Because of the increasingly important role that blogs are playing in so many aspects of our lives it is important that students develop an active deep and critical understanding of how to blog, how blogs function, and what their impact is likely to be. With these goals in mind, the Technology Across the Curriculum (TAC) program convened a cohort of faulty who elected to redesign their courses to include the use of blogs as a central feature of the undergraduate course assignments. During the fall semester, seven college faculty members joined faculty from the College of Health and Human Services in the semester-long technical assistance program. The courses chosen for redesign varied widely, from introductory courses in Spanish to upper level courses in Psychology to an intensive course sequence in New Century College.
A blog (or weblog) refers to a Web site where bloggers post a series of short, topical articles around a common topic or set of topics in reverse chronological order. Blogs, as they are currently understood, have been around since 1999 but it is only in the past few years that they have entered the mainstream. The number of blogs being created and maintained has increased exponentially and, while many of them still function largely as personal diaries read by few outside of the author and his or her immediate friends, a large number of blogs have had a profound impact on both the media and how people obtain news and other information. Blogs, for example, have dramatically changed the political landscape in terms of how political actions are reported, how candidates campaign, how they are scrutinized, and how political news is consumed.
The redesign projects concluded with a half-day workshop for the faculty led by Barbara Ganley of Middlebury College who has successfully integrated blogging into her English literature and writing courses for the past seven years. Faculty took advantage of the opportunity to learn from Ganley’s experience as well as from that of some of their fellow colleagues in the blogging cohort, specifically from Mills Kelly (History) and Debra Shutika (English), both of whom have been blogging for several years, professionally and in their classes.
But even those faculty who were new to blogging found the practice to be rewarding and to offer a big payoff in terms of student learning. For example, Jennifer Leeman (Modern and Classical Languages) used blogging in her upper-level Spanish for Heritage Speakers Course. Leeman’s students had a very positive response to her use of blogging as part of course assignments. They reported that blogging allowed them to express their opinions (in Spanish) on topics that they found interesting, to continue class discussions outside the classroom, to read the opinions of their classmates and, most importantly, to write far more frequently than they might otherwise have done. Given the fact that the class was specifically for native speakers of Spanish who had little or no academic experience in Spanish, gathering experience reading and writing grammatical Spanish was a key part of the student learning experience. The blogging exercise as part of the curriculum was fundamental to making this happen.
Jaime Cooper (Psychology) taught a course on the Modern Child. Like Leeman, Cooper started the semester with no blogging experience. He took to it quickly and found that it added to the course as a means of providing a forum for students to bring things from outside class, from television, news, and magazines to class discussion. “
Any subject that has real world implications would benefit from the use of blogging in the class because it helps the learning process continue outside the classroom,” Cooper said. “It was gratifying to see the students’ excitement at finding an interesting and relevant news article to discuss on the blog.”
While most of the faculty participating in the TAC blogging cohort had very positive experiences there were a number of support issues. The TAC program is working with others in the university to address these as a means of establishing a greater infrastructure to support instructional use of blogging at Mason in the future.
The TAC Blogging Cohort included:
- Jennifer Leeman (Modern and Classical Languages)
- Colleen Sweet (Modern and Classical Languages)
- Mills Kelly (History)
- Robert Bernard (New Century College)
- David Beach (English)
- Debra Shutika (English)
- Jaime Cooper (Psychology)
March 05, 2008