The Schwartz Communication Institute’s Luke Waltzer just posted to cac.ophony an interesting discussion of one of our most ambitious projects to date, the introduction of student blogging into every section of Freshman Seminar. In Luke’s words, “every Freshman Seminar at Baruch currently is blogging. That’s roughly 60 sections, populated by over 1200 students. Yowser.”

The idea of the FRO blogging project, a collaboration with our colleagues at Advisement and Orientation, is to provide first-year students with an online, public space for reflecting on a number of required projects and activities as well as their experiences of acclimating to college life — to give our incoming students yet more curricular opportunities to write and, in the process, to increase engagement and deepen their thinking about what they are learning and experiencing in their first year at Baruch.

Luke’s post details some of the nitty gritty of the project, which is one big experiment (a full-scale pilot, if you will) that we hope will teach us quite a bit more about the pedagogical potential of online personal publishing in introductory programs and courses. We hope, for example, to look closely at the tremendous variety of writing we have seen in the FRO blogs so far (from well articulated, impressively developed posts resembling mini-essays to brief, informal missives written in like SMS text messages) and explore ways in which to better teach students the conventions of college-level written discourse. For now, we’re focused fairly heavily on logistics and mechanics and look forward to building on and refining the programmatic and pedagogical aspects in coming semesters.

Student blogging seems to be a natural fit for typical Freshman Seminars, so I would expect that other schools have tried something like this though it does appear as though we at Baruch are blazing new trails. If you know of other schools doing something similar, please let us know.

About mgershovich

Director of The Schwartz Institue FT
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9 Responses to “Freshbloggers”

  1. WMillhiser says:

    It will be interesting to see what you learn in the project. How do you assess blog contributions? Do students learn/reflect more by blogging than, say, traditional journal-writing? Do all students feel comfortable with public blogging?

    Another group that is doing something similar is the CUNY online degree programs. (http://online.sps.cuny.edu). I have at least two colleagues in the Dept. of Management who teach in the program and tell me about strong emphasis to encourage interaction with technology — blogs, discussion boards and wikis. A challenge that they report is the time-consuming nature of assessing such electronic correspondence.

  2. Elisabeth Gareis says:

    The project sounds fascinating. Would be great if we had a website at Baruch that served as a clearinghouse of sorts for all such teaching-with-technology projects . . . a place where a collection of different techniques is presented (including blogs, discussion boards, wikis, and other new technology applications). I envision a website that would provide an overview of the different techniques (e.g., name of technique and one-paragraph description) and then links to a more detailed description (including teaching examples) and/or a video with instructions. My feeling is that some folks are overwhelmed by the ever-increasing possibilities and would benefit from an overview.

  3. mgershovich says:

    @ Will

    There are lots and lots of rich possibilities for assessment here, and we are just starting to get our heads around how we might approach all the data the project has and will generate. As Luke is fond of pointing out, we will soon have writing samples from every single incoming first-year student!

    We’re interested a number of questions including (but not limited to) whether regular blogging affects student engagement overall and with course material, and whether we can observe development in students’ writing (and thinking) over the course of the term and their academic careers. We’ll have a better sense of what’s possible after this term, and work start thinking about the specifics. For example, one possibility is to draw on our past experiences with assessment in CICs and look into whether/how student writing develops with regular blogging. As we’ve done in the past, we can assign brief writing prompts to which students will respond at the beginning of the FRO term and at the end. We can then evaluate the samples and compare scores to gauge development in a surface level issues as well as more macro level concerns such as the development and organization of ideas.

    @ Elisabeth

    You’ll be pleased to know that I am working with 80th St. and colleagues from other CUNY campuses to develop a kind of online clearinghouse of teaching materials, activities, and approaches. I will be sure to keep your concerns in mind.

  4. WMillhiser says:

    And did you see the p. 18 “Blogging in the Classroom” in the 21-Sept-2009 Ticker?


  5. Luke Waltzer says:

    @Will/Mikhail: I tend to think that this project doesn’t lend itself to assessment so much as it creates a platform on which other, smaller, targeted assessments may be designed. I don’t think that the pre-post prompts would fit here, as there is no specific writing program implemented in FRO. In fact, imposing that kind of structure on blogging in FRO might work counter to the broader goals of nurturing a sense of social connectedness, developing information literacy, cultivating critical approaches to the web, and easing 1st year transition to the college.

