Mason Posner is a professor of Biology at Ashland University in Ohio. He also blogs on A Fish Eye View (though I notice he did not update it in a while). About a year ago, and inspired by some discussions emanating from ScienceOnline’09, he decided to try using blogs in his teaching. He did it last spring. And he is doing it again this spring.
You can check out his Marine Biology Course class blog, where he and the students are all posting in one place.
But also check out his Senior Capstone course in Biology and its class blog – he is the only one blogging there – the students are required to start and run their own blogs.
Now look at the Class Blogroll on the margin – take a look at last year’s (2009) student blogs – wonderful writing on all of them, good stuff. But! One of them is already deleted. There are four other blogs that stopped posting around early May of last year, probably at the time the course ended. Only one of the blogs is still running today. Why did they stop?
Now check out this year’s blogs – very, very nice stuff: The Difference between Ignorance and Apathy, SexyScience, Thirsty Pandas and Successors of Solomon. Lovely blogs. But will they last past May?
Now, you may remember a similar experiment at Duke – see this and this and especially experiences of Erica Tsai who ran the program. Why did all the Duke student blogs end once the class was over?
There is always a lot of chatter online (see the most recent commentary about a Pew study here, here, here and here) about teens and college students not blogging. No, the kids are not naturally Web-savvy – they also need to learn.
They use Twitter much more than the stats usually show, but mostly keep their profiles private and only talk to each other. They use it instead of texting because it is cheaper and platform-agnostic. Of course, they are all on Facebook (or MySpace, depending on socio-economic status), where they also interact with each other. The artistically inclined may connect with each other on DeviantArt. And yes, there are many who blog (though they may have predominantly chosen a more social blogging platform like LiveJournal).
All of the above are social uses, which is quite age-appropriate. Some of them (certainly not all) will, just like their elders, pick up blogging later, when they find a need to express themselves in long-form writing. Teaching them how to blog is part of their education, or at least should be.
But none of this really applies to the cases I started this post with – these are young people who have been taught how to blog, have done it well, probably got positive feedback for it from the instructor and peers, and obviously have something to say. So, why do they quit?
Is it because they see it as homework? Something that needs to be done for class, and can be stopped once the final grades are in?
Or is it because all the feedback they get comes only from the instructor and classmates? The class is a small community which formally and automatically dissolves the moment the semester is over. If the community is gone, who are you writing for?
Would they continue blogging if they felt they were a part of a larger community and, more importantly, a continuous community, one that has no expiration date? If we all sent them traffic by linking to their posts from our blogs, Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook etc., would they see that kind of feedback as a motivation to keep writing? If we posted comments on their blogs, would they feel like members of a broader community and would gladly continue engaging with it?
The same goes for even younger bloggers. Duke summer program had high schoolers blogging as well. How about Miss Baker’s students? Would comments on their posts be felt as intrusive or would they be seen as welcoming to a broader community and motivating to keep writing?
Are one-off events, e.g., attendance at ScienceOnline conferences, sufficient to give students enough momentum to continue long-term?
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