Student’s grow-up with blogs

Dennis Jerz‘ blogging project at Seton Hill is the subject of a good profile in the Pitsburg Post Gazette, which he gleefully pointed out to Kairos readers.

The anecdotal piece raises a number of key issues about blogging and higher education. The headline “Freedom of speech redefined by blogs: Words travel faster, stay around longer in the blogosphere” tells you that this isn’t going to be the standard media blog bust. The anecdotes in this article actually sum up some of the key points any introduction to blogging in higher education might like to make:

1. Student blogging can lead to dialogue with the wider academic sphere:

Jessica Prokop thought the textbook for her class at Seton Hill University was biased and that its author “seems like a bitter man.” In the annals of student rants, nothing extraordinary there.

Except she didn’t just blurt out those words in her journalism class. She blogged them. Soon, the author himself was responding all the way from England, pledging to re-examine an upcoming edition given her critique.

2. Students move from being users to being co-creators of the internet

Students find that their musings on topics from Plato to video games have been discovered by a parent back home who typed their name into a search engine such as Google. Or they’ll discover their homework was incorporated hundreds of miles away into a stranger’s Internet research.

“In another generation, these students would have simply been users of a computer,” Dr. Jerz said. “Now, they are co-creators of the Internet.”

That is both good and bad.

“I remind students that their blogs are public,” he said. “Someday, they’ll be in a job applicant pool, and a potential employer will run their name through Google, and the angry ranting Web log they wrote at age 17 will turn up.”

3. Problems can become “teachable moments” with real world grit, even though boundaries have to be found and enforced

The piece details a number of students who have been suspended at other universities for posting harmful or defamatory posts about staff, students or minority groups. But these instances can become “teachable moments”:

Those cases, and others like them, illustrate the importance of what some say is an emerging campus trend: Faculty are discussing with their students how the medium is transforming free speech.

“It’s a substantial change in how we engage in discourse, especially in this country,” said Alex Halavais, an official with the Association of Internet Researchers who teaches at the University at Buffalo, part of The State University of New York. “As such, I think universities have a duty in some ways to provide students with the tools they need to better participate in that discourse.”…

[Amy Eisman, director of writing programs with the school of communication at American University] said students were more likely to discover boundaries themselves, sometimes by a rough experience.

4. Students learn to be bloggers and this learning experience can help them position themselves as adults within the public sphere:

Jason Pugh, 20, a junior from West Mifflin, said he’d watched the level of discourse rise as freshmen come to campus and see how upperclassmen build reasoned arguments. “There’s a difference between just saying, ‘You’re wrong,’ and saying, ‘I disagree because of point one and point two,’ ” he said.

He views his own blogs as a far cry from the all-opinion rants of his freshman year. “I’ve learned to do better research, so I don’t sound like I’m someone angry at the world.”

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