Lunch with Chuck ...
At Blog Them Out of the Stone Age, Mark Grimsley has been giving us a rendition of his"BreakfastwithDenny." It's a version of his conversations with the conservative military historian Dennis Showalter at the Society for Military History convention in Charleston, SC. So, I thought I should bring you up to speed on my Lunch with Charles Tryon of Georgia Tech on Friday here in Atlanta.
You get a sense of the odd way the internet's"virtual world" relates to the"real world" if you know that the following propositions are all true:
(1) Charles Tryon and I live about a mile from each other in Atlanta;It looks to me like a further refinement of Robert Wiebe's thesis in The Search for Order about island communities, the emergence of professions in the late nineteenth century, and the ways in which new forms of transportation and communications drew new lines of connection and isolation. It helps me to understand why I barely know who my next door neighbor is, but I feel a need to run by Tim Burke's Easily Distracted or Sharon Howard's Early Modern Notes fairly regularly for the day's reality check.
(2) We've crossed paths on the net a time or two;
(3) We'd never actually met until Friday;
(4) I've been blogging at Cliopatria with Miriam Elizabeth Burstein for, oh, about a year;
(5) Charles Tryon and Miriam Burstein met at an MLA convention; and
(6) I've never actually met Miriam Burstein.
Chuck Tryon and I first crossed paths on the net before Cliopatria was born, when I was still doing Welcome to My World. He was teaching a writing course,"Writing to the Moment", at Georgia Tech and made use of blogs in teaching students to write. Fairly new to the form then myself, it struck me as a form of madness. (scroll down to 09-04-03) The net was already encouraging students to plagiarize, I thought, and blogging did not encourage the revision after revision of one's own work that produces good writing.
I'm still not sure that I was wrong about either of those things. The net is a tool that will be used to plagiarize, if a student is inclined to do that; and I've seen enough blogging to know when someone is writing too much"to the moment." Whether for a blog or for print, respect for a reader and pride in one's own work usually requires carefully recrafting the work again and again. And, yet, I'm now much less hostile to using blogs to teach good writing than I was 18 months ago. For one thing, pioneers like Esther MacCallum Stewart at Break of Day in the Trenches and Chuck Tryon at The Chutry Experiment have tried it. They report back to us and have been featured in The Guardian for their experiments with it.
Recently, I was preparing an article,"Were There Blog Enough and Time," for the American Historical Association's Perspectives. In it, frankly, I want to seduce some of my fellow professional historians into this promiscuous behavior by showing its capacity to reach out to worlds of other historians, students, and laypeople and do that by showcasing the work of some of us who are doing it. By now, we count about 145 or more history blogs on the net. The number is growing rapidly. We reproduce, as Cliopatria spawns The Dictionary of Received Ideas, Frog in a Well, Rebunk, and Time Travel is Easy; we grow by example, as Tim Burke's students launch Gnostical Turpitude and No Loss for Words or Mark Grimsley's student launches Classical Archaeologist; and we talk with our colleagues about blogging, as Tim Burke and Chuck Tryon have done.
Which brings me back to lunch with Chuck. I wanted to know how his experiment in using blogs as a teaching tool had gone. Well, the short form is, that it went well, because he's still doing it. Some of the responses to his Writing to the Moment are here. It continued in a second semester course, the last time he used individual blogs. His fall 2005 course focussed on Rhetoric and Democracy. One of the things that is fascinating about Tryon's use of blogs as a teaching tool is that students began to get comments from outside readers of their blogs. It's hard to imagine a more dramatic way to help students to become self-conscious about having an audience and shaping the written word for an audience – one which is not"just the professor." GT North Korea and World Police are two group blogs from his course on Rhetoric and Democracy.
I needed to talk with Chuck about my article for Perspectives on History Blogging because he could point me to Austin Lingerfelt's paper,"The (Classroom) Blog: A Moment for Literacy, A Moment for Giving Pause," about ways in which blogs have been used in teaching humanities courses. I needed to talk with Chuck because he'd met Miriam Burstein in person and I'm still awaiting the pleasure.
Update: Tryon's"Lunch with Ralph" is about the same conversation, I think! Seriously, at his blog, Chuck responds to some of my early reservations about using blogs to teach writing.
Lisa Roy Vox - 3/28/2005
I've utilized internet forums in the past in my courses, but plan to try out blogs in the future. I have had problems with students misusing the internet--certainly many students don't bring to bear any sort of critical reasoning when choosing websites to use as resources, which is why I force them to get my permission in writing or email to use any web resource. (Not a fail-safe either of course).
As for worrying about someone mistaking your class's blog as an academic resource, if it is meant to be a classroom conversation, you could password protect the directory within which the entire blog resides. Ask your college's IT dept. how to do so. Then only you and your students (and anyone else you give username and password access to the blog's directory) could see the blog. I do that when I scan in readings for students to print out so that I'm not breaking any copyright laws (still using the readings for educational purposes and no one but my students have access). If you want your students to reach out to the public as part of the blog project, then why not have a sidebar on the blog explaining that it is the blog of such and such class?
Thanks Ralph for the links, esp. Austin Lingerfelt's paper, which was nice since he talking about how using blogs as an undergraduate in a course inspired him to start writing. Very encouraging.
Chuck Tryon - 3/27/2005
Check out my entry on lunch--I've thought through some of your reservations about blogging in the classroom. I'll certainly agree that it's not productive for every class (or even every writing class), but there have been some cool benefits.
In terms of students putting work online, I do allow them to publish under psuedonyms, nicknames, or whatever to give them a little more freedom not to worry about writing for such a wide audience.
Oscar Chamberlain - 3/27/2005
One reason I have been reluctant to have class assignments that end up posted on the web has been that the ".edu" suffix might lead the unwary to take the material as either created by, or thoroughly vetted by, faculty. (Some of my students have done this on occasion.)
Blogging seems potentially less dangerous. Any thoughts?
Sherman Jay Dorn - 3/27/2005
It's hard to imagine a more dramatic way to help students to become self-conscious about having an audience and shaping the written word for an audience – one which is not "just the professor."
That raises an interesting dilemma in terms of privacy: how far can one require that students work in public or, doing so, use a particular service? Many arts classes certainly require public performances, but they include plenty of closed rehearsals. But a blog is "out there" from day one. I have a class blog this semester (my first experiment with it), but I told students to talk to me if they had concerns about the user agreement or writing journal entries in public.
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