Blogging …and a positive impact on the other lobe
Laura Pinzon QC ’13 and Jim Stellar
Laura took my Gen Ed class last spring and that inspired a conversation about this blog I write and how blogging can be a form of reflection that integrates the cognitive “facts and theories” function of a college education with the experiential “other lobe” possibilities that can be produced by internship, service, undergraduate research, abroad programs, etc. To start, I want her to review some of the recent literature she found and presented to me. Thanks Laura.
Blogging is a popular activity among many people, not just young adults. But what causes an individual to have the urge to blog, and what can blogging do for the individual and the community at large? This is what we hope to discover here.
To start, we found a story about an interesting individual, who is also a Harvard neurologist, who has the uncontrollable urge to write. She has speculated that the limbic system is involved in the urge for writing and blogging, providing the emotional push for writing. Dopamine release (a key neurotransmitter in pleasure and even cocaine addiction) is an important part of the limbic system, and even says she feels joy when she’s writing well
As it is, some purely behavioral studies have already been done on blogging, with a few finding that blogging in the classroom caused the students to feel more affiliated with each other. In one study by Ellison and Wu in 2008, students who answered researcher’s questions in long answer styled questions repeatedly said that they were excited when they received a comment on their blog or when someone would answer their post on another classmate’s blog. This certainly seems like it could cause activity in the limbic system and dopamine release. We know from an fMRI brain activation study that looking at pictures of cute baby faces in young women who have not had children causes activation in a dopamine containing limbic brain area, the nucleus accumbens.
In another study, students who didn’t normally speak in class also tended to have better output on the blog than face to face in class. It was almost as if the blogging website allowed for equalization between students where some might be shy. Getting more participation from shy students in class through blogging could improve student satisfaction with the courses and maybe even lead to higher retention rates.
Thanks for the great and scholarly response. It is interesting that you mention retention in your last sentence above. Colleges and Universities are always interested in improving this statistic and seeing more students graduate. In the Provost’s Office, we think that learning from experience, e.g. a paid internship, could be good accompaniment to inspired classroom teaching to help students really get the point of a college education in their chosen field and not vote with their feet by leaving. Given that these brain areas are involved in making decisions of how to allocate one’s time and money, e.g. neuroeconomics, one can see how the positive limbic reactions from individual courses could add together and create college persistence.
That leads me to a personal question. You engaged with me in Twitter discussions we had during class when I was not lecturing. How did that affect you? Have you blogged in a class and if so how did that affect you?
I think the Twitter conversations really helped with the class. While the class itself is one I have been recommending to other students, I always mention that there is an online aspect to it. The Twitter discussions helped when I had a quick question to ask that would disrupt the flow of the lecture. When you would post an inquiry meant to make us think, it actually helped us integrate the information we were learning in the lecture with everyday things, making the information more relatable and easier to remember.
The only problem with using Twitter was the 140 character limit; I can honestly say that a few times instead of paying attention, I was trying to erase periods or spaces out of my tweet so it would fit. So Twitter was helpful, but at the same time the very thing that gives Twitter its success (the 140 character limit) is what was hindering it for class use.
I did blog in one class in my second semester at Queens College. My poetry professor had us answer questions she would pose for our blog entries. The first few times it was just answering the question and doing the minimum amount of comments on other people’s posts. Then over time, it would become heated debates on what line 4 of a particular poem meant. Discussion posts would go on for a couple of pages, and then the next class it would carry over. The Ellison and Wu study, previously mentioned, documented that the students didn’t want to blog because they had no direction because the experimenters gave no or poor discussion points. From my experience, giving meaningful prompts or questions are enough to spark interest and debates. Sometimes in poetry class I mentioned the professor could give the most open ended question, but because of the prompts from before, everyone wanted to talk about something. I entered that class without caring at all about poetry, and while I didn’t run out and buy ten poetry books after that semester, I left with a new sense of respect for it. I think that is what Queens College wants from everyone by having the general education requirements- becoming interested in something you never were, and I think that blogging helped a lot.