    I think that part of the reason that FRO students have been writing so regularly so early on their blogs is that they have no idea that they might be being assessed; they’re not graded, and their most immediate audience is a group of 20 or so classmates. Though they know about the Mother Blog, and know administrators are reading their stuff, they write and comment mostly on their section blogs, and those primarily dominate their perspective. I happen to think that this perspective is a good and enabling one, and that we should keep it in mind as the project evolves.

    Now, I do think we need some immediate assessment, if solely for the purpose of doing the thing better next time. I don’t know that you can demonstrate that students reflect more on a blog than on a journal… you could design a huge study to measure that, and chances are your conclusions would be: some do, some don’t. The same goes for the comfort with public blogging question. We do emphasize that our blogs have granular permission controls (private and public spaces), and that everything is set to default open (for a reason). The question that I’d like to answer then, is, are students through their use of Blogs@Baruch (and not just in FRO) coming to understand the implications of public/private and the social nature of the web? My hypothesis at this point would be “no,” because we haven’t yet designed a specific curriculum for FRO or generated enough best practices that would really inject that goal into the broader curriculum of the college. If/once we do, then I think that would be a really useful question to try to answer.

    This term our self-assessment will be entirely anecdotal; we’ll poll the Peer Mentors for their thoughts on the project, and visit a couple of seminars to get feedback from first years. I hope we’ll be able take what we learn, and design some learning goals for the next time we go around. And, I’d hope we can do all of this publicly and with the input of the community.

    As for the Ticker article… Yes, we did see it, and I have no comment.

  6. mgershovich says:


    I agree that B@B can serve as a platform for other assessments — the possibilities there seem myriad. But if the FRO project is to have a future, it will need to be assessed in some way in order to make the case that it is worth everybody’s time and effort (or not). This assessment can take a number of forms, including feedback from students and PMs as well as a more structured, traditional qualitative assessment along the lines of what we’ve done with CICs in the past. While I do agree that, in it’s current form, the FRO project is not exactly assessment friendly, we will eventually be faced with the question of how to assess and represent its impact on our incoming first-year students.

    And re: the Ticker article: I will say only that I was happy to learn about Ed Kurpis’ work with blogs but expected some sort of acknowledgment of Blogs@Baruch’s existence if only because the Ticker has covered us 3 times.

  7. Luke Waltzer says:


    Of course… I didn’t mean to imply that it shouldn’t be assessed at all, but that it would be a tremendous challenge to measure its impact, particularly in a qualitative way, since the controls are pretty unwieldy. To be clear about the resource investment… I’d say I’ve put in about 100 hours integrating blogs into FRO, which has included training the 60 PMs for an hour, all of the design/programming/conceptual work, and troubleshooting. The other time investment has come from the PMs, and we’ll have to check with them to see if they’ve put in more than in previous years (I’ve talked with a few, and there are no complaints). So, we’ve managed to pull this off so far without too significant an expenditure of resources, though future iterations might require more. Implementing a qualitative assessment might indeed take more work than launching this thing!

    It also might help to know how FRO is currently assessed…

  8. LocalSEO says:

    I think besides the social aspects of blogging, which in the case of Freshman blogging is huge, that student blogging is just a natural extension of social media that today’s college students are already well versed in.

  9. Kevin L. Barry says:

    I started Baruch as a freshman last September (though I took this semester off to work on business). I thought the blog project was really great, considering the responses it got from even the worst students in my FRO class.

    I remember when we started, our FRO teacher was surprised that none of us had ever blogged before. The thing is that while teenagers use Social Media, they’re mostly not really aware of the term, they don’t blog, and they don’t twitter.Considering that most professionals in the knowledge industry really should eventually have their own blog, it’s an excellent source of training, as has been mentioned.

    “As Luke is fond of pointing out, we will soon have writing samples from every single incoming first-year student!”

    I think it would be hard to get good data on student skills from the blog itself. As others have pointed out, Baruch students believe what they are writing is not going to really be looked at, and probably aren’t giving it their best. That said, you could glean some very basic information from the blogging.

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