For freshmen at U.Penn, blogs are recommended writing

Members of the class of 2010 will be encouraged to fill out an academic blog to assist student mentors and get freshmen to open up in ways they don't typically do with advisors.

Members of the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Arts and Sciences class of 2010 will be receiving more than a tour of the campus this year. They'll be asked to fill out their own personal "academic blog" questionnaire, reports Inside Higher Ed. The online journal entries will focus on students' intellectual interests, academic concerns and a personal mission statement.

“We’re trying to give the adviser some context, so the relationship doesn’t start as ‘Who the hell are you?’” said Dennis DeTurck, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of mathematics.

The academic blogs look like a regular UPenn web page but can only be viewed by the student, an academic adviser and authorized university officials. The idea is to formulate talking points for when freshmen first meet their faculty mentors in the fall. The university staff will post new questions on the students’ academic blog each semester. The blog is a forum for students and faculty to see if their academic interests change.

The blog was tried out last year in a pilot program. Some students used the blog only twice and others used it regularly.

“Looking at Facebook, you can see students are revealing all kinds of intimate info about themselves in a very public way,” DeTurck said. “A lot of them really open up in that medium; they’d type things into blogs that they’d never say sitting across from me in my office. They talk about girlfriends, relationships, how they feel.”

Since it is a college-sponsored journal, UPenn monitors the content to avoid liability issues. Although no serious inappropriate content occurred in during the pilot program, administrators, faculty and school counselors can view the material, if needed.

“That’s a serious issue for us — trying to be able to connect the dots,” DeTurck said. “We see this as a tool for detecting serious situations when they arise.” Added Brett Perlmutter, president of the class of 2009: “For a first-year student who comes in with a different perspective, with any apprehension, it’s a great way to get initial feedback,”

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