Embracing the Weblog

One student wonders online about an assignment and asks for guidance, another shares some thoughts on the latest lecture and the subject material covered by a professor. Welcome to the world of Web logs, or as they are better known – Weblogs, or simply “blogs”. A new form of Web communications, a Weblog is an online diary or live journal, created on the Internet and may feature text, illustrations, music and photographs. Blogs are a freestyle form of communication and are their impact on Web communications can be compared to the effect that snowboarding had on skiing – freeflowing, fast and creative.

Right: York students are using the Weblog as a tool to enhance their learning and understanding of course material

The US dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster said “blog” headed the list of most looked-up terms on its site during the last 12 months. During 2004 blogs became a very popular form of communication and some have started to influence mainstream media.

At York University, teaching practices that keep pace with technology are proving invaluable to students. “Having students create blogs is an excellent way to engage them in the theoretical concepts of a course,” says York University professor Nadine Wettlaufer.

Students in Wettlaufer’s Cultural Theory through New Media course were required to submit regular Weblog entries, accounting for 25 percent of their final grade – the percentage normally allotted to an essay or term paper. The blogs feature their reflections on readings and in-class discussion, which allow them to explore advanced areas of theoretical and artistic practice.

“Blogs, as well as other Internet-based forms of communication, encourage the exchange of ideas. Increased engagement and debate on the part of the students leads to more complete and nuanced understanding of the material. Blogging can make a significant contribution to such understanding, which can translate into higher marks,” she says.

“The medium makes it easier for students (and instructors) to focus on student thoughts in great depth and continuity. Basically, blogs turn more focus and control over to the individual.”

Wettlaufer isn’t suggesting that academia do away with traditional formats, nor contesting their intrinsic value. Students are also required to submit a formal paper – “printed out on paper,” she emphasizes.

“As a form of reflective writing, blogs can be useful in a wide range of disciplines,” says Wettlaufer. But she cautions against adopting technology merely because it’s trendy.

“It has to bring real value to a course. However, we’re living in an era where in many ways we’re dependent on communication technologies – e-mail, Web, chat, cell phones. The use of these technologies is intimately woven into our daily lives. We need to address that not only in what we teach, but how we teach.”

A blog entry by Fine Arts Cultural Studies student Liz Kerrison raises questions about technological integration and its effect on how she processes information.

“Am I a cyborg? I have glasses. I have piercings; I have metal on me, through me. Around me. I communicate more with phones, computers, internet, signals, radio waves, Web cams and images than I do through just hands and mouth. I affect change through my iBook. My thought process does not run along a straight path. I have many intersections and diverging paths…I do not think in a straight line. Is it in my nature? Or is it affected by technology, around me?”