The Professional Writing Online course I teach asks students to craft a blog that positions themselves as a niche specialist in their industry or field of choice. The objective for the students is to learn about digital ethos in a social media environment by actually practicing it themselves.
Great. Fun. Blogs. These blogs are instantiations, equal parts their envisioning and my structuring. That is, while the students chose the content of the blog and the ends to which they were put (i.e., research blogs; blog for their small business; academic “expert”; etc.), they are in many ways the result of what I think a strong blog is: an aesthetic instrument (in the Deweyan sense, of course). These blogs are social tools: they are virtual artifacts stemming from personal motivation (read: obligation) and have an attached social function. Yet, they are also artistic expressions, the result of a series of aesthetic design choices on behalf of the student. These artistic pieces, occupying public space, serve a function. In many ways, blogs that have the exigence of professionalization (Middlebrook) blur the lines between art and instrumentalism, embodying both an explicit social function and digital tool as well as being the result of design choices to be experienced in publics.
But if you think the amount of fun I had with this assignment resided in theorizing blogs from a pragmatist perspective, you are wrong: it was assessing that was fun and, of course, challenging. Many question arose: How do I assess a tool that is both a written document and a design document? Can I hold my students responsible for the design choices they have made if I am teaching this project in the context of a professional writing course in which students, from outside the classroom, must learn the technical skills of WordPress blogs in 5 weeks or less? How do I assess blogs in such a way that communicates to the students that these blogs are envisioned as artistic creations that have a social obligation to serve a function (ends determined by the student) in publics? Here’s the rubric I came up with.
Politics of rubrics aside, the fact of the matter is that I needed a concrete way to communicate to students, with whom I did not have the privilege of meeting face-to-face for 2.5 hours a week, the nature of a blog and what a strong blog incorporates. I’m not sure I did this right, but my rubric, highly specific to the project outlined above, is my best effort to make sense of assessing blogs that have the distinct purpose of professionalization.