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.