Wednesday, January 25, 2012

As blogs replace term papers, the critical writing skills of students suffer

At least that's what defenders of the traditional term paper say in this article from the New York Times Educational Life section in last Sunday's paper.  Professor Cathy Davidson of Duke, author of Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, is a strong advocate for substituting blogging for staid term papers. But term papers have their advocates too.

Blogs vs. Term Papers

Of all the challenges faced by college and high school students, few inspire as much angst, profanity, procrastination and caffeine consumption as the academic paper. The format — meant to force students to make a point, explain it, defend it, repeat it (whether in 20 pages or 5 paragraphs) — feels to many like an exercise in rigidity and boredom, like practicing piano scales in a minor key.

And so there may be rejoicing among legions of students who have struggled to write a lucid argument about Sherman’s March, the disputed authorship of “Romeo and Juliet,” or anything antediluvian.

. . . .

Across the country, blog writing has become a basic requirement in everything from M.B.A. to literature courses. On its face, who could disagree with the transformation? Why not replace a staid writing exercise with a medium that gives the writer the immediacy of an audience, a feeling of relevancy, instant feedback from classmates or readers, and a practical connection to contemporary communications? Pointedly, why punish with a paper when a blog is, relatively, fun?

Because, say defenders of rigorous writing, the brief, sometimes personally expressive blog post fails sorely to teach key aspects of thinking and writing. They argue that the old format was less about how Sherman got to the sea and more about how the writer organized the points, fashioned an argument, showed grasp of substance and proof of its origin. Its rigidity wasn’t punishment but pedagogy.

Their reductio ad absurdum: why not just bypass the blog, too, and move right on to 140 characters about Shermn’s Mrch?

“Writing term papers is a dying art, but those who do write them have a dramatic leg up in terms of critical thinking, argumentation and the sort of expression required not only in college, but in the job market,” says Douglas B. Reeves, a columnist for the American School Board Journal and founder of the Leadership and Learning Center, the school-consulting division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. “It doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting blogs. But nobody would conflate interesting writing with premise, evidence, argument and conclusion.”

The National Survey of Student Engagement found that in 2011, 82 percent of first-year college students and more than half of seniors weren’t asked to do a single paper of 20 pages or more, while the bulk of writing assignments were for papers of one to five pages.

Is it any surprise that so many law students don't have good, critical writing skills?

You can read the rest of the article here.

(jbl).

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_skills/2012/01/as-blogs-replace-term-papers-the-critical-writing-skills-of-students-suffer.html

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Comments

Why does it have to be an either-or choice? There are major benefits to both forms of writing. Seems to me that today's classrooms--particularly in our field--should ask students to write for several kinds of formats, purposes, and audiences, and this includes the online environment.

Posted by: Coleen Barger | Jan 26, 2012 6:15:34 AM

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