Presenters: Jason Davidson
Since spring 2010 I have used course blogs in all my upper level classes. While all the course blogs I have used have contributed to student learning, this year I had an epiphany: blogs fit better with some course topics than others.
In my Alliance Politics, United States Foreign Policy, and Security and Conflict Studies courses blogs have been useful. They have allowed students to deepen their knowledge of current events relating to the general topic of the course. Students also used their blogs to learn more about topics that they wrote their research papers on. Finally, blogging has helped students develop their writing and critical thinking skills.
Only in my Theories of International Relations (IR) course, however, did the blog fundamentally contribute to student learning of the core content of the course. While the previously mentioned courses focus on concrete content (e.g., the 2003 Iraq War), Theories of IR teaches students abstract theories they can use to explain IR.
Teaching the course poses two challenges: 1. Some students struggle with the abstract nature of the theories and 2. Most students are skeptical of the utility of the theories. I have addressed these issues by assigning reading that uses examples of interest and by having students apply the theories to an event of interest to them in their papers. Only with the blog, however, have students engaged in a weekly application of one of the theories to real world events. That exercise helped students learn the course material more thoroughly and it allowed them to see for themselves how the theories help make sense of events in the real world.