An interesting proposal:
Cathy N. Davidson, an English professor at Duke, wants to eradicate the term paper and replace it with the blog.
Her provocative positions have lent kindling to an intensifying debate about how best to teach writing in the digital era.
“This mechanistic writing is a real disincentive to creative but untrained writers,” says Professor Davidson, who rails against the form in her new book, “Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.”
“As a writer, it offends me deeply.”
Professor Davidson makes heavy use of the blog and the ethos it represents of public, interactive discourse. Instead of writing a quarterly term paper, students now regularly publish 500- to 1,500-word entries on an internal class blog about the issues and readings they are studying in class, along with essays for public consumption.
She’s in good company. 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?
Professor Lunsford has collected 16,000 writing samples from 189 Stanford students from 2001 to 2007, and is studying how their writing abilities and passions evolved as blogs and other multimedia tools crept into their lives and classrooms. She’s also solicited student feedback about their experiences.
Her conclusion is that students feel much more impassioned by the new literacy. They love writing for an audience, engaging with it. They feel as if they’re actually producing something personally rewarding and valuable, whereas when they write a term paper, they feel as if they do so only to produce a grade.
So Professor Lunsford is playing to student passions. Her writing class for second-year students, a requirement at Stanford, used to revolve around a paper constructed over the entire term. Now, the students start by writing a 15-page paper on a particular subject in the first few weeks. Once that’s done, they use the ideas in it to build blogs, Web sites, and PowerPoint and audio and oral presentations. The students often find their ideas much more crystallized after expressing them with new media, she says, and then, most startling, they plead to revise their essays.
I just ordered a copy of her book.
The term paper just seem so antiquated and a waste of time. I hated writing them in school.