The Body (Un)comfortable: Teaching with blogs

Recently Franci Cronje – a colleague of mine –  ran a blog project with her 2nd year students.  Some remarkable blog posts were created.

Teaching with blogs is not as straightforward as it may seem, and Franci shared her experience with me:

Could you briefly describe the project you gave the students?

The semester module dealt with the Body, the Ideal Body, and the Other. Thus, this intervention could be as ‘open’ as possible, with the Cape Town campus students in mind. The project basically had two sections: Firstly, the intervention itself, and what they decided to do with their own bodies, and secondly, how they documented that intervention, and theorised about it, on a daily blog which ran simultaneously.

The physical intervention required them to ‘leave their own comfort zone’, so to speak, and do something to their body that would make them feel uncomfortable in their daily dealings.

The proof would have been in the pudding, as they needed to theorise about this intervention, drawing on the theoretical work as presented in the articles as part of the curriculum.

**See the full brief at the bottom of the post**

I’m interrupting Franci here to insert an example of one of the blogs created:

M writes:

I have decided to go back to basics for two weeks. This means no more make-up, hair straightening, push up bras, attention-diverting accessories or layered outfits. I cannot enhance my appearance in any way.
I happen to be incredibly self-conscious and even my closest friends have never seen me without make-up on.

So this should be awkward…

A Quote from her blog “dollparts”:

“Until who I am/strive to be corresponds with who I look like, I am not sure I will ever be comfortable in my own skin.”

You can see some more example links at the end of this post.  Back to Franci:

This project required students to expose aspects of themselves that they might normally have kept hidden.  How did the very public nature of blogging impact on this project?

The public aspects of the project were definitely enhanced by the platform, and most students really liked the visibility of this. However, the opposite was also true. See the next answer…

Blogging is a new experience to most of these students.  How did they react to having to use this medium?

About 60% of the students really took to the project like ducks to water. They liked the public platform, and six or seven of them actually started independent blogs after the completion of the project. Some say that the act of blogging actually changed their outlook on social media in a hugely positive way. A handful of students were seen to have quite lively discussions with unknown blog readers, personal friends, and people not part of the class sphere.

However, some students were lured into ‘a stream of consciousness’ while blogging every day, and thus thought that the public act of putting down your own thoughts would be words enough to get a good mark. They loved the platform, but forgot that it was actually meant as an academic exercise.

A handful of introverts actually hated the platform so much, that they under-performed considerably when taking their other academic performances into consideration. They felt the body intervention was invasive, and the publicising of it, even more so.

I gather that you had to keep track of students’ blogging progress during this project.  That requires a fair level of “teaching energy”.  What advice would you give somebody who is considering using blogs in this regard?

I would advise some kind of peer assessment to be part of the formal marking. To even just visit all 52 blogs daily during a two-week intervention, takes at least two hours per day. I limited my visits to half every second day. That meant that I would at least get to every blog every second day. I think it is important for the students that they feel that you are taking an active interest in the blogging though, so I would say that this is time well spent.

The contact time every day would not change next year, however I think I would make more comprehensive notes daily in order not to have to spend so much time after the project on the assessment. I would complete an assessment daily, giving a sub-mark, or a progress mark.

Anyone can comment on a blog and the resulting conversation happens in the “blog space” not the “classroom space” – did this conversational nature of blogging create problems or opportunities?

The one area of disappointment for me was the peer comments. In future, I would brief them better about the quality of comments expected of them. And I would let the students decide themselves who they would like to peer review.

Were students encouraged to comment on one another’s blogs, and – did they do so?

Students were obligated to comment on at least one other blog, of which I assigned them. In hindsight, I will change this. I will let them pick themselves. The students assigned to ‘laggers’ felt that the fact that their assigned blog was quiet, and that they had to comment on an under-achiever, would compromise their own mark. They would comment: ‘how can I write on someone else’s work when there is nothing to write about?’.

Did you yourself, the teacher, participate by commenting, or did you limit yourself to off line conversations only?

I commented on the blogs, but limited by comments to one ‘directive’ per week, per blog, and only if I could keep it positive. If I had to give advice of some negative effect, I personalised it in a face-to-face conversation. I do not think that embarrassing comments would enforce positive behaviour change in this respect.

