Blog use increases among Emerson classes

by Beacon Staff • October 27, 2011

strongJacqueline Pauley, Beacon Corresspondent/strong

Riley Hunt scrolls down his Tumblr dashboard, past all the recent assignments for his Dimensions of Creativity class, to one about being kept in a silent room.

“[The assignments are] all about new experiences, and we write about them here,” the freshman visual and media arts major said of the Tumblr page.

Blogs like Hunt’s are becoming a more familiar aspect of learning to many Emerson students, as professors increasingly begin to use the medium as a way to gauge class feedback and as a part of the department curriculum.

In their Dimensions of Creativity class, visual and media arts professors Maurice Methot and Tom Kingdon use blogs as an informal teaching tool.  Students express what they experienced during class and discuss their feelings about the day’s lesson, such as the experience of being kept in a silent room that Hunt blogged about, the professors said.

“It’s like a reflection of what we do,” Hunt said of his blog. “It doesn’t have to be anything specific.”

According to Methot and Kingdon, each student is required to post once a week on a blog of their own making. The students can use commercial Internet blog sites, like WordPress and Tumblr, rather than an Emerson-run program like WebCT. Methot said most students have been posting responses in written form, but some have submitted drawings, pictures, and even audio pieces. In his most recent post, Hunt included a link to a related YouTube video.

Kingdon and Methot said the blogging is a necessary aspect of the course, and while the format may be foreign, they are eager to see how it will work. Kingdon said Dimensions of Creativity has four professors, each in a two-week cycle, and gives students a perspective on how to be creative using the platforms of sound, visual arts, performance, and thought processes.

The experimental nature of the class grants professors more freedom to look at new teaching tools, said Kingdon. The blogs function both as a check on how students are performing in the class and on how they feel about it. Because the writing doesn’t have to be formal, Kingdon said he wouldn’t necessarily use blogs in a higher level class.

“At that level, I’m more interested in their more thought-out, formal responses,” he said.

But not all professors are having success with their class blogs. Journalism professor Louise Kennedy said that while she uses blogs to get a more informal response from students in her Foundations of Journalism class, she is finding that students aren’t using them in the manner she had hoped.

This year, the journalism department set up blogs for many of its courses, as well as a blog for each individual student. Kennedy said she was expecting students to use the class blog as a medium to communicate with each other and ask questions about assignments, but so far it hasn’t turned out that way.

As a professor, Kennedy says the blog is logistically difficult to use.

“I’m grading papers and checking WebCT and then I have to go to each person’s blog,” she said. “Right now it’s too much.”

Kennedy said that although she used a blog as a part of her Beat Reporting class last spring semester, the concept is still new to her.

“I think blogs could work well in teaching journalism, but it’s new and I’m still learning how to use it. That’s one of the great things about Emerson; I’m learning as I’m teaching,” she said.

Professors from both the visual and media arts department and the journalism department said that students in their classes also have a wide range of experience in blogging. Some have been blogging for years, while others are taking their first crack at it.

Among the first-time blog users is freshman journalism major, Maggie Smolka. She said she uses a blog in her Introduction to Visual Arts class to expand on thoughts about the class and to turn in assignments.

Smolka said she writes a blog post every week. Sometimes it’s a reflection on the lessons of that week, but sometimes they go on museum visits and write about the experience. The posts aren’t graded, Smolka said, but students receive a pass/fail for completion and thoughtfulness.

“I think the blog enhances the class because it makes me think more deeply about what we talked about,” Smolka said.