Student history blogs

Student (group) blogging as an integral part of an American history survey course.

But you’ll need to be quick, as the blogs themselves will probably disappear at the end of this term, certainly by the end of the month (which seems a shame to me since some of the students have clearly put a lot of work in; some might, I suppose, decide to continue the subscription. But even if you’d got the bug, wouldn’t you rather start up your own?). I can imagine using blogs as a teaching resource, like a notice board or a place to post assignments, readings and so on; getting students themselves to do it feels a much bigger step. At least one is pretty impressive (http://lionheart.typepad.com/history/), but I haven’t had time to explore the overall quality of the blogs. (And probably won’t get much time either…)

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8 thoughts on “Student history blogs”

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  2. I’m actually assigned to Paula Petrik as a grad assistant, and helped students with their blogs. She’s had much success with blogs in her classes, and the students like them. She also requires student blogs in her Historical Methods course.

    I’m taking her Digital History Documentary course, where we graduate students (with links to student blogs) also keep blogs on our work. James Halabuk’s is probably the best in the class for his great content on techniques and ideas he’s had in doing his documentary film.

  3. Jeremy, that’s really interesting (and sorry your comment got delayed in moderation; that’s automatic with comments that contain several links). I’ll browse around the links. Are any other readers doing this kind of thing (as teachers or students) in history courses and how are they finding it?

  4. No problem about the delay; I do the same thing myself to avoid the onslaught of spam.

    Mike O’Malley teaches a few sections of History 120 at George Mason, but he requires students write standard HTML pages and post assignment as a “journal”. I can’t find links for his current students, but a list of last spring’s student pages is here.

    I think O’Malley is going to go the Typepad route this coming spring, since it seems more efficient that writing static webpages in Netscape Composer. I’ve been working with his students on web development this semester (and all of last year), and this semester they didn’t seem as motivated to learn as others in the past. Netscape Composer isn’t the most effective program to write pages, and students don’t have the time or inclination to learn the HTML to code pages themselves. Blog services seem to be a great way to get students to publish their work, and from my experience they take it a little more seriously because it is, in a sense, “published” and available to anyone with an internet connection. The drawback is, like you mention in your post, the work is gone once they end their subscription. A few do continue their subscriptions.

  5. Of course, it still has a lot fewer features than Typepad, but you know that Blogger blogs no longer carry advertising at the top of pages?

  6. One of the benefits of having the blogs disappear is a reduction in plagiarism–possibly. Students who really want to save their blogs will port them or print them out. Blogger is nice, but it doesn’t have a photo album, and the students like the photo albums, although they are a bit more difficult than they appear. A paid service also means tech support is available to the students over and above Jeremy’s assistance. I should also note that some blog evangelista term what I do “forced writing.” Yup, guilty as charged. Blogging is hard-wired into my courses and used as a delivery system rather than a personal publication service. One of the students wrote in her self-evaluation: “On the first day of class, I immediately felt intimidated when I read the syllabus and saw that I had to do all these blogs. Now when I look at my website, I feel so pleased with myself. I can’t believe that I have an actual site with interesting posts and photo albums that I came up with on my own. I love e-mailing my parents and relatives the link to my page so I can show off what I’m doing in school. I enjoy reading my first post and then my most recent because it’s so nice to see how much I’ve improved. I’m proud that I came into this thing scared yet stuck through it and gave it my all. Overall, I’m extremely satisfied with what I’ve accomplished in this class.” And there are a lot more like that. What has been most surprising is the analytic and thorough approach that the writers have taken with their own performances in the class. Normally, self-evaluations run a page single-spaced–if that; these are arriving as two-page, single-spaced, well-organized essays. Amazing. The only remaining problem is the marking, but I’m working on web-based PHP blog grader that should address the problem and preserve confidentiality.

  7. Paula, this is marvellous, and it does inspire me to try it one day. As for ‘forced writing’, well, all written assignments are that, aren’t they? This is just a different way of delivering the writing.

    I wonder what my department would say to the idea, though (at least one of the lecturers here has in the past set an assignment involving making a web site (using Frontpage) but that was in the context of a history & computing skills module…): did you have to overcome any resistance in that area? If so, how did you persuade the powers that be?

  8. Sharon, I didn’t meet any resistance in using the blogs. There are probably three reasons for this. First, GMU is a very entrepreneurial and tech-oriented university. Faculty are encouraged to experiement with tech and (gasp) even fail without penalty. This is in marked contrast to the other two universities that I have worked. Second, I am a full professor and tenured. The great gift of rank and tenure is the freedom to pursue any intellectual question or experiment within fairly modest constraints. Third, I am of the “don’t ask permission, apologize later if things come unstuck” school. Always have been. Of course, this policy has distinct advantages and disadvantages, and I’ve had to “tug my forelock” or “do penance on the steps of the cathedral” on occasion. If, however, your institution is conservative and you are still in your probationary period, it’s best to get permission from your chair or head and then press on. Most competent chairs will want you to experiment.

    As to the “forced writing” issue. I certainly agree with you about the instrinsic nature of academic writing assignments as “forced.” Many of those who use blogs in the classroom have imputed to blogs transformative powers that I don’t think blogs possess. In their thinking, students will magically create communities of learning, think more deeply about their subject matter, and exchange insightful comments and constructive criticism. Their motivation will be entirely internal, and they will blog joyfully on their own. On what planet do undergraduate students behave in this fashion? I find that I get impatient with the blog evangelista. Perhaps I should leave off reading them.

    Incidentally, your blog is really a fine example. It’s a history blog that actually takes up historical topics and professional concerns.

    Well, on to blog marking.

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