Lifelong Learning (Blog Style)

I’ve been thinking a bit about the use of blogs in courses. With a few exceptions, I don’t know that I see a lot of mileage in compelling students to keep an individual blog themselves. I really enjoyed some of what my students in my History of Reading class did along those lines, but it was especially suited to that course.

An information-and-news aggregating blog, on the other hand, has some obvious usefulness as long as the students look at it and the professor is nimble enough to make use of what actually appears on it. It doesn’t do any good if you don’t bring whatever material comes through that medium into the classroom, if it’s just something you ask the students to read but never do anything with what they read.

What inspired me to think about this idea in a new way this morning was reading about the announcement of some new research findings that the free distribution of bed nets in parts of Africa seems to be having an impact on malaria. In my courses on the history of development in Africa and on the environmental history of Africa, this was a topic we discussed quite a few times, in terms of the debate over whether free distribution leads to people reselling or devaluing the nets. I was thinking that I ought to go and dig out the student email addresses for both of the courses and email a link to the research.

It hit me suddenly that it could be an amazing “value-added” part of a course if you created an aggregator blog for some of your courses and then committed to maintaining it indefinitely, giving every student who has taken that course authoring privileges. Not a wiki, not a permanent collection of knowledge, but a running update of news, research, and information on the key topics and discussions of the course. I can think of at least six or seven classes that I have taught more than once that would really benefit from this kind of service.

This would be a way to connect alumni and current students, a different approach to “lifelong learning”. Taking a course would bring you into a small but continuously growing virtual community of people who had also taken that course with the same professor.

I grant you that it would be a lot of work for me to maintain these course-related aggregation blogs. I’d need support from the alumni and IT staff to carry it off, at a minimum. The idea really seems attractive to me, though.

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12 Responses to Lifelong Learning (Blog Style)

  1. no9grey says:

    A minimal version would actually be pretty easy to cobble together with free, out-of-the-box components. Students could tag URLS in or even write blog posts and then you could use Yahoo Pipes to combine them (or even just gather posts tagged with the course name) into a firehose feed. Students could then subscribe to it (say, on their Facebook profiles or in Google Reader) and/or a very simple site could just display the contents of the feed.

  2. k8 says:

    I like the idea of the aggregator for life-long learning.

    I actually do have students keep individual blogs and it works out fairly well. Granted, I teach writing courses that are highly collaborative. I do expect students to reply each other’s blogs and that seems to make it more interesting for them (and me). And, the blog becomes a great place for them to bounce around ideas for their papers and ideas about their readings.

    What I’ve found to be completely fascinating is that after the first week or so, the tone/language in the blogs changes. Students stop writing for me, the teacher, and are clearly writing for/to each other. This would probably bother some people, but I love it.

  3. mskorpe1 says:

    SCCS might be willing to work with you on that. We just set up WPMU, and a lot of Swatties have SCCS accounts (and WPMU has groups and other tools to make it easy to just update the list of people who can edit a blog.)


  4. Bob Rehak says:

    I too think the aggregator project would be a great resource, particularly if it were rolled over from one iteration of the course to another. As someone who’s experimented with student-maintained blogs and wikis in teaching, I’m always saddened to think of going back to square one (in terms of accumulated resources) the next time I teach the course. And I wager the IT folks here at Swarthmore would be open to the idea; they’ve been endlessly supportive of the new media components of my syllabi.

    I’ll also agree that there’s a big difference between the kind of discourse generated from individual blogs versus those maintained collectively by a class. Last year I started students off on the former, then switched formats to a group blog in the second half of the course. Seemed like individual blogs were helpful to some (though not all) in getting their sea legs; but a big refrain of the evals I received was that it was simply too much work for everyone to keep up with (much less comment upon) each other’s postings. To be fair, I’ve run into this problem with old-fashioned discussion board postings; it’s hard to find the ideal ratio between students’ ability to “produce” and “consume” these out-of-classroom conversations.

  5. I actually started my own blog in part as a way to link to news & comments about recent developments in TV for my students, present & past. But I felt I always had to add something more than a link, and that gave way to a more personal academic blog (that I still point my students toward). I fear the amount of work it would take to maintain multiple blogs, but you seem to have more posting prowess than I – let your readers know how it works out!

  6. Laura says:

    Like mskorpe said, go with WPMU. We have it. It’s cool. When Doug and I did our class blog, it was a group blog for the two classes. Students not only had to blog, but each post had to link to something. Plus, Doug and I added rss feeds and other things to the blog. It’s archived at

  7. no9grey says:

    WPMU would mean an installation to maintain, another account for students, and would probably only get participation if mandatory … I think a surprising number of students would already be generating content streams, and an aggregator that could just pick up tagged posts from those sources would be more organic and ultimately more successful.

  8. Steph says:

    I would love a continuing class blog for history of reading. I find myself actually daydreaming about that class if I’m in a particularly bad med school lecture…

    I think a centralized blog would be awesome. That being said, I don’t think it would be good to set it up such that you had to have an sccs account. While many swatties have them, many do not. (Moreover, they’re probably less likely to use that account a long time after they’ve left the bubble. Ideally, a blog of that sort would keep alums of the class connected for a long time, so you wouldn’t want it pegged to an email account that they might let slide)

  9. Miles Skorpen says:

    Every blog is going to be tied to an email account—the only other alternative I see would be a normal address, which *will* be taken away after you graduate.

    Hundreds of alums already have SCCS accounts, and it is pretty simple to get them. And we already have WPMU up and running.

  10. I think this is a fantastic idea…and it makes me wish I had taken more history while I was at Swat! Like Steph, I find my post-undergraduate degree mind wandering a lot these days.

  11. mralarm says:

    Awesome idea! I’ve often wished for such a thing several months after a semester has ended – both as a teacher and a student. Do it!

  12. I keep student blogs in my English language classes in Italy. I teach the same material every year, but having a running account of previous and current students’ contributions is a nice framework for online curriculum and usually a good incentive for writing activities. Students love to see their words and projects broadcast on the web, and they love reading the comments.

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