting students/people where they are. You are teaching in your students’ language. The important part of the class, I’m assuming, is the learning, not the mode of learning. Plus, you are using first-hand experiences in some assignments (read and comment on others’ blogs) as opposed to the thing that all students throughout time have complained about…giving them an assignment that appears to be removed from the real world: “When will I EVER use this??!!”


  20. oumilie says:

    Good post! I am currently studying Journalism and English at University in the UK, so for my course, blogging as become essential, in both finding news to help with articles and allow my own ideas to infiltrate through social media. However, can I ask… who is blogging easier for? Teachers and professors who no longer have to sit and spend hours marking work by hand and carting around endless books and papers or actually for students. I deleted my Facebook for the main reason that it is a social site where people can post whether they are sat on the toilet or miserable at their boyfriends.. For me, Facebook is a waste of time. Blogging, although not a waste of time, I fail to understand why it should be a part of eductaion on a curriculum level. Should it not just be left to the masses interested in putting a bit of themselves out there, rather than force a new life of social media on a new generation that could possibly be saved from the media related, gossip hungry consumerism we find ourselves in now-a-days? What’s wroong with a bit of traditionalism in the classroom?


  21. realanonymousgirl2011 says:

    Great info! Digital media in special regards to online writing whether its ebooks, blogs or forums is whole new medium and the next step into the future of publishing. Students should really be aware of the options available to them since who knows how much longer publishers will be producing books.


  22. Jean Lovett says:

    I am a Library Science student and am working on a group project that evaluates the use of technology in the classroom. We have launched a sample blog as an example of what teachers could do with it. I ran across your article today and it verbalized exactly what we are trying to accomplish in our project. Thank you for putting our thoughts into words so succinctly. I quoted you on a post, because I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
    (hope you don’t mind) is our blog if you want to check it out.


  23. corina says:

    I came across to your blog few months ago and got me inspired into applying this with my high school students. Im a spanish language teacher and I worked as an assistant to this class in Norway. I adapted it to my pupils and it turned out to be a great project for them. they were very keen to take part. I just published my post in spanish translating from your article and commenting under it how it worked in my case. I also added a thank you note linking it to your blog. Thanks again for inspiring and posting about it.


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