Here are all the student posts from this year in the order I put them up. As a group they’ve already proven popular, getting attention from a range of high-power sites and social networks. That’s great, and well-deserved!
Below I also outline how I approached this project with my students. If you want to incorporate something similar into your teaching or comparable work, feel free to use and/or adapt these guidelines. Of course any suggestions or alternative approaches are always appreciated. Leave a comment below or email me at dlende at nd dot edu
These nine posts join the eight from last year, which went from understanding brain imaging to the differences between men and women drinking on campus – those were rounded up in Why A Final Essay When We Can Do This?
All these posts came out of my class ANTH 20220 “Alcohol and Drugs: The Anthropology of Substance Use and Abuse.”
I divide students into groups of four to work on posts. I explain the topics broadly quite early in the semester, then have students write down their top three choices. I form the groups based on students’ choices.
The basic order of work over the semester is: (1) a general in-class presentation on the topic; (2) a first draft of their post, with an emphasis on developing a concrete argument and specific focus for their writing; (3) two more rounds of revisions, where they both improve the quality of the writing and add in images, links and further research; and (4) some editing/revisions by myself to make sure each post reaches its potential.
Unlike last year, this year students did an in-class presentation on their assigned topic. That was helpful for everyone, for me to give feedback as necessary, for groups to get started on their work, and for students to give some impromptu reactions. The presentations were generally broad. I discussed with the groups, either in class or by email, how their presentation was coming along.
For the presentation itself I emphasized the need to do something engaging (make it fun!), to provide some in-depth coverage of their specific topic (as they were things that I wouldn’t necessarily cover – they were in charge of everyone’s learning that day), and to aim to provoke discussion for the class as a whole after their presentation.
Now onto the first draft. From the general presentation the students had to develop a specific focus and a concrete argument. What did they want to share with the world? That was the basic question they had to answer for themselves.
I also provided students with this basic format for writing a blog post (so feel free to use it): (a) The Hook, those opening lines that grab the readers’ attention in some way; (b) The Argument, something that invites the person to keep reading, usually by indicating what this post will do or cover; (c) Main Points, where there are a set of issues or specific points that the post will cover (generally the main body of the post); and (d) The Finish, generally some sort of pay-off for the reader who makes it that far – a rhetorical flourish or something extra that helps close the piece with some flash.
Their revisions normally emphasized three things: improving each aspect of the basic format, deepening the ideas and research for the post, and taking advantage of what an online environment can do much more effectively than a final essay – images, video, links, and so forth. I provide a lot of written feedback and suggestions while also encouraging students to keep developing what they want to say to a wide-ranging audience.
The final step is getting the posts from the students’ electronic copy onto Neuroanthropology.net. This is my chance to provide some further light editing, as well as at times include other research articles or links that I might recall and/or find. Though I do guide the students through how I want their final submission to look, at times they forget obvious things – like including links that work outside the university’s system. So it’s a little bit of work to get their document onto WordPress in a way that looks like a professional final product.
So that’s how we did it. As always the students did a great job!
Also for your reference, here are the relevant sections from the syllabus:
Working in groups of four, students will take charge of developing and delivering a polished, entertaining and insightful presentation on their assigned topic. Each presentation should accomplish four things: (a) provide some basic overview of the topic at hand, (b) develop an argument or analysis utilizing both background research and the students’ own research, (c) give us a sense of how this particular topic plays out in everyday life, and (d) make us have fun.
These presentations should be at least 20 minutes long, and each student in the group must speak before the class. Students will be expected to engage in Q&A after their presentation; the presentation will also serve as the impetus for further in-class discussion, something presenters should bear in mind as they develop their multimedia extravaganza.
Here are the presentation topics and dates:
Jan 29: Movies & Alcohol
Feb 5: MySpace/Facebook & Alcohol
Feb 12: Internet & Compulsion
Feb 19: Video Games & Compulsion
Feb 26: Shopping & Compulsion
Mar 5: Smoking & Compulsion
Mar 26: Gambling & Compulsion
Apr 9: Music & Drugs
Apr 16: Cognitive Enhancers & Compulsion
To stimulate class discussion, students who are not presenting will bring in a one page summary and brief analysis of their own favorite example of the topic at hand.
The blog will build off the student presentation. Each group will work over the course of the semester to develop a post for the Neuroanthropology blog: http://neuroanthropology.net . Students will be expected to do significant library research on their particular topic and to draw on insights from their presentation, class discussions, and our readings and lectures. Developing a specific focus for the blog post is a crucial task – without that focus, the post will not engage readers. To help that process along, students will submit an initial draft (April 14th) and a second draft (April 28th) of their blog post. The final post is due May 7th at 12:30 and has a 1500 word limit.
Blog posts rely on good writing, additional media (such as images and videos), and links. All three elements are necessary for a successful post. Very high standards will be held for the final draft, as what each group writes will be posted on a public website. Your blog entry could very easily be read by hundreds or even thousands of people. The most successful post from the last class has been read by 2500 people! To see what previous students did, see this link: http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/05/09/why-a-final-essay-when-we-can-do-this/