Experiment

For the first time, I have asked my Senior Seminar students to use a blogging platform for part of their course requirements. I have always relied on a portfolio of response papers for their more informal engagement with the ideas in the readings. But those papers increasingly seem to me to be stilted and far less imaginative than the best discussions we have in class. So I thought perhaps a genre that is more familiar (“what is a response paper, anyway?” is not an uncommon question from students) would yield writing that is more engaged, more creative, more pliable in its willingness to wander thoughtfully through complex ideas.

It also seems to me that if we are going do something more than just fraught hand-wringing over the state of the humanities, we need to think creatively about how to equip our students for the next generation of humanities-based careers. This might mean–as many are quick to point out–helping students think about how to parlay the tools of an English major into meaningful work. But “critical thinking” and “analytic writing” are not resume phrases, however much it really is true that excellence in these skills is a mark of top-notch minds likely to succeed in many arenas. (I have lots more to say about this, particularly in relation to the recent MLA calls for changes in how we think about graduate education, but that is a post for another day.)

And so, I have launched this little experiment in building an online presence as a way to help ensure that my students are comfortable creating–not just reacting to–a digital world. In my pretty pedagogical daydream, this process of tinkering with a blog, learning some basic html, thinking about visual design issues, and organizing meaningful content into digestible and aesthetically appealing formats will give them skills that will really be translatable. Whether they are going on for advanced degrees in library science or taking their love of literature with them to a career in business or anything in between, it seems to me that being comfortable with the technologies that are increasingly a part of everyday work life can only be a benefit. If nothing else, my students will be able to jump right in when a future boss asks, “who is willing to take on the upkeep of the Community Projects Calendar online?”

But, oh, I hope this blogging project yields so much more than that.

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One Response to Experiment

  1. kbreen22013 says:

    I must admit that I dreaded this assignment when I first heard it. I grew up at least one generation ahead of the majority of my peers in this class. In my middle school we still had typewriters (and I lived in an affluent neighborhood). Computers didn’t appear in my school setting until I reached high school. I had a short college career after high school and never really had the opportunity to be comfortable on a computer. We have had a computer in our house for many years now, but since I haven’t worked outside of the home in over a decade, the whole intro to technology phase had passed me by. I now feel incredibly behind the curve. I have always learned what I needed, but my kids have filled in the rest. For example, I can load books from the library onto my Nook, but my kids download songs onto my iPod.
    I found myself on my blog page a few nights ago, and decided to see what other types of pages were out there. I have to say, there are blogs about everything and anything! I have been slow to comment on my classmates posts, but in reading them, I gain insights to our lectures and readings that I haven’t thought of. Now I am realizing how helpful this assignment is. In class we don’t always have the same views, which would make for boring discussions anyway. However, through blogs we can see how others from different backgrounds view what we are reading, and I feel we can all benefit from it.
    I now find myself grateful for the opportunity I have to learn in this format. I am becoming more comfortable using different types of media (albeit slowly), and able to gain greater insight on classroom lectures by interacting with others.

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