Blogs@Baruch Semester in Review: Part Two, FRO Blogging

Approximately 1200 incoming first year students at Baruch participated in the first phase of our experimental integration of Blogs@Baruch into the Freshman Orientation Seminar. They wrote to blogs in approximately sixty individual sections, and their posts were syndicated on the FRO Motherblog.

diagram

As I noted a couple of months ago, we had severe constraints in launching this project, so we focused primarily on the technological implications of getting it off the ground. We didn’t have sufficient time to either develop a well thought-out curriculum or to work with the Peer Mentors who oversaw the sections to help them pedagogically manage the work of their students. We might have had we gone with a pilot project, but for various reasons that suggestion was scuttled, and we proceeded full-bore.

These caveats aside, I think the project was a resounding success. It’s generated a staggering amount of data and also some important questions for us to address, and also helped us see what’s possible with more thoughtful design and oversight.

More than 6200 posts have been authored by first year students and aggregated into a single space. The vast majority of these posts are student reactions to a variety of “Enrichment Workshops” that they were required to attend. As you might imagine, many of the posts are more descriptive than analytical, and some come across as check boxes to be completed on the way to a requirement. The best posts, however, evidence deep and enthusiastic engagement with the workshops or with other elements of transitioning to life at Baruch.

We’ve already begun to discuss with our colleagues Mark Spergel and Shadia Sachedina how we can encourage posts that students are excited to write and also to read and comment upon. We plan to come up with a range of models and prompts that students can choose from that intersect with some of our broader goals for the project: cultivating digital literacy in our students (I plan to talk and think more with Boone Gorges about this), easing their social and intellectual transition to college, and helping them more nimbly and thoughtfully integrate social media into academic work. I envision a series of assignments that build towards these curricular goals, while also generating the kind of shared reflection that our colleagues in Student Life want to see. I also think we have the great opportunity to show off what interesting lives our students lead. This is a unique institution, and blogging in Freshman Seminar can show the world just what Baruch College and CUNY are about.

The Peer Mentors are key to this improved design.  We’ll expand the training that they get so they’re better prepared to guide their charges. Next semester, four sections of Freshman Seminar are running, so we finally get to run that pilot project we originally envisioned, though with the implications of scaling the thing up already known.  In the summer we’ll likely do some outreach directly to incoming students before school starts so that they are aware of this component of Freshman Seminar, and can hit the ground blogging.

As we plan a new design, we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to make sense of all of the data we’ve collected. It’s difficult, though not impossible, to design an assessment of data that’s been collected without assessment forefront in mind. Ryan Androsiglio, a psychologist in the Baruch Counseling Center, is helping us look at the project to see what questions can reasonably be asked of it.

We were able to perform a much less formal assessment of the program by soliciting feedback from Peer Mentors and First Year Students themselves. Both groups were between lukewarm and mildly-positive in their feedback, and each desired more leeway in what was blogged about and how.  The Peer Mentors I spoke with were quite clear that the strongest component of the project was the social cohesion it encouraged among the students in their seminars.

For a commuter campus like Baruch, FRO blogging has become a powerful tool simply because it creates more opportunities to interact. To encourage this, we’re seriously considering integrating BuddyPress into FRO 2010.

The social benefits of FRO blogging are already crystal clear; we now need to work on defining reasonable curricular goals, and a plan to implement them.