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Faculty Spotlight: Lisa Pruitt

Dr. Lisa Pruitt, professor of law at UC Davis, has used blogging in her upper-division law school seminars and Davis Honors Challenge courses for five years.

Pruitt began using a blog in her Law & Rural Livelihoods graduate seminar in 2007. “I had started the legal ruralism blog a few months earlier,” Pruitt explains, “so I already had the platform set up. It felt like a natural continuation of the blog I’d already established.”

In the early days, blogging was optional for extra credit, but Pruitt now requires her students to blog seven times throughout the semester (about once every two weeks). The posts must be related to course content, but the parameters are fairly loosely defined – “it doesn’t need to be closely related to law,” Pruitt explains, “it can be about some aspect of rural living that has policy implications.”

Pruitt says that one of the best results of the blogging assignment is that she and her students “wind up having a conversation over the course of the semester about a much broader range of topics than I would have put out there in the two hours of class time each week. Sometimes that conversation continues when alums come across a topic they want to discuss on the blog.” The blog is successful in part because the students are given the flexibility to write about what interests them, which in turn increases their engagement with the course and with each other’s ideas. Pruitt further notes that, “blogging works especially well when the content of the course is somewhat open-ended and/or current events are a significant component of it.”

But real success of the blog lies in the fact that it’s not just a tool Pruitt created for the classroom. She keeps it updated even when class is not in session, and she now has five years’ worth of student contributions—in addition to her own. Thus, when students blog in Pruitt’s class, they are “building on something bigger than just this semester’s discussion; they can go back and reference what previous students said.”

Furthermore, Pruitt says, “it’s very eye-opening to see the things that years ago caught the attention of my students and me. For instance, we as a nation are now quite focused on natural gas fracking – if you go back and look at our thinking three or four years ago, when the topic first appeared on the blog, our thinking and level of awareness was much more nascent. You can see the evolution of legal thinking and public attention to this issue, which is now a really hot topic regarding rural America.”

The assignment was so successful that Pruitt set up a companion blog, Feminist Legal Theory, for her Feminist Legal Theory seminar, and she has created blogs for her undergraduate Davis Honors Challenge courses: Constantly Connected, Gender and the 2008 Election, and Who’s Fighting Our Wars.

A natural consequence of using such an assignment across multiple courses is that Pruitt has had to give serious thought to the instructions for and assessment of the blogs. “Over the years,” she explains, “ I’ve had to be more structured. If I say, ‘you have two weeks in which to get your post up,’ then every one will post on the last day of the two weeks. So I divide the students into four groups and stagger the dates on which their posts are due. Staggering the due dates within the two-week period means there is always fresh content, which is important since I also require the students to comment on at least three other blog posts during the two-week period.”

To assess the blogs, Pruitt has two grading rubrics, one for the undergraduate Davis Honors Challenge blogs and one for the law school seminar blogs. Both were provided by either the University Writing Program (UWP) or the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and Pruitt has also recruited her colleagues in the UWP to help her refine her blogging guidelines.

 

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