On July 2010, I embarked on a writing project with my former teaching assistant (and favorite colleague) Kandace Creel Falcón. We decided to experiment with a new way of writing and collaborating through a combination of weekly in-person meetings and frequent posts and comments on a blog. We called the experiment a diablog.
The project was successful. It was fun, stimulating, inspiring, transformative, and productive. By the end of August, we had finished a draft of our writing project (a book chapter), posted dozens of entries on our ideas about pedagogy, developed a site that not only documented our writing but was a resource for others as they experimented with blogging while teaching, and teaching while blogging, and created a new approach to collaborating and cultivating community.
I was so inspired by our experiment that I decided to modify it for my classes. In my fall 2010 class, Queering Desire, I replaced my typical “group presentation” assignment with a diablog. I had frequently assigned group presentations in my classes, and although they were sometimes effective, enabling students to work together and be responsible for teaching the class for part of one session, they were never that effective. And occasionally, they were disastrous.
Take for example the upper level feminist history course that I taught that contained a challenging mixture of students: introductory students, with very little knowledge of feminist methods, theories, and histories, who gave presentations that, at best, reflected their struggles with uncomfortable ideas that were new to them and, at worst, demonstrated their lack of effort in attempting to process and incorporate those ideas, combined with advanced students who were impatient with the beginning students’ lack of knowledge and effort and furious with their highly problematic—uncritical and sometimes unwittingly offensive—claims. This challenging mix was further exacerbated by my own resistance to calling out and shutting down students who were unprepared and unthinking in their presentations. I struggled with disciplining students publicly or managing confrontations in class. I’ve always taken a more subtle approach to challenging students and encouraging them to transform their perspectives.
After my uneven results with them, I hoped that replying the group presentation with a diablog in Queering Desire could transform how group assignments worked. In a blog post for It’s Diablogical that I wrote towards the end of that semester, I offered three reasons why I created the diablog assignment.
First, to make visible the process of thinking through a reading. Inspired by It’s Diablogical, I wanted to experiment with how students can make visible their process of thinking/working through difficult texts. I imagined that this visibility might not only enable the diabloging students to “expose” or reveal their own ways of reading and knowing, but it could also give other students more models for how to engage.
Second, to make visible the process of doing a group project. I frequently assign group projects. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. A few consistent problems include: a. one student doing all of the work, b. each student doing their own work but never talking or planning with each other, c. no planning or strategic thinking through how to develop presentation. I imagined that this online diablog, and the ways in which it makes the planning process visible, might require students to be accountable for their project and presentation. Since all (well, at least most) of the work is posted on the blog or on twitter, you can clearly see who is engaging and who isn’t.
Third, to develop a way for students to engage in group projects with their busy and complicated schedules. One reason that group projects often fail is because students don’t have the time to get together. It can be very difficult for all of them to physically meet to discuss the readings or plan the assignment. With an online diablog, they can engage when they have time and from wherever they are (as long as they have access to a smartphone or computer).
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