As part of the Writing Across the Curriculum fellowship, I have had the opportunity to work with John Jay’s new Sustainability and Environmental Justice Program. One of the missions of the program is to help students think critically about environmental issues and to share that knowledge with each other and a broader public. To help support this learning objective, my colleague Rebecca Fullan and I worked with faculty from several disciplines (Theater, Art, Psychology, and Political Science) who were teaching courses in the minor to integrate student blogs into their coursework.
We held tutorials in each classroom to discuss the form and value of blog writing. Following the model of Writer/Designer, we stressed the importance of visuals and hyperlinks, as well as keeping in mind the fundamentals of composition: purpose and audience. We asked students to explain in concise and informative ways environmental issues with which their audience might be unfamiliar. We highlighted the benefits for students of sharing their writing beyond the classroom, so that they can build a portfolio of work that shows their active learning across courses and years.
Students submitted individual blog posts to us and we then provided feedback on how to improve each post, which usually entailed additional explanation, visuals and links. In total for the fall, 15 student blog posts were made public on the minor’s blog. Topics ranged from environmental film reviews to how to measure your ecological footprint, from issues raised in the book World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse to the course series Sustainability and You, in which students blogged about their personal experiences trying to adopt sustainable behaviors for a semester.
The benefits to the adoption of blog writing in these courses were manifold: the students engaged more deeply with the material in order to be able to present it clearly and concisely to an audience outside of the course; students were able to work one-on-one with us on their writing skills; and students helped to break down the expert/novice myth by becoming authors of their own blog posts to help educate and inspire their readers on pressing environmental issues. In this way, writing assignments no longer happen in a vacuum with a limited audience, but become part of a larger network of information sharing and collaboration both inside and outside of the classroom.