Several weeks ago I asked a couple of colleagues how they blended their use of technology into the classroom. The conversation started in an unlikely place, at least I assumed it was unlikely when I sign-up for a Facebook account several years ago. Paul Harvey had posted that while grading a seminar paper a student indicated in the first footnote that the source came from a blog. Given the content on The Junto, the use of a blog source for academic research appears more normal to me today than it would have a few years ago. In fact, Harvey’s own site, which hosts multiple scholars across a wide range of interests in American religion, provides both an outlet for new ideas and a space for ongoing dialogue about the field. I read it for my own academic purposes. The conversation on Facebook, however, prompted me to inquire about the use of blogs in class.
The faculty in the College of Liberal Arts implemented a signifiant general education program reform three years ago. Placing a greater emphasis on writing instruction, we adopted a policy to help students learn how to write using different genres. While I cannot abandon the use of the analytical essay for academic writing, I am open to the ways students might improve their writing through multiple platforms. I had played with the idea of using blogs in classes before but backed off because of my own timidity with technology. We have an in-house software suite for doing this kind of work, but it is burdensome and students often resist using it. The Facebook conversation helped push me to think about what I wanted the blogs to accomplish. I also became more comfortable with using WordPress. (I also have blogs on Blogger.com.) The result is a hybrid approach with a group of students in a Great Books course. Students have been given “Author” status so that they can post questions and analysis concerning their reading assignments. I have made the blog public so that students who have taken the course in the past could engage with the current students.
I am aware that using technology in a course that appears to resist technological progress might be a strange combination. It occurred to me, however, that students who have taken the course do spend time thinking about the texts beyond their time in the seats. I have chosen to invite them into the conversation with current students. The course’s format – the students who took the class five years ago read the same texts the currents students read – where the text serves as the teacher means that all of us can engage the discussion at some level. I have been impressed with this group’s willingness to engage their entire Great Books education with the texts they are reading now, so I invited them to “try” this format. They are under no requirement to write on the blog. I introduced the idea after the course had started, but I am hopeful they will be willing to post their ideas and learn how to communicate to a wider public than their classroom.