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.