Last year, I started conducting an experiment in my classes. For the class assignment, I asked my students to write a blog post that they would need to share among all class mates. Also, I insisted that the blog post be visible to anyone on the internet.
Here’s why I did that:
Address fear of rejection
Whenever I deliver a talk, conduct training or teach a class, I ask how many people blog. I still continue to be unsurprised by disappointingly low numbers in the ballpark of 1-5% – despite geography, industries or experience levels. Having been a blogger myself for close to a decade now, I recognise that apart from lack of blogging skills and an interest in sharing ideas and knowledge, there is another deeper fear at work here – the eternal fear of rejection. What if people don’t like what I write? What if they reject me and leave nasty comments? Would I make a fool of myself among my friends and family? and so on.
Left to themselves, I haven’t seen most people conquering this fear. So, I literally push them out of their comfort zones and make them stand on a tin roof in the hot sun. By ‘forcing’ them to write a blog that they must share with their batchmates, I create a reasonably high challenge for them that they must conquer. First they must read up stuff so that they can put together something that they feel reasonably comfortable (if not massively proud of!) sharing with their cohorts. Secondly, most have no idea where to blog (I can often see that people go and create blog accounts because my class assignment is almost often the only blog entry they have!). Then they have no idea how to actually write a blog post (not that there is some single right way to do it, but how to go about organizing their ideas and thoughts in a concise and interesting way). So, they go and learn looking at other blogs. Finally when they share it with friends, they are working in a group that is all undergoing similar challenge – so it doesn’t matter much that I might make a fool of myself. In fact, from what I have seen so far, if anything, students want to shine in front of their class, and often write pretty good blog post (definitely a pretty one for a first-timer).
Auto-filter against plagiarism
A teacher’s worst nightmare is plagiarism. Actually it is not a nightmare that much because you must already factor that in. With internet at your beck and call, you shouldn’t be surprised if students copy from other source on the net. However, I tell students that I want them to write a blog post that shows up when people google for them. Surely, most of us won’t want a dumb looking or a plagiarised blog post to show up on that search! I haven’t asked them yet to write on LinkedIn and link it to their profile, but that’s worth considering :).
So, making them write a public blog post that they must share with the class helps build an auto-filter against such blatant plagiarism. Of course, I don’t try to fight off negative behavior with negative rewards. I try to give them an opportunity to build a positive artefact that they could be proud of, and might want to ‘show off’ to their friends, and who knows – the kudos they get might just be the right trigger that helps them discover the writer inside them!
Learn from each other
Most learning experiences are dependent on teacher’s knowledge and facilitation skills and an individual student’s interest and ability to grasp as much as possible from them. In case of assignments, students don’t share them with each other much because they don’t want to lose the ‘edge’ lest others copy them. By asking students to share the blog post among them, I open them up for learning from each other – they might find someone’s content very rich, or someone’s style of explanation very helpful, or someone’s usage of examples very creative, and so on. I have often seen students hi-fiving each other on each other’s blog posts, which is also a great way to convert peer pressure into peer respect.
In addition to learning in the process of writing a blog post (which aids the learning process by itself due to the simple act of writing down your thoughts), learning from each other is also a great way to not only reinforce that knowledge, but in order to outshine other students, I have seen many students go out on the net and find some hitherto unknown sources of knowledge and ideas and refer them or build up on them. As a teacher I have no shame in admitting that sometimes that is new to me, and I too end up learning something new and valuable in that process!
Is it all hunky-dory?
Of course, I offer no resistance (and any hope) to people who wilfully want to shortchange themselves! But my students are all working professionals who have decided to get back into college to enhance their learning. No one asked them to do that. Most of them are paying full or a large part of fees from their pockets. More than money, they are taking away serious amount of time (from work and from family) and putting in serious efforts to acquire knowledge and capability that they believe will give them an edge in the coming years. No doubt their diploma will figure high on their resumes, but I doubt that will get them a promotion or a new job if they are not otherwise ready for it. To that end, we are only playing a role in helping them reach where they have decided to take their journey.
They can always disregard all that I have mentioned above, and quite possible some of them do. But my overall experiences have been good enough to continue this experiment.
After all, a teacher’s job is not to just teach them subject. It is to facilitate the process of self-learning.