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Faculty incorporate blogs into their teaching

By : Max Lakin

Within the last few years, blogging has gone from an isolated practice of self-publishing and personal event coverage to a bona fide information resource.

At Binghamton, blogs have entered the classroom, supplementing the traditional curriculum of classes and textbook readings, surging their material into the 21st century. Course blogs, which are still somewhat experimental, help meet the demand for a constant flow of information.

Jennifer Brownstein, director of the ESL program and instructor of Advanced English as a Second Language, one of its main writing courses, has used a blog as a part of her class for the last two years.

Her class reads classic texts, such as works by James Joyce and Julio Alvarez, as well as academic essays and scholarly texts. The blog is closed to the public, and is used to prompt class discussion.

Brownstein bases her blog on a research strategy called “write before you read,” and is pleased with its results. “The blog gives students a forum,” she says. “It’s a more relaxed setting for exchanging ideas and getting feedback.”

Brownstein recognizes the special impact blogging has in a classroom where students have been traditionally disinclined to voice their opinions.

“Often times you’ll find that the [ESL] students don’t really speak in class,” she says. “In so many countries, participation is not expected. American expectation is very high.” The blog gives them the chance to express their ideas without being assessed.”

And Brownstein says that pre-class discussion proves to be an in-class discussion catalyst.

“It’s a virtual extension of the classroom,” she says. “Overall, students really seem to enjoy it. Class discussions are richer, their papers are better. ... It builds a class community.”

Pamela Gay, associate professor of English, echoes a similar sentiment in terms of her experience incorporating blogging into her teaching.

Gay teaches Flash Fiction and Reading Consumer Culture, and the blog requirement in each of these classes is an extension of the “collaborative inquiry” mentality of communication she advocates.

Gay, who gave a presentation on blogging in education at last spring’s national College Composition and Communication Conference, stresses the value of the interactive approach to writing.

“Writing shorter is harder,” she says. “You’ve really got to respect words.”

Gay has experience in integrating technology in her classes. She has had a class Web site since 1997, before the University’s Blackboard system was launched.

“It was something she wanted to do before it was as popular,” says James Wolf, the director of Academic Computing Services, whose department helped establish Gay’s blog about two years ago.

That process involved adapting a public blogsite and customizing it for Gay. Since then, Computing Services has developed a ready-made blog application, instantly available for any class through the Blackboard Web site.

Gay says technology has changed the nature of writing as communication, moving participation away from the archetypal and perhaps stagnated essay form toward a more natural “constant response” dialogue.

“I don’t like to be bored in my own classroom,” Gay says. “Blogging is one way to get students engaged. I don’t even like my students to use the word ‘paper.’ That is how people work. That is how I work.”

In this sense, the blog is a hybrid of composition and technology, and is a tool that Gay identifies as “building knowledge.”

“It’s a lot like a diary,” Wolf says. “I think we will see a move toward even richer media forms.”

Brownstein agrees. Recalling her class without the blog aspect, she says she “could never go back now.”

Speaking about why blogs have proved so effective in her classes, Gay cites the need for the constant response that creative work requires, and the sense of community and immediacy that blogging has fostered. She stresses the blog’s ability not only to engage students in discussion, but also to develop analytical thinking.

“I find that students get better and better,” Gay says. “Educational blogging is a new genre to them.”

And in that way, Gay says, “something different happens.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08