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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.


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