Jennifer Hewerdine teaches composition at Arizona Western College and is a PhD candidate at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Her scholarly interests include digital literacies, administrative collaboration and mentoring, and low-stakes writing. You can reach Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org or at her website, Writing Kairos.
While blogs are used for a variety of purposes including research journals, portfolios, reflections, and more, I have found that blog creation offers an effective teaching moment for instructors to assist students’ understanding of audience and authorial ethos while giving them room to make choices as to how they construct an online identity. Before students begin using blogs for semester-long projects, instructors can help them understand how design and interface communicate author ethos and target audience. Additionally, students are able to consider and rhetorically analyze how online identity is constructed through the choices they make in online environments.
Students who participate in social media design their digital social spaces with consideration for the followers and friends who will see their photographs, videos, and writing. Blogging, however, creates a potentially wide audience that extends beyond friends. As such, this assignment asks students to first analyze the rhetorical moves of established blogs before conceiving of and designing their own blogs. In addition to better understanding audience and ethos, students can consider the integration of images, hyperlinks, video, and audio into blog design by learning more about fair use and the Creative Commons.
Conceive of, produce, and use digital images, video, and audio
Design and optimize a digital composing space for the development and distribution of digital content
Develop online authorial ethos through an awareness of audience, purpose, and context
In preparation for the assignment, students should locate a professional or high traffic blog. In class, students will work in small groups to identify or present common features of the blogs each student found. Questions students may address include
What is the purpose of the blog? Is the author providing personal or professional information, advocating, or creating stories or poetry?
What is the tone of the blog?
Describe the photographs of the authors. Are they candid? Headshots? What does this communicate to you as a reader?
What is the balance of white space, text, and graphics or video?
How do readers navigate the blog?
Once students have analyzed blogs, each student should consider the purpose of the blog they will create. To do so, each student will compose a freewrite or will brainstorm the purpose their blog will serve and the identity they want to project to their audience. This freewrite should include a description of the writerly personas they wish to portray.
Following this exercise, each student can map out their plans for the design and layout of their own site, including colors, navigation, author photo and bio, blog name, and tagline. Once this has been mapped out, students should begin designing their blogs. WordPress, a free blog site that allows for user customization, has instructions for designing a blog that may be useful for new bloggers. If there is time, students in the class can rhetorically analyze peers’ blogs and provide feedback as to their perception of peers’ purpose and persona.
Should students choose to use background images, headers, or quotes that they did not create or author, the design can provide an opportunity to discuss citation, fair use, and Creative Commons. Students may use images without realizing that images, like text, are the creative work of individuals and groups. In order to understand copyright, discussions can begin with exploring the licenses offered by Creative Commons. From there, students can search the images, video, music, and other material available through Creative Commons licensing.
A screenshot from a student’s blog.
The student whose blog is captured above chose to make his blog public despite the disclaimer that the space is private. Additionally, he used the blog for a variety of purposes. He published poetry, composition essays, freewriting, notes from his math class, and even posts directed toward and in response to peers. The tagline was changed over the course of the semester; sometimes it included quotes. At other points he used it for warnings that his work was not to be copied. This simple element of design—the tagline or motto—reflected his growth as a writer and his increased respect for his own writing.
Instructors can opt to allow students to make their blogs private. While this may seem to contradict an understanding of audience, opting for privacy is another element of audience awareness; students may choose to make their blog private because they are not yet confident in their ability to design a space or to portray their authorial self.
Once students have completed their blog design, students should compose an analysis of their design choices. What design purpose did they intend to communicate, and what rhetorical choices did they make to communicate that purpose? Such a reflection can be repeated at the end of the semester and include how they established a tone that reflected their writerly persona, and they may also consider any changes they made to the blog design, if any, over the course of the semester.