Timothy Recuber, lecturer in the Writing Program at Princeton University, spoke about using WordPress as a platform for student writing in his WRI 128/129 courses. The course, entitled ‘Witnessing Disaster’, investigates media depictions of disaster and human suffering. In the assignment for which WordPress was used, Dr. Recuber asked students to “envision an alternative way of representing the suffering of others by creating a website, online memorial, or blog devoted to the disaster or tragedy that you research this semester”. The students, having chosen and written about significant events previously in the semester, expanded upon their research by posting writings, videos, images, and sound recordings to the course blog. As a supplement to the more formal writing done during the semester, the blog was intended to provide a more creative outlet for the students.
During the process of completing this assignment, students were able to see other students’ postings and to leave comments. Dr. Recuber notes that although students did not choose to leave comments on the blog as much as he might have wished, active discussions occurred in class, centered around the work that had been done on the blog. Students also shared information about formatting their blog posts and embedding materials in their writing.
Students integrated many types of multimedia materials into their online memorials, including images, videos, and audio files. Dr. Recuber described a student project investigating the famous sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald that included the music written to commemorate the event. Dr. Recuber said that it was one thing to read about the disaster and experience the music related to the disaster, but it was quite another level to actually hear the music while reading the essay. It was also noted, that, given the subject matter, images included in the projects sometimes proved to be quite graphic.
Timothy Recuber reports that he had positive outcomes from the project, but that he learns more about these types of assignments each semester. The project allowed students, who may have struggled with other forms of writing during the semester, to find additional ways to express themselves. For many students however, the open-ended nature of the project was daunting and, for the instructor, a challenge to grade.
The use of WordPress for this assignment was as more of a ‘content management system’ than of a blog. Dr. Recuber expressed an interest in using WordPress in future semesters in more a more traditional blog format in which writings are displayed in a chronological sequence. Dr. Recuber also indicated that he might encourage the use of the commenting feature of the platform.
If you are interested in using WordPress for your course, you can always contact the ETC (Educational Technologies Center) to get you started. To view the video of the session, use the media player below.