Okay, last semester I assigned weekly reading journals to my students. They emailed them to me, or brought them to class. It worked pretty well, except that in addition to the time it took to read them, I also wrote way too much on them. My comments probably were mostly unread (as was painfully obvious when one student turned in a rough draft for the "research" paper that was just two journals pasted together, with no research and no revisions). Also, it's fine to spend that time when you only have a few students, but when you're teaching two courses, it snowballs.
So this semester I made use of the "blog" discussion threads on Blackboard. I started one thread for each week of blog writing (or one for two weeks' worth, if it was the same novel; this may be amended).
Interesting things to note:
1. In a blog discussion thread, all the blogs are displayed. All of them. There's no picking and choosing which blogs to read before all of the text shows up. Granted, Blackboard automatically will show ten at a time unless you change your settings, but if you were looking for a post by a specific student (and if you haven't selected the grading option for the thread), you have to sift through all the posts.
2. Having selected the grading option, I grade through the grade book. Clicking on the assignment for the post, I then can have it display posts for each student involved. It not only shows the blog(s) they wrote in the specific discussion thread, it also shows the comments they have written on the blogs. I have yet to start grading their comments, but this makes it easier.
3. Looking at comments through the grade book does not prevent you from reading the corresponding blog easily. Above the comments, it will say "Comments on ______". If you click on the blog title, then it comes up in a pop-up window.
4. Rather than just assign grades - or having to remember what I wanted each level of grading to be for blogs and comments - I also set up grading forms (I needed one for a week's blog, and one for two weeks of blog; though, I am pretty convinced that I will split those two weeks threads up). This has been an immense help, as the students should be able to see what is wrong with their blog without me having to type explanations for everyone. I am still trying to write some comments, but am keeping it pared down to style issues.
I am fairly certain that I will continue to do weekly blogs online rather than have them emailed, but I am still figuring out what I think specifically about the blog versus regular style discussion thread. Blackboard also has a "journal" style thread that can be kept private, but as I feel the blogs help us all interact and learn more about the readings, I like keeping it open. I may have to play around with journal threads the next time I am planning a Blackboard course, though.