What does blogging mean to you? Is it a way to document your hobbies and interests? Is it an extension of your learning? Is it how you strengthen a community and share your insights? For me, blogging–and writing in general–is all of the above. I also see it as a means of self-invention.
Unfortunately, many–my past self included–are guilty of thinking that blogging doesn’t get you anywhere, that blogging causes thoughts to live and die in a silo, and that the impact of blogging is too minimal to justify the effort. My (old) feelings were largely based on how I learned about blogging during my undergrad career. A recent Twitter discussion about law school pitfalls made me think about my past experiences and how we can make blogging more rewarding for students.
The conversation began with a podcast from law professor Ellie Margolis discussing the importance of writing for 1Ls:
Many say, and I agree, Legal Research, Writing & Analysis is a #1Ls most important class. Expert @EllieMargolis @TempleLaw highlights common legal writing pitfalls you may encounter and how to avoid them. #lawschoolstarterpack #lawschool #lawtwitterhttps://t.co/EjXsDC7s12
— lawtofact (@lawtofact) August 27, 2019
Which led to a rich discussion from educators, aspiring educators, and LexBloggers about how they can give students more valuable learning experiences. Law professor Brian Frye for instance, supplements his courses with take-home work because he recognizes the importance of practicing your craft instead of merely memorizing.
Agreed. Sadly, many law students get little or no practice after their 1L year. That's why I've replaced all my exams with take-home research memos. Taking the exam can & should be part of the learning process, not just an exercise in memorization. https://t.co/d0mUg5z5cX
— Brian L. Frye (@brianlfrye) August 28, 2019
While others, like Managing Editor of Casetext, Mike Whelan, Jr., and Legal Innovator Cat Moon plan to or already have implemented more writing and blogging into their courses:
I'm working on implementing writing more broadly into my courses. Students write a blog post over the course of the semester, in addition to weekly journaling.
Balancing the workload to create meaningful assignments along w/ all the reading, discussion, etc., is challenging …
— Cat Moon (@inspiredcat) August 28, 2019
I chimed in on the conversation in my own series of tweets but I’ll elaborate here.
It was incredibly heartening for me, a former student, to see a brainstorming session develop organically among educators about how they could do better for their students–especially when I reflect on how disheartening aspects of my own education were.
When studying journalism at Seattle University, I took three separate courses that each instructed me to create a blog. The first was a group project in which I worked with classmates on a series of stories related to a specific non-profit organization. The second and third were solo projects on which I published long-form narrative pieces. Through these classes, I learned how to quickly create a blog, how to write for blogs, how to collaborate with others in a digital space, and how to utilize multimedia elements to bolster my storytelling online. While these courses were undoubtedly valuable to my education, each blog lived and died in those courses. With each blog I became a little less enthusiastic because they were destined to be torn down and I knew I would eventually have to start from scratch again.
I wish I was encouraged to create a a space to learn, grow, and explore in for myself. Instead, the student newspaper became the home for all of my thoughts. Through the school newspaper, I developed my identity as an opinionated writer focused on social justice issues and human interest stories. With each story I wrote, I became more educated in the topics I chose. I gained confidence to be more vocal about my opinions–both online and in real life–because I taught myself how to articulate my perspective through writing, and–most importantly–how to listen to the conversations happening around me. Of all the things I tried in my college career, I will always consider writing and editing for my school newspaper the most dynamic and valuable.
But writing for a news publication is not the same as blogging. In a newspaper, you can’t write about what you don’t know. You can’t play with prose. You can’t break style rules. You are restricted to minimum and maximum word counts. While I picked topics that were exciting to me, I always wrote with journalistic guidelines in mind. I cannot imagine a post like this making it into my alma mater’s school paper.
Creating guidelines, like writing around a focused, newsworthy topic, is important. But those guidelines can also be preached in conjunction with encouraging students to think of writing as an exploration. The two should not be mutually exclusive.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my point is this: it would be wonderful if we could inspire students to write for their own sake, in their own voice, about the topics that are most pressing to them, rather than having students feel like they are writing merely for a grade. Creating guidelines, like writing around a focused, newsworthy topic, is important. But those guidelines can also be preached in conjunction with encouraging students to think of writing as an exploration. The two should not be mutually exclusive.
If I were a student again, I would have loved to own a beautiful, easy-to-use blog like this one. LexBlog offers pro bono blogs to any law student and professor. It absolutely baffles me that more don’t jump at this opportunity to write for their own sake and self-invention.
I am happy to see educators imagining better educations for our students. Changing old mindsets through conversations like these ultimately leads to making everyone’s future better.