Why Did I Have My Students Write an Academic Blog Post?

Morgan Oddie

PhD Candidate/Teaching Fellow, Queen’s University

Theological Hall, Queen’s School of Religion

As a new Teaching Fellow in the Queen’s School of Religion, I have spent time reflecting on my pedagogical choices for the course RELS 301: Religion, Ritual, and the Body. Early in my course and syllabus design process, I set on having students complete an academic blog as their midterm assignment. Academic blogging is an increasingly common format of scholarly contribution and encourages a less formal style of writing. They aim to convey scholarly ideas, express informed opinions, and make arguments, but are works in progress and written in plain language for non-specialists.

In his article for Huffington Post, Hugh McGuire outlines 9 reasons why academics should blog:

  1. You need to improve your writing
  2. Some of your ideas are dumb
  3. The point of academia is to expand knowledge
  4. Blogging expands your readership
  5. Blogging protects and promotes your ideas
  6. Blogging is reputation
  7. Linking is better than footnotes
  8. Journal and blogs can (and should) coexist
  9. What have journals done for you lately?

Not all of these apply to undergraduate students, who haven’t yet faced the institutional publish or perish pressures, or the precarity of the academic labour market that requires constant outputs. However, accessible writing, scholarly contributions to the academic community through a departmental platform, and working out ideas through written production are all essential to any level of academic work. Some have argued that blogging is a distinct genre of writing, a format for reconfiguring academic identities,[i] or primarily for academic cultural critique. Given the context of the QSR Blog in its audience, content, and format, it’s compelling to consider it as a different type of scholarly writing.[ii] Pedagogically, ongoing blogging has been used in a variety of ways; for example, as language learning, and as an E-learning platform for classroom information sharing. However, Teaching and Learning Literature is less robust on assignments that function as “guest blog” posts, that is, how to write one good academic blog post for a recognized platform. For this assignment, students were asked to write an academic blog post (700-1000 words) on a topic related to the course contents of religion, ritual, and the body. This could have been an expansion on a previous 1-page critical reflection that they were required to complete in the first six weeks of course work, or a topic that we had not covered in class. They were marked on the following criteria:

  • Title: appropriately titled in a direct, specific, and catchy manner. /5
  • Content: central idea is specific and well supported, indicating a depth and breadth of topic understanding. Connections and extensions made between course topics and assignment. /30
  • Structure: writing is clear, concise, and well organized with excellent sentence and paragraph construction. Thoughts are expressed in a coherent and logical manner. /20
  • Research: high quality of researched information including proper academic citations and embedded hyperlinks. /20
  • Mechanics: there are no spelling, grammar, or syntax errors. Paper is correctly formatted. /15
  • Visuals: graphics used to enhance assignment. /10

They were then given an opportunity to revise their work based on my feedback. The resubmitted assignments were worth an additional 5% of their final grade and encouraged them to review comments and improve original work in a process-oriented oriented way.

The learning outcomes for this assignment were: create extensions from class concepts; learn to write in an alternative format that is becoming increasingly common in academia; gain ability to revise work for publication; and, contribute to the scholarly community at Queen’s University through the School of Religion Blog. Pedagogically, I actually worked backwards from the perspective of what I wish I had learned how to do in my undergraduate degree. When asked to contribute a blog post for the first time, I had no idea what I was doing. I had trouble translating my academic writing into jargonless and accessible language. I was unclear on where hyperlinks were appropriate and more desirable in the place of academic citations. Mostly symptomatic of my own imposter syndrome, I was worried that people would read my blog post and decide I was unfit for the department, or academe more generally (because of the accessibility and social media presence of a blog post, this seemed more tangible than with scholarly journal publications). Had this process been demystified for me as an undergraduate student (even in terms of mechanics), I think blogging would have been an excellent output for my academic work through graduate school.

Ultimately, I hope that the RELS 301 students found this assignment productive, and that you enjoy reading their blog contributions that will be posted on the QSR Engaging Religion Blog over the upcoming months.

[i] Rory Ewins, “Who are you? Weblogs and Academic Identity,” E-Learning 2, no.4 (2005): 368-377).

[ii] In their analysis of 100 academic blogs, Mewburn and Thomson conclude that the genre of academic blogging is a subset of scholarly writing, characterized by a more relaxed authorial voice. (Inger Mewburn and Pat Thomson, “Why do academics blog? An analysis of audiences, purposes, and challenges,” Studies in Higher Education 38, no.8 (2013): 1105-1119).

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