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Teaching with Blog Carnivals

posted: 6.19.12 by Traci Gardner

explained blog carnivals last week, but to recap, a blog carnival is a collection of links to blog posts that share some related characteristic. The posts collected in a blog carnival can focus on a similar topic or use the same genre. If you already ask students to read or write blog posts, teaching with blog carnivals seems like the obvious next step. In the writing classroom, blog carnivals can be used to gather readings, as part of research projects, to work on synthesis skills and to build community. With so many benefits, you can see why I’m a proponent of teaching with blog carnivals.

Gathering Readings

A blog carnival is a nice way to collect the material that you want students to read and discuss. It’s a useful tool if you teach with blogs or explore current events, since the format provides a system for sharing readings with your classes.

The process is very easy: gather the blog links you want students to read, and build them into your own blog post, providing details on each of the links. For example, during the term you might create a blog carnival of best student posts to highlight the work of students in your course, past or present. You might even open up the blog carnival to include posts written by anyone at your university or any post written by a college student.

You could also create a blog carnival that focuses on whatever topics the course is exploring. As long as you can find related blog posts on the topic, you can have regular blog carnival readings for the class. Just collect links to the relevant blog posts, add some framing notes on the links, and send the link to your carnival to students. As an example, ProfHacker’s Teaching Carnivals would be a perfect carnival to use in any class on teaching at the college level.

Synthesizing Research

I’m very interested in asking students to create their own blog carnivals. Lots of teachers ask students to respond to blogs by leaving comments. Asking students to create blog carnivals, however, moves their work beyond responding to a single blog post to synthesizing blog posts into something new.

To create their own collections, students gather related blog links and shape them into a carnival post. As they curate and connect the pieces, students must use Internet research tools, analyze online resources, and synthesize the pieces into a unified text. The assignment provides an excellent opportunity for students to strengthen their digital research skills.

Students might build blog carnivals for their independent research projects, on topics the class is exploring as a group, or on issues that they are pursuing in work groups. If groups are exploring different issues, they might collaborate on a group blog carnival, as well.

The frequency of the posts would depend upon your approach. Ideally, I’d like to have at least two or three carnivals posted each week to allow all students a chance to post. The class schedule and the intended readers for the pieces ultimately will influence how things work out, though.

Building Community

Blog carnivals are also a way to build connections among student writers and to extend the writing community beyond the classroom. The Guardian’s “Blog carnivals and the evolution of blog communities” discusses how carnivals work to connect like-minded readers and writers. The Guardian article explains:

[B]log carnivals are the one place on the [I]nternet designed specifically for the purpose of connecting readers and writers so the reading public can help young writers improve their craft for their targeted audience. So you, the reader, are actively encouraged to leave your comments on the linked essays that you read, telling the writers what they did well and what they need to improve upon.

Every blog carnival provides a list of people who care about the same topics you do, people who can ultimately become collaborators. Further, as students interact with their readers, they engage in real-world communication with an authentic audience.

This ability to build communities and connect readers makes blog carnivals a perfect tool for connected learning. As students pursue information on a topic they care about, they can collect what they find in blog carnivals. Everyone who reads their carnival and everyone whose work is included in the carnival becomes a possible member of the students’ extended learning community. Blog carnivals can really foreground the connections in connected learning.

Getting Started with Blog Carnivals                                                    

What’s the best way to introduce blog carnivals in the classroom? First, you will need some examples. I like to create my own examples that match the topics students are exploring. If you don’t have time to make your own example, or you want additional models, search the Blog Carnival site. For the purposes of a classroom example, remember that older carnivals can work just as well as something posted this month. Note, too, that the Blog Carnival site covers all kinds of topics, and some of them may be inappropriate for the college where you teach.

Second, you need basic information on Internet research. The success of a blog carnival relies on the links that students choose. The handbook you use probably has useful information on Internet research to review with the class. These Tips for Evaluating Sources from the companion site to Hacker and Fister’s Research and Documentation in the Electronic Age are a good place to start. For a refresher on digital research, try Google’s Search Education. Even better, schedule time for one of your college’s librarians to share research tips and resources with the class.

Finally, you’ll want some explanatory materials about blog carnivals. Problogger’s How to Create and Host a Blog Carnival describes the basic process for creating a carnival using the Blog Carnival site. You’ll likely be working with something less formal in the classroom, but students can still gather some useful ideas from the piece. If you do want to use the Blog Carnival site, their FAQs will have all the details you need. More useful is the list of tips included at the end of Problogger’s Blog Carnivals Are Great, Hosting Them Is Better. About.com’s Blogging guide includes a very simple How to Start a Blog Carnival post.

Now that you have everything you need to get started, will you try blog carnivals? Do you use them in the classroom already? I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

 

[Photo: Carnival Details by diongillard, on Flickr]

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