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March 2011 Archives

Preparing For The Future


Marcus Lee, a student in his junior year at Penn State, started blogging for the university this semester. His passion for writing has pushed him to investigate how technology is affecting the way students and teachers communicate both inside and outside the classroom.

We write because we have to. It is one of the oldest yet meaningful ways to communicate between human beings. From the moment every person started school all the way through their careers in their respective professions, writing played an important part in their success. Colleges put major emphasis on writing courses, trying to prepare students for the workplace setting on how to be professional and accurate with whatever they are writing. Penn State University has a course, English 202, which is a required course for undergraduates on how to write and read critically and effectively. There are four different types of this course: A-Social Sciences, B-Humanities. C-Technical, and D-Business. However what we are seeing from these courses is an adaptation to the change in technology. More and more of these courses are moving toward electronic course work because of the rapid evolution of electronic communication. 

In particular, English 202C has become the main driver for the English 202 courses. Through the Education Technology Services, English 202C moved to a digital format to allow students to publish some of their work online. What was realized was that students were simply typing up papers and turning them in, with no one able to read them accept peers and the professor. Publishing the work online allows the student to reach a larger audience while still projecting their voice through a piece of writing. Today's workplace is more than simply typing a report and handing it to a supervisor or a group of subordinates. Company personnel has to be able to communicate through online networks in order to make communication cheaper and faster.

Alison C Jaenicke, who has been teaching her English 202C course online since spring 2009, finds that students writing in an online environment is something that will come increasingly important over the course of their careers. Even more interesting was the fact that she does not see blogs as a way that students are communicating better with her as the professor, but with other students in the course. The blog has allowed them to interact more. And something like this can translate to the workplace. Increasingly we are seeing jobs give personality tests, trying to figure out who is sociable and can fit in their work environment. Students interacting prepares them for big companies where communication both in and out of the workplace is key.

Jaenicke recognizes that students do not use the blog for much more than classwork, but some students do go on to express other views. These "other" views are key to the success of blogs at Penn State. Students go beyond what is required because they feel comfortable writing in such an environment, and that can translate well to their writing future.

The future for Jaenicke and other English courses looks bright as far as using the online arena as a means to have students publish their work. Jaenicke also uses blogs in her English 30, 232W, and 487W courses. Starting as a "pilot project" for the English Department, the integration of student work into the "Digital Age" will better prepare students for the writing requirements of the workplace setting. The intention all along has been to start with 202C, but expand this project to all 202 courses as well as English 15 and 30. But professors like Jaenicke have taken the initiative and expanded the blogs to other courses. This can only be a positive step toward making students successful beyond the classroom. 

Write because you want to. Write because you have to. It is what is expected.

Ethical Blogs

Marcus Lee, a student in his junior year at Penn State, started blogging for the university this semester. His passion for writing has pushed him to investigate how technology is affecting the way students and teachers communicate both inside and outside the classroom.

"A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world." - Albert Camus

I have no clue who this fellow is but the quote does make sense. Ethics are what a person or a group of people live by, and it takes a strong force to break a bond of moral principles. A class on campus, Communications 409: News Media Ethics, has made use of blogs as a way for students to give their ethical viewpoints on lectures, the news, and daily life experiences. The name of the class should instantly portray that there is a lot to say, especially since the media has little ethics and was probably the "wild beast" Albert Camus was touching on. Nonetheless, the class and Professor Bu Zhong have created a forum of free thoughts on some of the world's most intriguing topics through the use of blogs. 

Bu Zhong created the blog for this class three years ago and has since changed the format so that he creates the blog and puts his students in as co-authors instead of allowing everyone to manage their own individual blogs. This keeps everyone close together and interacting in one space instead of 20 different ones. For Professor Zhong, he views blogs as helping the learning process become translucent. Students usually do not think about discussions as much as they do when they are in the classroom. Most students in classrooms today want to be in and out with little participation and a quick lecture. To tackle the issue, Professor Zhong believes blogs can slightly eliminate the classroom feel and allow students to be involved and interact in ways they may not if they were face to face. 

An important feature of blogs that Professor Zhong mentioned was that more and more students are starting to adopt smartphones and other portable electronic devices they can take with them and access the Internet with at anytime. Some of his students respond to blog posts while on the bus, while waiting for another class to start, or while eating. Even while not in the classroom, learning is still occurring and allows his students to eliminate the feel of a formal lecture area. 

A portion of the blogs is used to post research papers and sources used for those papers. Entries are read by Zhong, fellow students, family, friends, and outsiders from different countries, including former students. As more and more students see the attention they get from outside of State College, the more they are inspired to engage in the blog. The Internet makes it possible to connect with more people, and since it is such a large source of communication, students will start to realize that the blogs they post have endless possibilities. 

At one point, Professor Zhong did try Facebook as a way to mix an academic course and social networking, but he admits that Facebook doesn't engage students as well as class blogs. He mentioned that as soon as students log into their accounts, their minds are immediately pulled somewhere that is not course related. Blogs may eliminate the classroom feel, but when students log into them all they see is course related topics. Students in Zhong's course are required to post classwork on top of issues that are related to the course.

As for the future, Professor Zhong has stated that he plans to continue to use blogs as a part of the course. His students believe that it is one of the best parts of the class. Maybe future professors will follow the trend of using blogs as a way to engage students in course work. In a class at the 400 level, students are enjoying the freedom of doing their work in different settings. Blogs provide freedom and space to speak your mind.

Update: This problem was resolved at 8:30am on March 22nd, 2010.

A bug was found with a recent update to the Blogs at Penn State system. Tags
with spaces are no longer behaving as expected. For example, clicking on the tag, "cover letter",  is actually returning the results of a search for entries with both the tags "cover" and "letter".

The team is working on a fix.

A temporary workaround would be to do a search from your blog for "cover letter" with the quotes, and select the tag option before hitting the search button.


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