Incorporating Blog Consumption into the Classroom

There is currently a proposal before ISA to prevent blogging by the editorial members of ISA journals.  While there are a few posts discussing how this is professionally problematic and limits some real discussion that is happening via blog, there is one other arena such a mandate would also hurt: My classroom.  

During the 2013-2014 academic year, I have been part of a teaching program at Boise State (Boise State Teaching Scholars) that aims to help early-career professors develop a more robust classroom while incorporating what we know from the scholarship on teaching and learning.  Part of my work through this group has been to develop a new current events section in my course based on blogging. Some of you are familiar that I have already worked on making my IR syllabus more web-consumption friendly, and this is a more formal extension of that project. 

***

One of the major things lacking in my introduction to International Relations course is a concurrent focus on ongoing international events.  While issues about Syria or North Korea would inevitably creep up into the classroom last semester, I have not previously devoted classroom time or grading space to incorporating student comprehension of active events, but instead, hope that they used the theoretical and empirical understanding of world politics to understand whatever events they happen across in their daily habits.

In some previous classes that I had taken as an undergrad or had been a teaching assistant for, there has, occasionally been a component that incorporated current events.  When I was a teaching assistant for Introduction to American Politics at Binghamton, the course required students to be subscribed to the New York TImes and had regular quizzes on the major current events that the front page covered.  This requirement is an expectation for students to be knowledgeable about the ongoing world.

While I have toyed with introducing newspapers into the classroom, I have been reluctant to force students to subscribe to a newspaper on top of the three books they already have to buy for IR. I do not think many of my students read newspapers currently and may be entirely foreign to the concept of a folded newspaper—I can only imagine them trying to put a newspaper back together, like a map in the glove box (another archaic task that most of my students will be unfamiliar with).  I considered having them keep up with the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, or CNN online as well, but given the constant flux in front page news and the addition of pay-walls to some of the content, this would be too burdensome for my students to keep up with or have a reasonable expectation of what they should know.

Given these issues, I have turned to blogs for the current semester.  My students mostly get their news online, so having them add a few blogs to their daily reading should not be too problematic for them.  Additionally, blogs are timestamped and I can require them to pay attention to blogs on particular days to supplement their reading.  Finally, the blogs I am having them read discuss current events in the context of international relations research.  Occasionally, political scientists do write op-eds for local newspapers, but this is much more sparse than the current blogging environment. Ultimately, I hope this increases their comprehension of class material by having access to additional academic voices analyzing current events. 

The syllabus entry for my class is the following:

Screenshot 2014-01-29 11.14.41

Over the last two days of class (we are on day three as of today), I have discussed this component, how to access to the blogs, and went over the kinds of posts they should be interested in and the ones that they can skip (though, if the topic is of interest to them, they should read it).  This experiment is new, so I have yet to evaluate my students' ability to keep up and I am months away from seeing if it has any effect on their tests relative to previous classes. 

Today (Wednesday), is the first quiz.  Given the topics covered on both sources over the last four business days, I am asking the following questions  (if any of my students are keeping up with my blog via RSS feed, then they will be well prepared for class today):

1) In what European country are there ongoing, massive political protests?
    A. Italy
    B. Greece
    C. Ukraine
    D. Belarus
    E. Latvia

2) What recent behavior provoked the protests?
    A. The President of the country has been diplomatically moving the country away from the European Union.
    B. The President of the country has been diplomatically moving the country away from Russia. 
    C. The protests are mostly anarchists from surrounding countries; there’s no real cause.
    D. The collapse of the Soviet Union.
    E. The United States threatened to send troops to the country.

3) Former President Mohamed Morsi was removed as President of Egypt by the military. What faction within Egyptian society does he have strong ties to?
    A. The military
    B. The Muslim Brotherhood
    C. Al-Qaeda
    D. The International Monetary Fund
    E. Israel

4) Research indicates (as discussed on The Monkey Cage) that there is a correlation between increased repression levels in Muslim countries (Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen) and support for what?
    A. US intervention
    B. The government currently in power
    C. Islamism
    D. Israel
    E. Democracy

5) True/False: Tension between South Korea and Japan has been increasing and both countries are allies of the United States.

I expect questions Two and Four to be the most difficult of the questions.

***

My classroom currently relies upon academic blogging to help my students engage the material they are learning with current events.  While I attempt to do some of that in my class, having online resources added to their daily consumption will help me help them struggle through some of the more difficult concepts while also putting a face to sometimes abstract theory.  The ISA's proposed rules would potentially limit the daily content of several political science blogs and may make it harder for me to point my students to active conversations within the discipline.  

Michael A. Allen

About Michael A. Allen

Michael is an Assistant Professor in Political Science at Boise State University with a focus in International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Methodology (quantitative and formal). His work includes issues related to military basing abroad, asymmetric relations, cooperation, and conflict. He received his Ph.D from Binghamton University in 2011.

One thought on “Incorporating Blog Consumption into the Classroom

  1. Like you, I have found blogs quite useful in the undergraduate classroom. I have also found them very useful in graduate training. At UGA, we have been conducting monthly graduate student professionalization seminars. Thus far, I believe I have cited information and advice from blog posts in every one of these seminars that I have attended. For example, I often cite Chris Blattman’s advice on how to manage advisers, Nate Jensen’s post on his paper’s long journey through the review process , and Andrew Gelman’s recent post on how to approach re-writing a research article. Posts like these provide a valuable service to the discipline, which seems like the opposite of “unprofessional.”

Leave a Reply