During a faculty meeting to discussion the state of composition on the college campus, our research librarian bemoaned that too many students are “looking for proof, rather than truth.” Honestly, I thought proof was a good thing and said so. He explained that students often bypass research before arriving at a thesis statement. They conjure up a thesis first, and then look for proof that their thesis is right. This can lead to so pretty dubious forms of proof. Decidedly not good. The librarian found himself begging students to research first, to familiarize themselves with a topic, to weigh the facts, to assess the validity of arguments, and, through a careful search for truth, to then arrive at the thesis.
But I know how hard it is to convince students to let the evidence lead the way. There is so much to read! There is so much to decipher. They feel like they may never arrive at that thesis. This is where the blog approach comes in handy:
Using either student websites or a learning management system (e.g., Canvas, Blackboard), assign weekly or bi-weekly blog entries. Allow the student to “become an expert” by writing about something related to the subject that you teach. If, for example, you teach political science, you might ask each student to pick a current political newsmaker—a politician, a referendum, a movement—and link to articles about that topic in the news. Students should also write a summary and/or a reaction to each article.
At the end of the semester, direct the students to write an argument essay about that very same topic. This is a win-win assignment because the student will already feel knowledgeable about the subject and will have a wealth of research from which to draw evidence and examples. Moreover, the student will have established a niche for him/herself with the blog, a niche that can work in their favor in college/job applications. As the instructor, you will get a more insightful and polished essay.
As a bonus, where students’ chosen topics overlap, those students may end up reading and commenting on each other’s websites/blogs in the search for more information or insight. In other words, the conversation in the classroom can organically spill into students’ online lives.
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