Staff Editorial: Linking beyond Blackboard

GW students pride themselves on the high-profile connections this campus affords them, but some of the most meaningful connections are a little closer to home. As the GW English department has recently learned, sometimes the most crucial connections in an educational setting are those made within a department.

To this end, the two-year-old “GW English News” blog (gwenglish.blogspot.com) has proven helpful in bringing a traditional English department into the 21st century. The blog effortlessly links students to information about department events, professor achievements and alumni networking.

The added advantage of the blog is that it helps foster a sense of community. This is particularly helpful in a department whose members may feel more isolated than, say, political science majors.

But even the political science department could take a page from the English department’s technological campaign. Departments across the University should consider implementing similar programs to create buzz for their events and spread the word to the students interested in the subject.

The blogosphere offers another valuable tool; interactive advising help would fill the gap left by an inadequate number of professional advisers. For your typical overbooked GW student, the practical implications of making such information accessible without setting foot into an adviser’s office are priceless.

For majors like international affairs, a department-specific blog creates potential for greater attendance at less publicized events and discussions, which may not always pop up on the student radar.

Of course, this new, less formal model for student-professor communication depends largely upon three things: the design of the blog, student initiative and professors’ capacity to post.

The success of the English department blog lies in its ability to keep things simple. The blog emphasizes only department concerns and announcements. It stays away from the spam model adopted by many department listservs by enabling students to check the site only as often as they would like. Even though this model places the responsibility to get involved squarely on the shoulders of students, the accessibility of this information provides the resources that students need.

Of course, this model also depends on the ability and willingness of faculty members to post relevant blog messages on a regular basis. On the English blog, department chair Jeffrey Cohen and undergraduate communications liaison Rajiv Menon initiate blog postings, filtering a department’s worth of information into pieces that students actually want to read. Exporting the English department’s experiment may require similar moderators to ensure that students are not overwhelmed with information.

After spending four years at GW, the most valuable tools you walk away with may just be the connections you made on this campus. For English majors, and hopefully many others soon, developing relationships with peers and professors is a crucial first step in building those connections.

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