Monday, December 17

Blogs update class experience


When one thinks about a university math class, several thoughts
come to mind ““ finals, midterms, problem sets ““ but
blogging is usually not one of them.

For mathematics Professor Chad Topaz, however, blogs are an
important tool for learning math.

Topaz requires each of his students to write blogs after every
textbook reading as a portion of their final grade in Math 151A,
“Applied Numerical Methods.”

Topaz is one of a number of UCLA professors turning to blogs as
a tool to enhance out-of-classroom learning.

In his class, students are asked to respond in a blog to the
part of the reading assignment they found more difficult to
understand.

Students are also asked to write on what they find interesting
about the material, or how it relates to the world or their other
knowledge and interests.

The use of blogging also helps Topaz tailor his lectures to
course elements that most students find difficult. Topaz said after
reading the class entries he sees trends of what students do not
understand.

Some students have reacted positively to the new use of
technology.

“I think blogging is a really good idea. He forces you to
give a quick feedback,” said Brian Price, a fourth-year
mathematics student.

Saabir Kapoor, a fourth-year applied mathematics and
economics/international area studies student in the class, said he
thought the blogs would help students be better prepared for the
class, but said the blogging could be tedious.

Topaz is not the only faculty member on campus who uses blogging
as a part of class.

Visiting scholar H. Samy Alim uses blogs in his course,
“The Language of Hip Hop Culture,” which is
cross-listed in anthropology and Afro-American studies.

Students are required to write two blog entries per week, one in
response to the reading and another to generate discussion among
the students beyond the classroom.

This more anonymous form of communication allows reserved
students an opportunity to express their opinions without
face-to-face contact and also provides a more comfortable
environment to discuss sensitive issues presented in class, Alim
said.

Alim also said he adjusts his lectures according to the
responses he reads in the blog.

Additional benefits of blogging, according to Alim, are that
class time is doubled when students are thinking about the material
while blogging and that it builds upon class discussions that are
time-constrained.

Patrick Williams, a fifth-year political science student, said
blogging in class was “a new, pretty personalized way to
express yourself. It’s an easy way to track different threads
of thoughts.”

Alim believes that blogging as a part of class instruction is
part of a growing trend and a natural progression of pedagogy with
so many students on the Web.

“Lectures can’t be analog while (students’)
lives are digital,” Alim said.

English Professor Katherine Hayles has also used blogs for her
seminars for graduate students. In the blogs, students respond to
the literature, and read and share their views with faculty and
other students.

For Hayles, the blogs offer more flexibility and easy access for
students and faculty to communicate.

Students can post links, images and other diverse material and
extend discussions beyond the seminar.

Hayles has tried using course Web sites and e-mail in the past
for discussions outside the classroom, but said she found blogging
to be the most workable.

Matt Dubord, a doctoral candidate in English, said that blogging
in Hayles’ class allowed for online collaboration among
students when they cannot meet together physically.

Dubord said in his own English 4W class, blog entries by his
students allow him to monitor their progress daily.

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