This coming semester, in collaboration with a certain Land Baron around here, I will be trying out the use of group course blogs in teaching English. Not so novel perhaps, course blogs have been done before, but it's new for us and (we think) for our faculty, and we're planning to use the blogs in ways that have integrity - ie not using them as just another new-fangled place to park some text. The baron's students, all seventeen thousand of them, are going to be working on private blogs because they will be workshopping their writing. So let's wish them luck. My students' blog however is right out in the open on the public WWW and it is an essential element of the exercise that the blog and whatever they write on it is interlinked with the rest of the blogosphere and broader internet. This semester it is an experiment, and participation in it is voluntary and not assessed. I'm doing all I can think of to make sure it's taken up and is a worthwhile exercise. Next year I plan to make it mandatory.
The blog topic is non-academic appropriations of and responses to Jane Austen - Jane Austen in 'popular culture', the Austen industry, fandoms, mailing lists, LJ communities Austen spinoffs and sequels, fanfic, Austen coopted into marketing irrelevant products, Austen memes, Austen tourism - anything of that nature. I want students to find themselves things to write about and to write about them interestingly, knowledgeably, critically, and fairly. By doing it on a blog (with trackbacks etc) I expect that some of the 'subject matter' they discuss will, from time to time, pop up in the comments box to join in the discussion. In fact, I hope very much that this happens, as one goal of the whole exercise is to challenge the unspoken assumption prevalent in what scholarly work there is on 'Janeite' cultures that academics speak and fans are spoken about. Other goals: to build up a sort of annotated bibliography of material to be drawn on in end of semester research assignments, to give students some practice at writing appropriately and engagingly for a wide, non-university audience, and to likewise give them practice at managing 2.0 style interactive discussion.
Going by the interests of past cohorts taking this course they won't find it hard to come up with JA-related material to write about. But I do expect that almost all students will be more or less new to writing for a wide (though not too visible) readership, and in particular, to writing about subjects who are real, potentially responding people (as opposed to literary critics who only exist in the rarefied virtual world of electronic journals and thus can be misinterpreted or scolded with impunity.)
So this is why I am asking if readers of this blog would like to help and participate. You would be doing these people a great favour and me too of course, and it might even be interesting (if you're interested in this sort of thing.) Two kinds of actually rather large favours I am a-seeking. The first one's obvious: will you read the blog (subscribe if you use a feed reader) and maybe comment on it sometimes?
The second one is more involved and applies to people who have blogs of their own. Would you consider writing a post at your blog, which I can then link to from the course blog, so that the students can read it and take it on board before they start doing their own stuff? The reason for this is partly to kickstart the students' awareness that their blog is not an isolated space, it is embedded in the network, and partly to get some of you to share your significant expertise and experience.
I'm particularly keen to have a post from a cultural studies blogger on the issue of studying fandom, which I know hardly anything about. It's not a core area addressed by this course but I would like them to have a brief introduction to some basic ideas. And if anyone has a strong personal or professional interest in the general theme of the blog and wants to share their thoughts on it that would be fantastic.
Other post subjects that would be excellent are: advice about reader-friendly, entertaining blog style, advice about writing about living people without annoying or (gah) defaming them, advice about dealing with comments and so forth. Not least by any means, if the whole notion awakens a feeling of goodwill and excitement in you (as, I guess you've picked up, it does in me) and you want to simply welcome these people into the blogosphere, posts doing that will be very gratefully received.
The blog itself is here. If you can join in with this project, or have questions, let me know. The course starts on 23 July so I would want to have your posts linked a couple of days before.