Costello, Lisa A. “Blogging a Research Paper? Researched Blogs as New Models of Public Discourse.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 43.2 (2015): 180-94. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.
Lisa A. Costello advocates for a “hybridized assignment” (180) in which students compose a traditional research paper and blog posts on the same topic. She researched the effects of this assignment by analyzing writing samples from a first-year course at a “regional college in the Southeast” (185). Her materials included “rationale essays” in which students reflected on their choices in responding to the assignment and comments on anonymous evaluations (185). The assignment called for the research essay to explore a problem and a range of solutions and the blog post to advance a specific solution (183-84).
Costello designed this assignment to respond to her conclusion that her students’ research projects were addressed to her as the primary audience and that students seemed reluctant to express their opinions (181). One goal in the assignment was to provide a richer sense of audience and to encourage students to recognize and experience how including personal expression in their writing affected their rhetorical presence (182).
Costello cites Kathleen Blake Yancey’s call for attention to “new models of writing” (qtd. in Costello 180; emphasis original). Yancey also urges teachers to attend to the need for students to engage more deeply in public forms of writing, especially online writing, which, according to Costello, she characterizes as “everywhere” (qtd. in Costello 180). At issue is student ownership of writing and their awareness that their writing can have effects beyond the classroom (181). Costello argues that blogs can encourage this sense of ownership, especially by tying into writing that students already do by choice in various digital venues (181, 185). Her goal is to
help students create a bridge between the writing they “want to do” with writing they “have to do” by framing that writing as personal and a part of public discourse; it is writing that has real consequences. (181)
For Costello, the hybrid assignment exploits the advantages of the two genres. While blog writing can incorporate the personal as well as invite response, thus raising students’ stake in their work, it can veer toward unsupported personal opinion; to be expert enough on a topic to write with authority requires research and critical evaluation (184-85). Costello contends that writing the research paper first provides students with an increased sense of authority and confidence (186). At the same time, the possibility of a responsive audience resulting from a blog promotes an awareness of varied perspectives that may be missing from an academic research project that will only be seen by the teacher (185).
Costello incorporates these points into her three reasons for choosing blogs as an adjunct to a research paper: Unlike Facebook and Blackboard, blog sites permit a degree of customization that increases students’ sense of ownership; blogs promote interactivity that expands perspectives; and they support the plank of composition’s mission that values participation in civic discourse (182-83). She sees combining the “new form” discourse enabled by blogs with “‘old form’ research” as a way for students to develop and communicate “nuanced opinions” (183).
She further contrasts blogs with print options like brochures and chapbooks, which reach limited, defined audiences and do not offer the breadth of rhetorical demands inherent in blogs. Blogs, she states, provide participation that is “immediate and interconnected” (184). She sees the “potential” for “instant response” as immediacy, and notes the interconnectivity achieved when students incorporate links to their research in their blogs, knowing that readers can evaluate the information independently (184; emphasis original). Moreover, blogs, unlike other formats, allow for other tools to invite audience interaction, such as videos, polls, and games (185).
Costello notes that blogs may not generate responses, but she contends that even a print communication like a brochure with a specific audience can be easily ignored. She argues that students’ sense of a virtually infinite audience alerts them to the rhetorical possibilities embedded in their positions; calling that audience into being shapes students’ sense of a public to address (186, 187). Furthermore, she writes, the expanded audience increased the odds of a response (187).
She notes that some students still feared expressing their views to possibly hostile readers (186); a student who did receive a challenge to his position asked her to guide his response and had to be redirected to understand that “this continuing dialogue in the public realm was now up to him” (187).
Costello provides student writing samples in support of her claim that converting the research assignment to a blog post resulted in such gains as “stronger personal stance[s],” increased support for points, more direct and effective organization, and an expanded recognition of varied perspectives (188-90). Of one student’s blog post, Costello writes, “This entry underscores not only that the audience is present, but that [the student] is a part of that public that can effect change” (190).
Limitations include the small sample size, the possibility that constraints on access to blogging platforms may affect participation, and the degree to which the blog format itself challenged some students (190). Some students’ sense, as one student wrote, that they were “vulnerable” as a result of expressing themselves to a blog public also affected the results (qtd. in Costello 191). Costello responds that despite the difficulties the assignment may have presented to some students, the act of venturing into a public forum “got them thinking about the implications” of presenting a position in such a space (191). She cites Howard Rheingold to argue that while possession of a tool does not guarantee efficacy in its use, awareness of the potential of a tool and practice with such tools increases agency in new media environments (192).
Although recognizing that not all students will adapt easily to the new rhetorical demands of blogs, Costello reports “[i]ncreased interest and engagement,” “increased commitment to their topics,” and “increased . . . complexity and depth” in their discussions of their topics (191). Students with practice in such rhetorical flexibility, she writes, “may be more likely to become active participants in their worlds” (192; emphasis original).