On blogging in English 203

Students in my English 203 (Hamlet in the Humanities Lab) seminar this term will each publish five blog posts in March 2012 (see schedule) to the course blog. These posts, and the comments they will write on each other’s posts, count for 35% of their 50% Team Projects. Add that to the 30% Final Paper they’ll write as much longer posts, and clearly some guidelines and grading rubrics are in order, both for blog posts and for comments.

That’s the goal of this post, so I’ll now outline how to do well on these assignments in this course — and switch from ‘they’ (readers) to addressing ‘you’ (students) directly. I’ll stick to the Team Projects for now. 

Writing this guide has led me to revisit some of the best blog posts in the field of digital humanities (DH) research, in order to describe what’s so effective about them. They can serve as models for you in this course, but remember that your posts will be far shorter than these examples. Use them for provocative insights and quotations — always providing links — just as you would use a scholarly book or a journal article on Shakespeare in an essay for a first-year Shakespeare course.

I’ll reserve that discussion for a separate post, on why the DH field has embraced digital publishing (blogs, Twitter, e-books), for reasons that go beyond their digital media. It has something to do with the collaborative, open-source, and rapidly evolving nature of research in this field. But to the matter at hand:

Guidelines for All Posts

By this point in the term, all members of the class have set up an account on ucalgaryblogs.ca, and each member’s account has been linked to the English 203 blog. This is where you will post your findings, procedures, and questions — and collaborate with your colleagues in the comment fields. (More on comments below.)

There is a very good training video on YouTube on posting to WordPress, the platform that UCalgary blogs uses. It also gives you an overview of the Dashboard menu.

The length of each post should be at least 500 words. Longer is fine, but don’t ramble.

The timing of your posts is up to you, but the deadline is midnight on each of the five days in the course schedule.

The language of your posts can be informal, yet they should follow the rules of English grammar and punctuation. (I have a whole section of my Effective Critical Writing guide on correct English.) Write as if you are speaking to a crowd, so it’s more formal than you would speak to a friend. “In any case, strive for thoughtfulness and nuance” (says Mark Sample).

As you’re speaking, you’re consulting a list of well-ordered bullet points. The structure of your posts can be informal, too, but there must be a progression or narrative: from problem to solution, or from initial questions to more complicated ones. For instance, you don’t need to begin with a formal introduction, “In this blog post I will argue…”. But you do need to say, somewhere near the beginning, what your motivation is for writing it. What payoff will your readers get from reading this post? Then at the end, say a few words about what this post has helped you resolve or clarify, and what your next steps are.

You should always write your posts in a word processor and save them to your hard disk before pasting them to the blog. If any alterations or errors occur, these documents will serve as proof of your original writing.

You will also need to add:

Links and Visuals

Links are an essential part of an effective post. You’re always working and thinking and writing in tandem with others, no matter what kind of research you’re engaged in. Links just make these connections explicit, and make your thinking more open-source. That means your readers can easily check the sources you’re citing — building on, agreeing or disagreeing with, or whatever. Link to anything and everything that’s influenced your thinking. Here are some categories to consider:

  • other blog posts, either on our blog or elsewhere
  • Wikipedia or other information sources (yes, even SparkNotes: don’t be shy)
  • forums you’re consulting
  • tweets to which you’re reacting
  • videos you’re watching
  • text sources you’re using

Screenshots are another essential addition to any post, because these visuals show readers exactly what you are talking about: tables, graphs, word clouds, word trees, XML code. It’s kind of like a Kijiji ad: it’s easier to interest readers in a thing they can see for themselves.

Here is a screenshot of the Wikipedia page about screenshots:

Notice how clicking on this thumbnail brings up the full-size image in your browser.

How did I insert it in WordPress, the blog writing platform that UCalgaryblogs is using? I’m glad you asked! So now I can demonstrate how useful screenshots are for explaining things.

[1] First I began writing a post:

[2] Then I captured the image using the instructions on the Wikipedia page. These will be different depending on your operating system. (In Mac, I use the keyboard shortcut command-shift-4.)

[3] On a new line in the post, I clicked on that little picture icon next to Upload/Insert. See here:

You can also upload other kinds of media files. You can ignore them for now. (If you’d like to upload these files, go ahead — anything that clarifies or augments your post is fair game.)

[4] Then I clicked the Select Files button in the pop-up window. If you’re not getting this window, you need to use a different browser. (I’m using Chrome.)

[5] I find it simplifies things to upload files and insert them immediately. So after my file has uploaded, I scroll to the bottom of that pop-up window and select the Alignment > None and Size > Medium radio buttons, like so:

You can play around with these settings, but those are the two I like. Other alignments will insert the image into the middle of your paragraph, and other sizes just seem too large.

