I swear I am not writing a sponsored blog post!
WordPress software has done some amazing things for my classes. I am so grateful to Dom for introducing me to its possibilities. He has been using WordPress forever- developing class blogs that everyone contributes a bit to. It was really a watershed moment when he suggested we have our 102 students develop their own WordPress pages for their research projects. The whole dynamic of the class changed, the purpose of the research became clearer, and the audience for student work grew and was easier for students to identify. Class became more fun. Students were writing out of joy and a desire to share their discoveries.
Everyone knows what an essay looks like. Students in high school and college write them all the time. I have written a bunch of them. They are an exercise in taking your thoughts, as strange and divergent as they are, and trying to put them in some sort of understandable order. You are responding to a question or a prompt, and you are attempting to solve a puzzle. An essay is a record. But it is also pretty artificial. Students absorb the rhetorical conventions of a “college essay” pretty quickly after starting college. They think they know what their teachers want and they try to give it to them. “Real” writers do not write college essays. College students don’t think they are real writers, they don’t believe that their instructors care about what they think. Most of my students report believing that instructors care more about the rules, the how of writing rather than the why.
College essays have their place, and certainly aren’t going anywhere. I think it is important for students to develop the discipline and critical thinking skills required to write multiple essays for multiple instructors in multiple departments. That said, I always look for opportunities to get students composing in new ways. I want students to understand that the world we live in now requires writers to use images, to use design principles, to use many formats to reach their audience.
WordPress makes this possible. Students can upload images they create to illustrate their work. They can hyperlink to other sites to make their document more flexible. Students have a certain amount of stress in developing and creating online– despite everything I have heard- most of my classes are filled with people who “aren’t tech-savvy.” But I kinda think this is everyone– right? We all feel intimidated and fearful about trying something new. Technology changes all the time- we are constantly having to adapt and re-learn how to do things we felt proficient at earlier. If I can help them get comfortable with not knowing, with being frustrated, and show them a way out of the bad feelings, I am helping them with technology, with their writing, and with the world they will enter when they graduate.
As I said, WordPress really has changed my classes. And I am so happy with those changes. I hope my students are as well!