A couple of weekends back, the “Education Life” section of the New York Times featured an article about what they claim is a new phenomenon: teachers are having their students write all of their papers in the style of blog posts instead of those pesky and repetitive academic papers:
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?
As someone who’s constantly writing blog posts as a way of procrastinating when I have interminably long papers due, I definitely agree that there’s value in trying to be quick, punchy, and witty. A Wesleyan, though, requirements to post weekly to Blackboard or Moodle, seem to be a universally loathed bother that sees students struggling to come up with something intelligent to say in the five minutes before the post is due and trying to find a balance between impressing their professor and not sounding too pretentious in front of their classmates.
Even if professors did try to train students to write in ways that are more useful in the “real world,” it’s hard to imagine that there would be space for much nuance or critical thought in the vastly reduced word counts of blog posts, especially when accounting for the extra effort we’d have to make to appeal to mass audiences and, let’s face it, dumb everything down so that the average reader could glance through it quickly and actually walk away having gotten the point:
“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.”
It could definitely be a useful exercise to change up the structure for some assignments, but it somehow seems to be against the entire point of college to not have to spend your nights in the library slaving away over ten pages of writing and trying frantically to come up with content for five more. And as any good writer knows, just because something is long and required to adhere to a certain formula doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be boring. If professors don’t take the lead on providing more interesting assignments, it may be up to us, as student writers, to bring more creativity to our work.