In this post Leslie Madsen-Brooks explores 5 teaching techniques that bloggers might like to explore to connect with their readers
The best teachers–from first-grade teachers to university instructors–employ some simple techniques that bloggers can use to their advantage.
image by Patrick Q
Here are five of my favorites:
1. Find unexpected common ground.
A couple years ago, I was standing in front of a classroom of 100 college students immersed in small-group discussions. Try as I might, I had a hard time getting them to reconvene. So I pulled out a trick I had seen elementary school teachers use. I took a deep breath and said, “One, two, three–eyes on me!” About a dozen students responded with “One, two–eyes on you!” — an effect that astonished us all and allowed us to share a laugh. Many of my students had been conditioned years ago to respond to that simple rhyme, and they were surprised to see the technique had made its way around the state and the country, that it wasn’t unique to their own first- or second-grade experiences.
Similarly, I’m always delighted when I find a blogger who establishes novel common ground among his or her diverse readers. Sometimes that connection is ridiculously simple and tied to Internet pop culture, such as a recent post on the fabulous professorial blog Edge of the American West called I CAN HAZ SPLENDID WAR?. I didn’t care much about the sinking of the Maine in 1898, but the post title’s reference to LOLcats made me read on, and I was tricked–tricked, I tell you!–into placing history into a contemporary perspective and vice versa.
2. Offer points for participation.
At my university, faculty can’t grade students on attendance. One way, therefore, to get students to come to class is to offer incentives for participation (or, some would say, punitive consequences for non-participation). Each student’s final grade in any of my classes, therefore, depends a good deal on how much–and well–he or she contributes to class discussion. Students appreciate it when faculty weave student contributions into the fabric of a lecture or class discussion.
Bloggers do much the same thing when they pull a reader contribution from the comments and make it the inspiration–or even reason–for a new post. It’s a way of driving a conversation into different direction but it also rewards readers who leave quality comments.
3. Know every student’s name by the second day of class.
In a large lecture class, this tactic may be beyond the capability of most faculty. But when I have classes of 25-50 students, I try to learn their names as quickly as possible, usually by letting them introduce themselves while I madly take notes on their appearance and their quirks so that I can remember them in the next class period. (A colleague of mine uses Facebook to study her students’ photos.)
If someone stops by your blog and comments meaningfully or comments several times in a short span of time, drop her a line to thank her for her participation and to welcome her to the community. Take notes on what your commenters say so you can refer back to them when the opportunity arises. Even better, go leave comments on your reader’s blog. In the corner of the blogosphere I frequent, there are 100 or so blogs where the commenters all seem to know one another’s stories. It’s a powerful community that came about through reciprocal links and comments.
4. Give meaningful, fun homework assignments.
At my university, we’re on a 10-week quarter system. Science students begin taking “midterms” during week 2-3 of the quarter. Accordingly, science majors enrolled in my courses are tempted to stop doing the reading assignments at this time. To encourage them to read, I make sure to provide interesting homework and in-class assignments that require students to read all the course texts and come prepared to talk about them. Students are rewarded for doing the reading when they come to class and receive the respect of their peers for contributing meaningfully to our conversations.
Blog contests and challenges provide similar stimulus for reader involvement. Right now I’m very much enjoying how Dave Navarro is blogging his way through Christine O’Kelly’s e-book on freelance writing. He hasn’t explicitly given homework to his readers, but I’m inspired to follow along just the same, especially since I purchased O’Kelly’s book.
More explicitly in this vein, Darren offered his readers a 31-day course in building a better blog, complete with such homework as link up to a competitor and do a search engine optimization audit on your blog.
5. Be interdisciplinary.
While teaching, it’s easy to get stuck in the rut of your discipline. For example, just about everyone in your department might use the same textbook for a particular course, so all students get stuck learning the same material from the same source in the same way. But if you’re in chemistry and your students are looking a bit bored, you can liven up your discussion of sugar versus saccharin by tossing in some history of how sugar was rationed in the U.S. during WWII in part so that candy bars and other sugary treats could be sent to U.S. soldiers, whom, it was believed, needed sugar for energy. Saccharin, in the form of saccharin pills, therefore became a necessary sugar substitute–and a chic accessory on middle-class dining tables. Paint a humorous picture for your students of 1950s housewives using teeny tiny prongs to pick up saccharin tablets from bejeweled, turtle-shaped saccharin containers, and your students have a new context for their learning.
Similarly, if you blog in, say, the internet marketing niche, it’s easy to simply re-blog the same techniques everyone else is using and to promote the same affiliate programs. Why not branch out into another discipline or field–online or off–in order to bring new perspective to your readers? What, for example, are librarians doing to help clients better find the information they need? What can you learn about keyword searches and keyword research from their techniques?
Leslie Madsen-Brooks helps a broad spectrum of clients–including university faculty, K-12 schools, museums, and businesses–develop better learning experiences online and off. Among other venues, she blogs at Museum Blogging and The Multicultural Toy Box.