I was talking to a Biology instructor the other day. He was concerned that each year students don’t fully think out their paper topics, or choose topics that are much to similar (he prefers the variety, and doesn’t want students not being able to access library resources). We decided on a blog format, which allows students to post their own topic, and then respond to others. They were able to refine their topic or change it all together based on other comments, or what they saw.
AcademHack has written an eloquent posting on how and why he uses blogs to help students choose their paper topics.
This is an efficient way of giving the opportunity for students to collaborate outside of the classroom. It gives them some space to think and reflect on their topic, and you have some insight into their choices and writing style. In this post above, students were also practicing giving and receiving formative feedback into the writing process. The chance to contribute on their own time can be especially beneficial for those who don’t speak up in class for whatever reason.