Their topics were wide-ranging: travel in Costa Rica, kettle bell training, law and dis-order, what to do while in New York City, even a blog about World Missions Outreach. Students in the Online Publication class offered by Catawba College's Communication Arts program spent the semester learning how to plan and create blogs.
"Blogging is remarkable, because for the first time in human history, anyone with regular Internet access can make their thoughts public on the largest information network in human history, for free," notes student Jackson Holder of Charleston, S.C. "I don't know if that's always a good thing, but it's definitely pretty cool."
Blogs or web logs include linear posts and were often informal diaries but now include a range of niche topics. Although the bulk of all blogs are personal online spaces, many companies and organizations now include blog functions with various levels of interactivity. Blogs provide an excellent vehicle for more personalized communication experiences in a mass mediated environment.
During the semester, each student in the class came up with a viable concept for a focused blog on a topic of interest.
"I didn't want students working on vanity blogs," says course instructor Cyndi Allison Wittum. "Most diary blogs are not particularly interesting and do not add to the overall knowledge base online. It's also rare for unfocused blogs to generate traffic. The real power comes with selecting a specific topic area and providing solid information on that topic."
Members of the class were creative in developing ideas, and class blogs ranged from sports to creative writing to restaurant etiquette.
"Our students have the technology to get messages out there now," says Dr. Tim Moreland, the department head of Communication Arts. "Our goal is to ensure that students understand how to use the tools effectively and responsibly."
"Blogging has opened a new outlet and provided a resource to further promote World Missions," says Amanda Sowards of Concord who spends her breaks from college classes working with children and adults in Nicaragua. "Through my blog, I have been able to network and attract new supporters who have inquired about contributing to the organization."
Sowards reports that one reader who discovered her blog contributed $1000 to help feed underprivileged children.
Other students shared classroom experiences. For example, Jen Trout of Seaford, N.Y., has been blogging about various writing exercises to help spark creativity. She enjoys sharing her newfound love of writing poems after taking an English class with Dr. Janice Fuller, Catawba's writer-in-residence and professor of English. Aly Halter of Hertford, N.C., opted to cover her experiences on a Catawba College language immersion trip to Costa Rica last summer. She had a large collection of personal photos and a diary from the trip which provided a nice base for building a travel blog.
"Since I had so much fun during my trip to Costa Rica last summer, I chose to recount it through blogging," says Halter. "Now I have a tangible copy of all my fun memories."
Samantha Santoli of Nesconset, N.Y., an elementary education major, also selected a travel theme.
"I have never blogged about anything before I took this class," says Santoli. "But, it is actually interesting. I blog about things to do in New York City, because I am from New York."
Brandon Lee Coble of Yadkinville, N.C., took a different approach with his blog Law and Dis-order which features a weekly selection of bizarre criminal exploits and has been one of the most popular blogs of the semester.
"With the stress of college and life, we all need to take time to pause and laugh," explains Coble. "This was the theory behind Law and Dis-order. I have enjoyed the response from my classmates and others on the Internet."
Other members of the class also expressed pleasure in finding audiences and getting feedback from readers. Alex Fairweather of Lenoir, a pitcher on Catawba's baseball team, said that he liked sharing new ideas about kettle bell training and also getting new ideas from those following his blog.
Rob Fields of Orangeburg, S.C., a member of the Catawba basketball team, who blogged about his season, said, "Learning about the art of blogging in this class has been very helpful. Blogging is a growing style of writing, and to do it firsthand has been a great experience."
Abby Stavey of Little Rock, Ark., notes that blogging helps her relax. "I find blogging to be a good way to relieve stress after work. I like that reliving stress in this manner can be useful to other people."
In addition to building blogs and posting weekly, members of the class learned about the history of blogging, the mechanics of solid blogs, and considered the future of the new and growing online phenomenon.
The Online Publication class was offered as a Special Topics course this semester but will be a regular offering in Communication starting in 2010. "We found that students are interested in creating and publishing messages online," says Moreland. "Providing guidance in a classroom setting helps our students understand the medium and how to harness the power of new media."
Find links below to check out Student Blogs:
Brandon Coble – Law and Dis-order
Alex Fairweather – Kettlebell Training
Rob Fields – Basketball Jones
Josh Frey – Frey Workouts
Aly Halter – Travels in Costa Rica
Jackson Holder – Lend Us Your Ears
Kevin McMillan – Baseball Equipment
Ryan Query – Athletes Haven
Samantha Santoli – When in New York City
Amanda Sowards – World Missions Outreach
Abby Stavey – Restaurant Insider
Jen Trout – Write Away!
Skip Walpole – Everything About Swimming