I also started my own blog, and referred to my two days’ entries as an example:

http://mymamoesmygebliksemhet.blogspot.com/

I also decided to elaborate this action better next year. I will blog every day with them, for the fourteen days, although I would not participate in the body intervention. I might use this blog space for directives and general comments to lead the way, since blogging is quite a fast and in a way, unforgiving space.

Can you share some of the blogs that were created that stood out for you?

http://michness-dollparts.blogspot.com/

http://seemybelly.blogspot.com/

http://pyjamarepublic.blogspot.com/

http://outofherskin.blogspot.com/

http://www.onegirlingreyscale.blogspot.com/

Thanks Franci !

The Project as given to the students:

_________________________________

The Body (Un)comfortable

Your starting point:

You live in two spheres of beauty. The first sphere is your physical reality, your own body. The other is less tangible. This second sphere lives only in your aspirations: your own concept of ideal beauty that you would like to attain. Realistically, these two poles will never meet. The distance between them might arguably vary from those of your next door friend sitting next to you in class. How attainable these ideals prove to be for you personally, and how important attainment of it is on a personal level, will dictate how these two poles are situated in your life.

Your choices and sentiments might be influenced by important considerations regarding your own identity, gender, class, cultural identity, race, and taste, among many other considerations.

Your research question:
By emotionally stepping back from your own situation, you need to unpack your aspirations and your own level of discomfort with nonconformism.

You will build your own body-blog where you keep a daily diary for two weeks. You need to make this blog creative and interesting with all contemporary means available: still as well as videoimagery, layout, sound, and engaging reading.

In this project, you will have to
Using your own body in yourprimary research, and appropriate source reference literature in the Module Reader, as well as empirical material on Ebsco host for secondary research sources.These references need to deal specifically with your own body issues you are highlighting.

  • Reflect on your own bodily experience referencing to the literature we are
    dealing with as part of MODULE 4;
  • Identify your own strengths and weaknesses according to your analysis of the
    related literature and your own body.

In addition the theoretical reading you will need to do primary research to explore the  beauty ideals that informs your own embodiment. To do this there are a number of  tools you might want to use like projective techniques, collaging, ethnography, scientific measurements, auto‐photography, and journaling.

Your activity:

Make a radical, very visible intervention to your own body lasting for two weeks. This  intervention needs to remove you from your own  comfort zone entirely;

Keep a body‐blog diary of at least 50 words per day documenting your feelings and reactions by others to your intervention. You will have to make this blog interesting and engaging reading for your audience, which will be your fellow classmates.

Comment daily on one other blog of a fellow student. These comments will form a part of your own mark assessment. Your own mark will also include an evaluation of your informed comments of your assigned ‘partner’.

Outputs

  1. Devise a noticeable beauty‐body intervention projecting a conflicting view to your own. ‘Own’ this intervention as if this choice would naturally be your own choice (30%).
  2. Stepping back: Compile a daily body‐blog stretching over at least 14 days where you integrate your empirical literature and theoretical knowledge acquired with your own as well as friends and acquaintances’ comments and feelings. The amount of meaningful comments other than the obligatory assigned ‘partner’s’ will also affect this section of the mark (50%).
  3. Comment on one other body‐blog of an assigned ‘partner’ with a theoretical framework similar to that of your own body‐blog assessment (20%). You will be provided with a rubric to assess the blog that you are assigned to peer‐review.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marisa
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 09:34:31

    Sooo interesting!! I have been thinking a lot about appearance lately. At a social gathering the other day, 2 women were talking about plastic surgery (one had had a tummy tuck and boob job and the other wanted to) and it surprised me how totally freaked out I was by this! For days I was really affected by the lengths women seem willing to go to to have their appearance be acceptable to themselves and society. Even though I spend minimal time on my appearance, the time and energy I spend thinking and stressing about it is ridiculous! So what a fascinating project and thank you for sharing it! I had a look at the blogs mentioned and I’m sure that each one of those students had a really valuable experience and it seems like something we should all try.

  2. mashadutoit
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 16:53:47

    Hi Marissa I know what you mean. I also have a knee jerk reaction against that kind of surgery – to me it seems to be feeding insecurity rather than healing it. But what do I know! Reading these students posts reminded me of how desperately appearance mattered to me when I was younger – the extent to which it defined me as “different” from others. Which was important to me. I’m still a lot like that, but its not nearly such a burning issue. I think as you get older you get to know yourself better, and no longer have to rely on things like hair length and colour to remind you of who you are. Or – anyway – most of the time 🙂

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