First Day of Class

Yesterday was the first day of class in the new seminar I’ve been preparing for all summer: fifteen first year students on their second day of college. I had the luxury of two co-teachers: Martha Burtis, our Acting Director of Teaching and Learning Technologies and Jerry Slezak, my Instructional Technology Specialist. I spoke for twenty minutes on what I hoped to accomplish in the course, and then turned it over to Martha and Jerry, who proceeded to introduce the students to blogs and the free software at By the end of the period, each student had their own blog.

The IT staff and I had previously discussed what sort of blogging software we should use. One of the goals of the First Year Seminar program is to introduce students to the life of the mind, a goal which goes beyond any one course; indeed, it goes beyond formal education. Since blogging promotes the reflection which is an integral part of the life of the mind, we wanted to avoid tying blogging to an individual course or even school. (Friends don’t let friends use Bb!) This was a strong reason for using the blogs at Even if a student drops the seminar today, the blog remains theirs to use as they see fit.

So, how did it go? Among the students, we had one experienced blogger, one who vocally demonstrated anxiety, several with the deer-in-the-headlights look, and several more who seemed very excited. After class, Martha remarked that this class contrasted very favorably with Greg Stull’s group of seniors that Martha introduced to blogging last Spring–four years older, a different cohort, for sure.

For the next week or so, we’ll be “playing” with our new blogs. After that we’ll start blogging for real. At that point, I’ll let you know how to follow along.

Martha and Jerry will be back the next four Tuesdays to introduce the class to a variety of other digital tools which we will be using this semester. I hope they will also attend as they are able on other occasions. That should contribute to the feeling of that this is a different sort of course.

Martha, Jerry, what was your take on the session?

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6 Responses to First Day of Class

  1. Gardner says:

    I’m not Martha or Jerry, obviously, but I wanted to drop in to say “huzzah” and to let you know I’ll be following along with great interest throughout the semester. A momentous occasion, this is, and a course your students will never forget (for better or worse–but I’m confident for better).

  2. Martha says:

    I’m excited about the way we’re approaching this class for a number of reasons. Using blogs is a different solution than we’ve used in the past, and I can’t wait to see how the experiment goes.

    Generally, as we all talked about after class, I was impressed with how quickly the students dove into setting up the blog. When one student expressed the coolness of being able to manually edit the CSS, I knew we were in for something special.

  3. Steve says:

    On the other hand, we had two students drop after Tuesday. As one commented politely in an email,

    “Upon reviewing the requirements for your course as well as the work load required for my other courses, I have decided to drop FSEM-100J. Thank you for your time.”

    Still, in the interests of turning lemons into lemonade, I’ll note that an additional student added the course giving us fourteen. Since I plan to do an exercise in pairs today, that will work out well.

  4. Jerry says:

    Since I’m already convinced of the value of a blog for the “life of the mind” as Steve puts it, the real difference for me here is the use of I’m very hopeful that this tool will allow us to do some really great things while allowing someone else to handle the hosting and application administration. As we try to scale the use of blogs here at UMW, this is a critical issue, and one that I’m very interested in seeing how changes our thinking on this.

    I was also impressed with the ease at which the students took to While only one or two expressed that they had a blog that they used regularly, it seems the application is not the issue for them, but rather how to effectively communicate in a different forum. This will come from practice, reading each other’s blogs, and our input via comments.

    I’m wondering if the difference we see between the freshman this year and seniors last year is not a bit of the MySpace/ effect. Hacking MySpace & Facebook seems to be a favorite pastime of the freshman cohort, so working a blog doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch.

    I must also say, after a summer of mostly administrative work, I was so jazzed to be back in a classroom doing instructional technology. I’m looking forward to what these students can do once they have the technology toolbox at their disposal, not just for this class, but their entire college career.

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