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Humor is Difficult

August 12, 2008

The semester is almost upon us, once again, and so my thoughts turn, as they do twice (at least) each year, to the question of student blogging.

Yes, I am just that weird.

And yes, I torment my students unmercifully. It’s a perk of the job.

What I’m trying to say is that as I contemplate each new semester, I rethink what role (if any) student blogging will have in my courses. I always set up a course blog to which I post, and I’ll even require my students to post substantive comments responding to course-related issues on it. But I also sometimes require my students to create and post to their own course-related blogs, which I’ll help them set up, of course.

This coming semester I’m teaching two courses: a required practicum in teaching composition for our new graduate teaching fellows, and a writing-intensive seminar for first-semester freshpeople on literature in a digital world. For the practicum, blogging is a no-brainer. The answer is: no. I do not want the GTFs blogging about their experiences in the classroom. Not in their first semester teaching college-level composition (and possibly not ever as long as they’re grad students — their positions are so tenuous and fraught with tensions as it is). The temptation is simply too great to blog about their students, and that way disaster lies.

But for the first-year seminar, the issues are quite different. When I teach digital composing courses I always require my students to blog, as that’s a great way to: 1) get students writing; 2) get students writing digitally; 3) give students experiences with digital composing from the inside, as it were; and 4) allow students to enter and become part of the real conversations happening online, as opposed to merely being spectators, as happens in most literature courses. (Nothing against literature, of course. But no matter how much you love or study Shakespeare, you’re never going to be able to have a conversation with him about anything.)

The last time I taught this version of the first-year seminar I did not require my students to create their own blogs. But this time, I think I will. This makes more sense this year as we’re reading a book, Ben Peek’s Twenty-Six Lies, One Truth, that started its life as blog posts, and that really still resembles that form more than it does a conventional narrative or non-fiction codex work.

However, and this is a big however, when I require student blogging, I always get students who — in their adulation of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and CollegeHumor.com — decide to write a “humorous” or “satirical” blog. No matter how much I warn them, they seem compelled to learn, the very, very hard way, that humor is difficult. I know this is (at least partly, if not mostly) my fault, as I always let my students write about what they want to write about, in the style(s) in which they want to write. I want to give them the opportunity and space to begin experimenting with different online voices and personas, and perhaps to begin to suss out one (or more) that feels uniquely theirs. Of course, I also balance this with required topics throughout the semester, which is a particularly nasty monkey-wrench to throw into their works. Oh, how I love that monkey-wrench. I’ll have more to say on this as the semester kicks in and we can see this in action.

So, as always, it will be interesting to see how this plays out with the freshfolk.

In the meantime, and to reward you for reading this far, here’s an example of something I think is really brilliantly funny. Z.C. Byrnes, writing at the cleverly-titled Sweet Homo Alabama, notices a new musical device, the International Dance Party, and takes the device to its logical, tragic conclusion. Check it out.


The IDP in what its manufacturers call its “total action condition”.

Categories: Composition, Teaching
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