Student Blogging - What You Should Know
Sean Rahman, Michigan State University
Most students are already familiar with using blogs on sites like Myspace to record thoughts, meet people, and keep in touch with their friends. But blogging is slowly making inroads into university classrooms – some university courses now include online components that will require you to keep and update a blog. Not only are blogs useful for letting friends communicate and stay in touch, but in a classroom setting they might encourage student-to-student learning, allow communication between a course instructor and their students, and generally make writing more exciting for students.
Most students are already familiar with using blogs on sites like Myspace to record thoughts, meet people, and keep in touch with their friends. But blogging is slowly making inroads into university classrooms - some university courses now include online components that will require you to keep and update a blog. Not only are blogs useful for letting friends communicate and stay in touch, but in a classroom setting they might encourage student-to-student learning, allow communication between a course instructor and their students, and generally make writing more exciting for students.
Before you jump head first into blogging in a university setting, there's several things that might come in handy to know. The blogging you'll do for your classes is much different in subject and tone than the personal blogging you might already be doing for your friends. These are just suggestions to help ease you into that transition - your instructor might have his or her own way of doing things, or some of these strategies may not apply to your specific course. These are just suggestions and things to keep in mind as you create and maintain your blog.
1. Create a separate blog for your class work.
Some classes may ask you to submit a certain number of blog entries a week on a particular subject. If you're asked to do this, you may be tempted to just make the updates in a blog you're already using. However, this can be confusing for your readers and is not recommended for several reasons. You probably aren't going to want your friends and people you know online commenting on the updates you had to make for class, and there may be updates on your blog that you feel aren't appropriate for your classmates or professor to read. Separating your personal and class blogs keeps things professional and insures that the right audience is reading what you want them to. Additionally, you may want to refrain from linking your class blog to your personal blog, and vice-versa for this same reason. If you choose to use your personal blog for class work, you might consider "tagging" your school entries as such when you write the posts so that your classmates and professors can easily find your school-related posts.
2. Write your blog entries in a word-processing program like Microsoft Word first, before uploading them.
The usefulness of the grammar and spell-checking features of programs like Word can't be stressed enough in a scholastic setting. While you probably aren't going to be graded on your spelling by the time you're in college, it's important to realize that proper grammar and spelling go a long way towards creating a professional impression. A blog has the potential to be read by anyone from your professors to potential employers, and thanks to search engines like Google, your old blog entries can often be dragged up by anyone with just a few clicks of a mouse, and you'll want them to represent you in the best possible way. Additionally, misspelled words can make it difficult for readers to search through your posts quickly.
3. Save a copy of your blog entries on your own computer - or on a floppy disk, a thumbdrive, or a CD.
You never know when there's going to be some kind of flub and your whole blog entry is munched by the internet powers that be while you're in the process of uploading it. Additionally, having your own copy of your blog entries can be useful when you're trying to convince your professor that you actually did complete the assignment when you were supposed to.
4. Know the benefits and drawbacks of blogging anonymously.
Before you start your class blog, you need to decide if you're going to attribute it to yourself, write it anonymously, or use a pseudonym (fake name or screen name). Some professors will require you to blog under your real name, but others may give you a choice. There are positive and negative aspects to both; if you blog anonymously you can say anything you want without fear of personal reprisal from your readers, but on the other hand you'll never get any recognition in real-life for any high-quality work you do. If you use your real name in your blog entries, you'll get the recognition for good entries but any sloppy blogging you do will be attributed to you for as long as your blog is online.
5. Don't wait until the last minute before your blog entry is due to upload it.
Internet access can be fickle, especially if you're blogging from an off-campus location. You don't want to wait until right before your blog entry is due to write it just to have your internet access cut out, causing your entry to be submitted late. Also, our own research suggests that students found posts submitted at the last minute to be less interesting and well-written than posts that were written and submitted earlier. The reason for this is that posts submitted closest to the deadline tended to be hastily right before the deadline. So, definitely make it a point to give yourself plenty of time to construct your entry if you're striving to write the best one possible. (And, if you are reading the posts of your classmates, be sure to scroll back to uncover some of the posts that were submitted earlier!)
6. Make constructive comments on your classmates' blogs.
As part of your blogging exercises, your instructor will ask you to read your classmates' blogs and respond to what they have written. When you're making comments, try to come up with a thoughtful response to the points they made - try to avoid simply taking the topic they chose and writing your own, unrelated thoughts. Good feedback is a response to what they actually wrote, not just the topic they chose. Don't be afraid to give someone critical feedback, either. If you think they could have looked at an issue in a different way, don't hesitate to tell them this in a civil manner. Most of your classmates will be glad that you took the time to respond thoughtfully, whether you agreed with them or not. Try to put some "meat" into your post as well - many instructors won't give full credit for "Me, too!" comments that don't contain any content.
7. Above all, don't expect to get more out of blogging than you put in.
The quality of your blog is a direct result of the time and effort you put into writing it. If you don't take writing it seriously, you can't expect your classmates to be able to respond with quality feedback about what you've written. If you aren't enjoying blogging, or don't feel you're getting what you're supposed to out of the activity, don't hesitant to speak with your instructor about it - tell them what you would change to make it more interesting or tell them what subjects you'd rather write about. The point of blogging as a class is to get everyone involved, and the last thing your instructor wants is for their students to see it as a waste of time.