Blogs vs. Term Papers: The Case for Term Papers

Recently, I have offering some thoughts on the relative value of blogs vs. term papers in higher education. I was inspired by an article in the New York Times: “Blogs vs. Term Papers.” This article describes the convictions of an English professor at Duke to abolish term papers in favor of blogs. As you might imagine, this has stirred up plenty of controversy among professors.

In my last post, I put up the case for blogs in higher education. It’s a compelling case, I think. But I also acknowledged some of the limitations of blogging. Today, I want to make the case for term papers.

My sophomore-year dorm, where I spent many almost sleepless nights in order to write my term papers.

I admit that term papers are a drag for students. In the second semester of my sophomore year of college, I took five classes, each of which required a term paper. I had to write 110 pages in 20 days. To do this, I slept four hours a night for three weeks . . . not my favorite time of life.

But term papers can also be a drag for teachers. When I was teaching seminary, for example, I usually required my students to write a final term paper of 12-15 pages. If I had 30 students, that meant about 400 pages of reading. And I’m not talking about adventure novels here. I had to read carefully, adding comments and corrections along the way, not to mention grades. In the middle of a grading cycle, I was less than enthusiastic about term papers.

Yet, I continued to require them – and still would – because I believe they helped my students learn to think more deeply and clearly. The research required for term papers helped my students learn new things and hone their academic skills. In a blog post, one is free to assert one’s opinion or share one’s feelings without offering much in the way of rational support. But a term paper requires more depth of thought as well as the persuasive presentation of evidence.

Blogging helps students think freely and creatively. It encourages them to be bold, to take a public stand, to say what they think succinctly. All of this is fine, but it’s not enough. Term papering helps students think deeply and carefully. It encourages them to be cautious and reflective, to defend what they think with reasons and research. I believe that students need to develop the strengths associated both with blogging and with term papering.

My son’s film professor at NYU appears to agree with me. Students in his “American Cinema: 1960-present” class are expected to put up two blog posts on the class blog (15% of grade) and to write a short midterm paper (25%) and a longer final essay (40%). The professor comes down on the term paper side of the blogs vs. term papers argument in that 65% of the final grade depends on papers while only 15% is based on blog entries. But the professor does not fall into an either/or mode. It’s both/and.

If I were teaching today, I’d line up with this prof, though perhaps with a little more emphasis on blogging because it facilitates online conversation. I would require students to comment on the blog posts of other students, and count this as perhaps 5% of their final grade. I do believe that students need to develop expertise in the shorter modes of writing that are popular today (blogging, commenting, etc.). Yes, I could even imagine requiring Twitter posts of 140 characters. Yet, I am almost convinced that students need to learn the disciplines associated with the writing of longer papers, most of all the discipline of thinking deeply and carefully. The inability of people to think well today constitutes a great threat to our society. It seems like a good college eduction should help to remedy this growing and widespread problem. (Of course, I am assuming some things about the ability of college professors to think clearly and help their students to do this same. This is often, but not always the case, I’m sad to say. My son’s experience at NYU has been very positive in this regard.)

So, blogs vs. term papers? Why does it have to be “vs”? Why not blogs and term papers? That makes the most sense to me.

  • Evan

    “I would require students to comment on the blog posts of other students, and count this as perhaps 5% of their final grade.”

    Well, I have the 5% nailed. It’s that pesky Content grade that has me worried. :)

  • Anonymous

    Indeed, you need to get a blog . . . and write some term papers.

  • Nathan Roberts

    I’m in the American Cinema class at NYU, and part of our blog grade comes from posting at least 1 comment on another person’s post. So it’s not quite 5%, but it is included. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1801635705 Laura Hooge

    Blogging is a different way of learning, and  a different way of assessment.

    I have a professor who, while not quite subscribing to the blog principle, heartily embraces alternate ways of assessment that use different parts of the brain and are honestly less stressful than a term paper but still require the same diligence and attention.

    For example, in my Literature of American Music class, we have to respond to one of the texts we are reading with a visual reaction, a selection of ten quotes and a selection of ten interesting ideas that the text presents, and what the prof. calls a one-pager. I don’t even really want to know what that translates to in Term Paper Speak.

    I’ve never really embraced the idea of a blog, because I tend to perceive them as, well, very liable to becoming unsupported rants. And I enjoy crafting long pieces of writing that are meant to be read by a specific audience. (They are not always papers.)

    I love social media, but I think that it has deteriorated the beauty of well-constructed arguments. (As well as adequate and ‘proper’ use of the language. However, languages change over time so I’m not above seeing the language change.)

    This series was very enjoyed. Thank You.     

  • Anonymous

    Ah, that’s cool. Your professor and I think a lot alike about this. He must be very wise. :)

  • Amber

    This is just the age old argument between knowledge and rhetoric, trying to mete itself out for supremecy in the social discourse once again, in one of its many forums of discussion.

  • Anonymous

    Old argument. New form. Thanks for your comment.

  • Research Term Papers

    Research Term Papers are a common way in which students
    are evaluated today.  Be it under-graduate
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    students.  One of the most crucial
    reasons for the same is that such papers let the students walk through the
    entire horizon of the course and try and implement class learning into a
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  • George Preston Writing Company

    To abandon research papers is to fail to teach students skills they will need if they are going to write articles and books. Granted, not all students will follow this career path, but some will, and they deserve to be trained properly. At the same time blogs are another place for low-stakes writing. Both are relevant in today’s world, and when I taught college English I included both in the course requirement.

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