[6] Then click Insert into Post, and you’re done. To see what it will look like without committing to publish the post, click Preview in the Publish box to the right:

 

You can take pictures of any window, or even (as I’ve shown here) of selections from within a window. The Wikipedia page has detailed instructions.

So now that you’re ready to begin writing, and adding links and media, let’s turn to the:

Guidelines for Phase 1

In Phase 1 of your Team Project, you will each write two individual posts on your experience with your team’s text-analysis tool (WordHoard, TAPoR, WordSeer, Voyeur, or Monk). These two posts should have some kind of relationship, where the second builds on the first. For instance, you could write a two-part investigation of your tool, or identify a set of questions in the first post that you answer in the second one.

Here are some more detailed guidelines, including topics you should write about:

The first post should focus on your initial queries and/or results with the tool. Address one or more of these questions:

  • How have you learned to work with your tool since the workshops? What’s the relationship between workshops and your individual use of the tool?
  • How have you used your tool to study Hamlet, 3.4?
  • What does your tool do? What are its limitations?
  • What texts have you begun analyzing with your tool? How did you get it into the tool? How will these help you study Hamlet, 3.4?
  • Another topic approved by me.

The second post should be moving toward your team’s oral presentation, which will “explain how your tool helped you to analyze 3.4, and led to new understandings” (from the Team Project description). Address one or more of these questions:

  • How has your learning progressed since the first post?
  • Describe your process. Did you begin with questions and answer them? Did you begin by “screwing around” (that’s the technical term) to see what would happen? Do you have more questions now than you began with? How are they different questions?
  • What kind of analysis of the scene does your tool enable? Give examples.
  • How have you individually contributed to your team’s analysis of Hamlet, 3.4? How are you working together? What aspects of teamwork be improved in Phase 2?
  • How have other students’ posts provoked or answered your own questions? Have any raised issues you hadn’t considered? (Don’t forget links.) You could also rework their ideas, or respectfully disagree.
  • Another topic approved by me.
Before clicking Publish, be sure to categorize your post with one of the five tool names: WordHoard, TAPoR, WordSeer, Voyeur, or Monk. Like so:

Categorization allows me to read and (more importantly) to grade your posts. If you fail to categorize your post correctly, it will not appear on the category pages, so it will be ignored.

Guidelines for Phase 2

Posts in Phase 2 shift from description to argument, from getting familiar with your tool to using it to create new knowledge.

In Phase 2, each of you are your team’s expert in the tool you learned and wrote about in Phase 1. Your third, fourth, and fifth posts will reflect this, and will clearly build on each other. They will focus on your tool and how it analyzes your team’s act of Hamlet. All three posts will extend your exploration of the text with new questions, with new components and/or visualizations of the text, and a deeper engagement with the new research methods that text analysis enables. Finally, you will work with your teammates to find the most interesting and effective ways to combine these tools. Your posts will link to their posts, and respond substantively to them.

Here are some suggested arguments for your posts in Phase 2:

  • how a visualization, table, graph, or other rendering of the text provoked new knowledge
  • how the capabilities of your tool compare to other tools’ capabilities
  • how a post by any other student in the class (e.g. one of your teammates from Phase 1) made you think differently
  • how your tool is answering certain questions about the text, and provoking new ones
  • how using your tool compares to your interpretation(s) when reading the text

All posts in Phase 2 must be categorized with both the name of your tool (WordSeer, Voyeur, “¦) and the act you are analyzing (Act I, Act II, “¦).

Categorization is essential, both because it allow me to grade your posts, and because it allows your peers to see how you are analyzing the same act using each of the five tools. The Phase 1 category pages will continue to exist as spaces where the original group members can talk to one another about their respective acts and the problems they are encountering. To view all the posts in a particular category (e.g. Monk), find a post in that category and click on the category name.

The result will be a collaborative, multi-faceted study of Hamlet, with each act analyzed by five separate tools and each tool having analyzed the five separate acts.

Rubric for Blog Posts (Phases 1 and 2)

This is the rubric I will use to grade each of your five blog posts, expanding a similar one by Mark Sample.

Here’s how it works. Each of your posts will get a grade from 0 to 5%. I’ll then add up these grades to give you a grade of 10% in Phase 1 (based on 2 posts), and 15% in Phase 2 (based on 3 posts).

