Blog Writing: For Students, part 1

I love writing in this blog (even if no one else loves reading it)! Finally, I can write about and give some more critical attention to so many ideas/media examples/troublesome incidents that have been filling my brain for (maybe) too long. Now when I have a thought (or two or three or twenty) I can do more than ponder its significance. I can actually, through the labor of writing, give some serious attention to why it troubles me. I can begin to work with and through its significance and its value for my understandings of the world. Somehow I feel more accountable for my thoughts when I go to the effort of trying to shape them into some sort of coherent, accessible (and hopefully sometimes witty) entry.

Before I started writing in this blog, I had written very few blog entries for my course blogs. Sure, I had come up with weekly question postings or announcements, but that was about it. Now that I am 2 months into this blog, I have a few tentative thoughts about blog writing and why it is (and sometimes isn’t) useful for thinking through/critically reflecting on/demonstrating a knowledge of ideas, concepts, or theories.

*Now, blogs can serve all sorts of purposes. The following comments are specifically about using the blog as a tool for thinking critically and seriously engaging with texts/theories/ideas/media images, etc.. And, they are aimed primarily (but not exclusively) at students who are writing blogs for (mine or other) courses.

Blog entries should not be just brain dumps. I want blog posts (both mine and ones I might assign to students) to demonstrate a *serious* engagement with a text or an idea or a theory. By serious, I mean that the blog post should be thoughtful and deep and indicate that the writer has actually read and thought through the idea/reading that they are writing about. Serious doesn’t necessarily mean writing lots of (big and fancy) words. It just means taking seriously the idea or text that you are reading and writing about and actually trying to understand and converse with it.

A blog post is more than a free-writing exercise in which you string together every possible idea that you have about your chosen topic.  I could see free-writing on the blog as possibly productive (maybe if you structured it using these tips), but, as a brain dump, it makes me nervous. The blog is a public site that anyone with a computer can read. I would feel a little too exposed revealing every thought I had (and unfiltered, no less) to anyone. Just think of how many spambots that could attract!

Writing a blog entry requires more time than you think. In connection with #1, because blog entries are not just brain dumps, you need to spend some time thinking through your thoughts as you write. If you are someone that can just spout brilliant, well thought out prose in a manner of minutes, then, don’t worry and just keep doing what your doing. For the rest of us (and I definitely include myself in this us), processing and thinking through an idea or a text takes some time. By thinking through I mean, asking yourself some questions, like: What do I think about this idea/article? Why is it important and/or problematic? How can I organize and articulate my thinking about it?

Now, something that I find especially great about blog writing is this: The process of writing your post can help you to answer some of these questions. I find writing a blog entry to be more freeing that writing an essay or a journal article. The structure is very informal (but not too informal–proper grammar, spelling and citing of your sources still apply!) and there is not much pressure. After all, entries aren’t that long and our expectations for what insight they can produce aren’t that great. So, I am not nearly as intimidated when I sit down to write about an idea or example of theory or reading. That means that I don’t feel like I have to have all of the answers or a comprehensive understanding of how to structure my post.

As I write an entry, thoughts on how and why something is really important start to come to me. Oftentimes, I start writing about an idea/reading/theory and then realize it works in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated (and maybe should have). For example, when I wrote this entry about Mike and Carol Brady as bad parents who promoted a set of disturbing (and very non-troublemaking) family values, I wasn’t sure how to link their bad parenting with bad family values and moral education. But, through the process of writing about examples, I found some key connections. For me, that is what makes writing in a blog so effective as a tool for critical thinking.

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