WHY BLOG? If there is no communicative purpose and no learning theory and research supporting blogging, than it can become as meaningless as any other classroom exercise assigned for the sake of an exercise.
In this case, for our "Black Listed" course, we have thought through the blog and comments on the blog as part of the structure of this course, including the learning structure of a course that only meets two hours a week. In general, at other universities, graduate courses meet three or four or five hours a week--two is very unusual; the brevity, structurally, almost necessitates lecturing and one-way transmission models for sheer efficiency of knowledge transmission. Since lecturing is a very inefficient method for actual learning (if measured by retention or applicability of learned insights to other situations), we are using active learning. But active learning has its own inefficiencies and the blog allows us to fill in for those.
Active learning/radical pedagogy/engaged learning are different terms for a similar and now quite old concept that is still not prevalent in formal higher education (Dewey, Vygostsky, bell hooks, Paulo Freire, Audre Lorde all use different terms for the same phenomenon). Active learning is basically about students not learning from an expert but becoming expert, largely by designing and executing a knowledge exercise that they then teach to others. (In medical school, the time-honored post-coursework method is "See one. Do one. Teach one," an application of active learning to surgery and clinical practice.)
In active learning, the student does research as part of the structure of learning for the collective group of students, transmitting what they have learned to their classmates. Research includes defining a topic, exploring a subject, learning deeply about that subject, and then communicating that to others in a way that allows them to experience some of the "exploratory" power of learning that topic. The end of "See one. Do one. Teach one." is for the person taught to then . . ."see one, do one, teach one."
Inventory methods allow every member of the class, at least once in every class, to have a situation structured for their participation (i.e. "research" or "interpretation"--not just "seeing" but "doing"). In inventory methods, 100% of the students are given the structural opportunity to participate at least once in each class.
Is this an efficient method? It depends on what one means by "efficient." Lecturing is the most effective way for one-way communication, from professor to student. Selectivity (calling on students who raise their hands or calling randomly) is the second. But (and this is a major "but"), one-way communication is an extremely inefficient method for leaning. That an amount of information is conveyed does not mean the same amount is taken in, absorbed, rendered useful by memory or application. So many studies of both lecture and selective response (discussion method) ignore this or measure it only by short-term responses to multiple-choice tests. Long term, we know the results are dismal, as studies show going all the way back to the 1880s "memory failure curves" of early experimental psychology.
For truly interactive learning, where you yourself are grappling with your own ideas, the inventory methods are where real learning and understanding happen, in balance with knowledge (either from our readings or from our Prof Eversley or other contributions to the course by students who have made themselves expert on that week’s topic).
The blogs are a necessary not accidental component of our course. They are a key component of active learning. They help you develop a voice, a point of view, and an interpretation. When others respond to your work, you have the best possible insight into how well you are conveying your ideas.
This corrects the normal class structure: normally, the first time you express your own ideas for an audience is in your final, graded paper where the only audience is the prof. This reinforces, in the most high-stakes way, that the only important person in the room is the prof and the "job" of higher education is to be graded well by that person. Typically, with final projects, no one but the professor ever sees what you have done.
Blogging changes the audience of your writing and changes the ideology. And the hierarchy.
Ideally, you are writing blogs that might well be a draft for your final paper or project. Or, also ideally, they provide a place for you to work out more systematically your own framework for interpreting a text or a phenomenon than you would ever have the chance to do in any kind of a group situation (i.e. class) and with interlocutors who both share your knowledge base but who may or may not share your interpretation of that knowledge base (the novel, the article, etc).
Why blog? Because it connects each of us to the other, in a relationship of ideas and insights--not all waiting to hear what the prof's ideas and insights are. Those are of course valid and important. But so is learning to express one's own thoughts based on evidence, moving from thinking to expression, moving from expression to interaction and dialogue.
Active learning is about building active participation beyond the classroom too. If used thoughtfully, blogging can be a building block in that process.