For two years, I’ve used course blogs in eight university courses, two of which were graduate seminars. At this point, I can’t teach without the freedom and opportunities afforded by blogs. Below are my top 10 reasons for professors to use blogs in their classes. At the end of this post I’ve included a slide show with some screenshots of course blogs, both professorial and student.
1. Course blogs cut down on the use of paper by delivering unecessary syllabus bureacrat-ese to students on the web. Our paper syllabi often run 10 pages or more when we include all University regulations and such. A course blog is a less wasteful way of delivering the same content. (Sample syllabus page here, containing PDFs of paper syllabi in different formats)
2. As interactive forms of e-syllabi, course blogs adapt to unforeseen circumstances and changes. This semester, we had some weather related university closings. Course blogs enable faculty to avoid confusion and make necessary adjustments with great ease.
3. Blogs, by themselves, or in conjunction with file sharing devices like box.net, may double as electronic reserves for handouts and other class materials without requiring third parties and time-consuming bureacratic procedures. The University of Texas at Arlington has its own file sharing service, which enables students to use their university logons and passwords to share files with each other and faculty.
4. Unlike paper syllabi, and static webpages, blogs allow professors to teach more, not less: discussions that are truncated in class may continue electronically without slowing down the course (Bulletin Boards; Comment Threads, etc.); images pertaining to the class may be linked for students to examine (through links, or slideshows); the professor’s online journal gives students more content. (Comment string on course material here.)
5. Blogs help to advertise important news and opportunities to students. Classes, information about academic majors, internship opportunities and scholarship information reaches students through class blogs as effectively, if not more effectively, than handouts and posters. (Example of how course blog may be used to find students to adopt two lost dogs, who were later reunited with legitimate owner.)
6. Blogs can function as avatars, imperfect as they may be, of the classes in which they are used. As such, they give a kind of materiality to the classroom experience, a concrete nature that many students find comforting. The class blog is a place students can go to review important themes and get help from the professor and from each other. (Example of student comment thread on final exam here.)
7. If made publicly available on the internet, class blogs may invite informed comment from interested individuals on the internet. By making a course blog publicly available on the web, professors widen the potential scope and reach of each one of their classes.
8. In a more ambitious vein, requiring students to blog for a class, and then linking their work to a centralized course blog, creates opportunities for individual students and groups of students to read and comment constructively on each other’s work. Student blog 1; student blog 2; student blog 3.
9. Course blogs, over time, can lay the foundation for hybrid or internet classes. The build up of hand-outs, media and interactive activities can lead to a critical mass of materials that can be combined for a different kind of course.
10. Course blogs function as shells or hubs for bringing web materials into a class (youtube; podcasts; news or magazine articles; etc.). These materials either speak directly to the course themes or reflect potential connections students can make with related or apparently unrelated topics. All knowledge is connection, after all. (Youtube example; Youtube example 2; Podcast example; News announcement in course blog example).
My course blogs have not always been as successful as they could have been, sometimes due to my own inattention, other times because of challenging factors relating to the particularities of the medium and certain student attitudes about technology. But I’ll leave all of that for a future, more self-critical post.
*The phrase “Only Connect” is the epigraph of E.M. Forster’s novel, Howard’s End.
One of my first courseblogs, Fall 2005; Another early blog, Spring 2006, that I have not purged (contains atrocious video lectures of me); more current and recent blogs above, under course info. tab.)
Some of the slides are hard to read, but hopefully you get the idea.