There are different characteristics for Phases 1 and 2:

Characteristics (Phase 1) Grade (0-5) Characteristics (Phase 2)
Excellent. The post’s descriptions of your learning experience and progress are perceptive and engaging. It demonstrates awareness of its own limitations or implications, and it considers multiple perspectives when appropriate. It is focused and coherently integrates links and screenshots with your explanations. The relationship between your two posts is clear, or will be. 5% Excellent. The post makes original and insightful arguments about the new research methods that text analysis enables. It reveals that you are collaborating with your teammates and thinking comparatively about the five tools. It demonstrates awareness of its own limitations or implications, and it considers multiple perspectives when appropriate. It is focused and coherently integrates links and screenshots with your analysis. The relationship between your three posts is clear, or will be.
Very Good. The post describes your learning experience and process well. Links and screenshots clarify your description and reveal your sources or prompts effectively. There is a clear motive at the beginning, and a clear payoff at the end. 4% Very Good. The post is creating new knowledge, and basing its arguments on solid evidence. Links and screenshots clarify your argument and reveal your sources or prompts effectively. There is a clear motive at the beginning, and a clear payoff at the end.
Satisfactory. The post is reasonably focused, and your descriptions and explanations are mostly based on examples or other evidence. Too few connections are made between ideas. Links and screenshots feel unnecessary. 3% Satisfactory. The post offers some new insights, but doesn’t develop them into an argument. It is reasonably focused, and your argument is mostly based on examples or other evidence. Too few connections are made between ideas. Links and screenshots feel unnecessary.
Underdeveloped. The post does not answer any of the proposed questions, and reflects a limited engagement with the topic. 2% Underdeveloped. The post is mostly description or summary, without consideration of alternative perspectives, and few connections are made between ideas. The post reflects a limited engagement with the topic.
Limited. The post is unfocused, or simply rehashes previous posts or comments, and displays no evidence of your engagement with the tool and the goals of Phase 1. 1% Limited. The post is unfocused, or simply rehashes previous posts or comments, and displays no evidence of your engagement with the tool and the goals of Phase 2.
No Credit. The post is missing or consists of one or two disconnected sentences. 0 No Credit. The post is missing or consists of one or two disconnected sentences.

These numbers assume that you have posted all five posts by the deadlines in the course schedule. Late penalties are 0.5% per post, per day. You will get one free extension on any one post of one day without penalty.

You can write extra posts in either phase to improve your grade; just send me a note before the end of the course (Friday 13 April) to let me know you’d like me to grade them. I’ll average those grades (depending on their posted date) into your grades for either phase.

Rubric for Comments in Phases 1 and 2

Commenting is the only way to earn your 10% participation grade in the course. You are required to post ten comments on ten different blog posts by other students in the course: at least four comments on four different posts in Phase 1, and six comments on six different posts in Phase 2.

To comment on a post, click on the Reply or number circle to the right of the post title, or on “Leave a reply” at the end of the post. You must be logged in.

For the full 10%, all of your comments will show that you are engaging with your colleagues’ ideas:

  • answering questions,
  • raising new questions,
  • comparing tools,
  • asking for clarification,
  • posting links,
  • offering alternate ways to solve a problem or different ways of thinking about a problem,
  • and showing that you have read their post(s) thoughtfully and comparatively.

The length of your comments is up to you, but make them each long enough to do one or two of these things.

The Golden Rule very much applies here. Post anything that is constructive and helpful. Offer the kind of feedback you’d like others to give you, and show their ideas and efforts the respect you’d like others to show yours.

Here’s how my grading works. At the end of the course, I will re-read all of your comments and grade them in the aggregate. I am grading both for quality as for quantity, as my rubric suggests:

Grade (0-10) Characteristics 
9-10% Excellent. 10 or more substantive comments that engage with your colleagues’ ideas and follow the golden rule. (See above for details.) Many offer links and write at length. All meet the assignment’s stated requirements.
7-8% Very Good. 10 or more substantive comments, many of which demonstrate your engagement with and respect for your colleagues’ ideas. All meet the assignment’s stated requirements.
5-6% Satisfactory. 10 comments, but only a few that meet the assignment’s stated requirements.
3-4% Underdeveloped. 10 or fewer comments, and few that meet the assignment’s stated requirements.
1-2% Limited. Less than 10 comments, none of which meet the assignment’s stated requirements.
0 No Credit. No comments posted.

These numbers assume that you have posted four comments on four different posts in Phase 1, and six comments on six different posts in Phase 2, as required. For the purposes of this assignment, and for timely comments, Phase 1 is from Friday, March 2nd to Friday, March 9th; and Phase 2 is from Friday, March 16th to Wednesday, March 28th. The late penalty for comments posted after these dates is 0.25% per day until the date when you complete the assignment’s stated requirements. The cut-off is Wednesday, April 4th.

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