David Patrick McKenzie

Digital Public Historian

On blogging for class: A student’s perspective

This blog was initially the result of a class requirement. I had thought about blogging, even taking a stab in 2004 (since deleted) and again briefly in 2009 (as in, all of one post). But it took Dr. Leon’s requirement in my class last semester to really spur me. I’m glad it did, as blogging for class, and otherwise, has been a valuable experience. Thus far, most of what I’ve seen written about class blogging, while valuable, has been from a faculty perspective. Spurred by Miriam Posner’s question tonight on Twitter, and a stupendous class blogging experience this weekend, I thought I’d add some thoughts from a student’s perspective.

The technology of reading response  has changed in each of my three rounds of postsecondary education, as each round has been separated by at least a couple of years. In undergrad (1998-2002), I often did response papers for readings; blogs had barely been invented, and had not taken off yet. Although they had taken off by the time of my M.A. program (2004-2006), I suppose they weren’t used in the classroom much, at least at GWU; I still did the traditional response papers to readings in my history classes.

But then in my Ph.D. program (2011-[good question]), I’ve used blogs instead of the traditional response paper for my classes. This has been much more effective.

Reading response papers do not compare. I suspect I was like most students: I dashed them off rather quickly as class time neared. I never quite figured out the style I wanted to go for, as they were too short to be, well, real papers,especially as graduate school progressed and I struggled writing anything except exhibition text under 10 pages! But since they were meant for the professor, I didn’t go for the more personal style that a blog can take. Plus, they were written for only the professor. Sometimes we’d be required to read each others’, but that was clunky.

A blog, by contrast, forces us to write for more than just the professor–indeed, more than just our classmates. Anyone could come across the blog, even if you don’t take my self-promotional step of posting links on Facebook and Twitter. The exercise in conveying the substance of the week’s readings or activities to an outsider helps me crystallize said readings or activities in my own mind. Thus, I’ve gotten a lot more out of the exercise than I did in writing for the professor.

Because blogging is meant to be personal, I’ve found it easier to write in a reflective style, to record my reactions to the readings.

At the end of last semester, Dr. Leon asked us if we thought it was better to have one “class” blog, or individual blogs. Among others, I responded that having a personal blog was better. From my student perspective, I’d recommend that to any faculty member contemplating blog assignments.

Using WordPress templates provided a solid lesson in super-basic web design, a good way to get my feet wet before diving into the full-scale design in which I’m engaging this semester.

Perhaps most importantly, blogging every week for class meant that I started to build a record of my own writing in a public forum. I’ve learned that others are reading it; I’ve been flattered when others have retweeted links to my posts. When I met up with a Twitter friend when he was in DC (one who now has his own blog), he mentioned reading my posts–thus he had an introduction to my interests. I now have a cyberspace presence as a historian, not only through my class posts but also others I have written when the muse struck. Those posts are now all together, something that would not have happened without having my own blog.

That presence in cyberspace makes us low-hanging fruit for people looking for information about the subjects on which we blog. When I wrote a post about Peace Corps’s withdrawal from Central America, a U.K.-based freelance writer working on an article about that subject contacted me; she had been referred by Dr. Mike Allison, whose informative blog Central American Politics she had found. I wasn’t the best Peace Corps volunteer; for many reasons, I left El Salvador after 10 months, and except for a brief trip in 2005 haven’t been on the ground since. But because I had the cyberspace presence, she found me before the 20 or so others from my cohort who stayed the whole time. In the end I referred her to some of them, as they could offer much better insight. Nonetheless, this blog I started for class meant that I was found first.

This weekend brought another manifestation of why class blogging is so valuable–it can lead to great dialogue among the students. Sheri began everything with a post on Sunday. Her post inspired a response from me. In turn, Geoff responded to both of us. Then Lindsey got into the game. And Celeste. And Megan. And Beth. And Stephanie. And John. And Jeri. Taken together, all of our commentaries in our blogs riffed off of each other, creating a rich dialogue before class. We all came into class better-prepared.

Even though Dr. Petrik requires that we comment on at least one other blog for the week, that wasn’t necessary for this to happen. Granted, something as amazing as this week’s blog conversation doesn’t happen every week (I know some weeks my posts have been rather banal and trite). But all in all, blog assignments have greatly enriched my classes. From my perspective as a student, having students blog, preferably on their own, is something I would strongly recommend.

1 Comment

  1. I too like the individual blogs. For my Clio1 we all responded to a class blog, which kept us all on topic (as did the 300max word count!). I think that the class blog worked to wrangle our musing re: theory into some coherency, but I do think that the individual blogs for Clio2 are facilitating some great expanded discussions that I’m finding really interesting!

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