Student Blogs and the Pandemic

One very nice discovery during the pandemic has been finding new ways for students to work collaboratively with each other in their writing and research by using blogs. Years ago I experimented with blogs. They’re not a new thing! For instance, I used it on a study abroad program to Hue, Vietnam as a way for students who were traveling, away from libraries and dorms, to log their writing and share with friends back home.

But this winter term, there’s not really the same motivation. It’s not like we’re traveling to magical lands, meeting amazing, new people, eating wonderful, new foods! 🙂 But still, students want CONNECTION. And perhaps they are taking their digital connection a little more seriously since it is all they have. Last term, I dove down the rabbit hole of a discord server with my 500-student History 20, but discord lacks any real lasting structure, just an endless chat and it tends to foster gamer-style chats, little more.

But blogs, and especially commenting and asking students to CITE each others blogs in their papers, this WORKS! I’m teaching an Early SE Asian History course this term, and students are asked to write blogs on a prearranged list of topics:

They bring in and cite sources, and then other students writing about Angkor, Pagan, Dai Viet etc. are asked to cite other students’ blogs in developing their take-home essays. And they are required to cite their peers’ blogs and add comments on each one they use. Here’s a sample, student comments on David Baltierra’s blog on the cosmology of Angkor Wat:

By requiring students to build their own arguments from other students’ research, I managed to build in some legit peer review, I think! And I for one really like the public nature of this writing. I tell students that I can refer to their writing in rec letters, and I do, and I think it helps (good writers, good students) on their post-baccalaureate applications. I mean, it’s not a thesis, but for many students at Riverside applying to Cal States for their teacher credentials, it’s something.