Class Participation and Course Blogs

This fall marks the second time that I’ve taught my library’s three-credit course, LIB 1015: Information Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities (my course website). I’ve been struggling this semester with how to draw out the students who never raise their hands in class to participate in any class discussions or to ask a question. Classroom participation is a big part of each student’s grade (25 percent), as my class has daily hands-on activities that are intended to create discussion as well as practice in key abilities and strategies connected to ACRL’s information literacy standards and to the overall learning goals for the class.

I’ve had a course blog for the first time this semester and haven’t been quite sure how I want to use it. Now I’m beginning to think that maybe I can offer my students a blogging option for participation. I might tell them that if they are not ready to speak up in class, they can still get credit for participation by posting to the blog or commenting on someone else’s post. I suspect that some people who might have really great things to ask about or comment on in class might be shy; offering them an option to contribute on the blog might give them a space where they feel more comfortable expressing themselves. I should note that I was inspired to think of my course blog this way after reading Erica Kaufman’s post, “The Anxiety of Print This Out” on the cac.aphony blog which talks about times when student writing on blog posts is better than the papers that they turn in.

Teaching Students How to Read for Class

Last spring, when I taught LIB 1015 Information Research for Social Sciences and Humanities, I realized that many of my students weren’t exactly knocking themselves out trying to do the reading I had assigned. When they did do the reading, it seemed as though they hadn’t read it very closely. This fall, I’ll be teaching the course again with a class made up entirely of first-year students. I am thinking about spending some time giving my students ideas about how to read an article in a way that helps them recognize the main points of the article and helps them process and retain what they’ve read.

At the moment, this not-even-half-baked idea looks like this:

  1. Give them a paper copy of an article to read
  2. Require them to come to the next class with the following: an outline they’ve made of the article (paragraph by paragraph), a list of all new words and phrases in they found in the article, a list of all persons named in the article (such as a researcher who is referenced).
  3. Launch into a class discussion of the article and hope that the conversation is deeper than it might have been without this effort.
  4. The next time there is a reading, just require an outline from them.

I’m not sure if I’ll require an outline for all assigned readings or not. Although I want my class to be able to respond intelligently and thoughtfully to discussions of readings, my class is not intended to be a seminar. Instead, I like to run my class more like a laboratory where students engage in hands-on activities to learn about how to do research; the readings are meant more to provide some foundation to the activities we do.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that this experiment will be worth the trouble.