E-mails and comments welcome from teachers and learners of all ages.  
January 16, 2004
Blogging as education: "help" is too weak a word

Jonathan Wilde, who runs Catallarchy.net, emails with news of this story in the Washington Times about a blog called Truck and Barter. The reason he does that is because the article is about a favourite subject of mine, namely the use of blogging as an educational technique, for the blogger.

And as you would expect, Kevin Brancato reacts to this favourable media response, here.

The Washington Times doesn't care to just reproduce email answers to questions, but Brancato has no such hesitations! Here are his clutch of selected Q&As, which I found more interesting than the Times article:

Does keeping up a blog help with a student's writing skills?

It has certainly helped mine. In fact, "help" is too weak of a word; people tell me that I now write like a blogger. As a undergraduate math major, far more time was spent solving equations than writing clear convincing prose. I knew that if I wanted write well, I'd have to work hard at it. My demanding and sophisticated readers provide both a tremendous impulse and a large reward for churning out original and interesting material.

ability to interpret data?

Keeping up a blog has sharpened and quickened my data analyses, but more importantly, it has made me question how data are used by many professional journalists and policy wonks. I find that the most interesting questions don't have authoritative answers--especially in economics. For most issues, the story that needs to be told is usually far more complex than the one fed to us by big media.

or does blogging reinforce bad grammatical habits given the freedoms of the 'net'

When a student submits a finished essay, only a professor will read and criticize his work. But a blog post invites criticism from anybody. As with any poor habit, bad grammar can be reinforced by the lack of self-criticism or indifference to the criticism of others. But good grammar is essential if a blogger wants readers and other bloggers to take him seriously.

I have yet to see a serious blogger whose use and understanding of grammar has become worse over time.

Would you have a couple of minutes to share your thoughts on the topic and how blogging may have impacted your growth as a student?

Besides making writing easier, Truck and Barter greatly expanded the range of economic issues that I deal with. Since starting the blog, I've looked into and posted about hundreds of issues that otherwise I never would have examined in detail. Some of these are very political, like income inequality in the U.S.. Others were just fascinating, like the market for digital disposable cameras. Still others are largely ignored by a popular press focused on bad news, like the dramatic improvement in the quality of healthcare over the past 50 years. Econoblogging has forced me to observe how economies really work, which has made me question deeply the relevance and accuracy of standard economic theory.

That confirms all my prejudices in favour of blogging as an educational technique. You write and think better because of all those readers, and even your grammar improves. You study more and you study better. Having to write sharpens your mind.

The Washington Times also mentions this weblog which is all about the use of weblogs to educate.

So Jonathan Wilde, thanks. All education relevant emails are welcome, but this one was especially helpful.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:48 PM
Category: Blogging

> Having to write sharpens your mind.

I wonder about this one, to be honest. I suspect having the intention or the opportunity to write about something has a tendency to focus *my* mind on what I am going to say about it for public consumption and if it will sound clever. Which can be detrimental to enjoying things for their own sake, to being open to learning whatever they have to teach, and (as we yoga students like to say) being "in the present moment".

This is basically why, for example, I write very little in my weblog about my yoga practice. And I have had an unfinished draft piece on that very topic for ages now, which I might now be motivated to go and finish.

Comment by: Alan Little on January 17, 2004 01:57 PM

Hmmm. I think the previous comment affirms your thesis. When it comes to writing practice, less is not more.

I was surprised to find this blog, belatedly, mere days after writing a page or two on this very proposition: audience compels improvement. All freshman English students should blog, if only to see what shakes out when they discover some stranger somewhere cares what they have to say and how they say it.

Comment by: alex on August 21, 2004 05:04 PM
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