Debating IR

Probing the philosophical underpinnings of the international system and anything else of interest.


Friday, January 20, 2006


Here's a friendly reminder of the blog rules as posted on PTJ's syllabus...

What is a blog? Short for “weblog,” a blog is a publicly-accessible online journal to which you can post thoughts, reflections, links to other websites, and the like. There are free blog-hosting services like, as well as services that charge a small fee for hosting. The major advantage of a blog from my perspective is that it is viewable by anyone with a web browser, which means that anybody can join in the conversation; a secondary advantage is the fact that blogs are part of the wider web-based ‘Net, so that bloggers can, through their posts, join in wider conversations that take place between sites.

Why do you require blogging for this course? Once upon a time I assigned students traditional journals or weekly one-page critical response papers; such an exercise does get people thinking about the material outside of class and promotes self-reflection, but it had two major drawbacks: each student was simply carrying on a one-on-one dialogue with me, and if I got a bit behind on replying to those weekly papers the dialogue ground to a halt. Blogging serves the function of a weekly critical response paper, but goes one better by encouraging conversations between students outside of class, since all of the posts are publicly accessible.

Why create blogging groups? Rather than having each student maintain an individual blog, which might promote individual reflection but might impede conversation as each student focused on their own blog to the detriment of others, I will divide the class into groups of three to five people—a “blogging group”—and have each group maintain a blog for the course of the semester. Participating in a blogging group gives you a ready-made set of conversational partners, a series of posts that you would really have to work hard to avoid reacting to in your own posts, and an opportunity to try out ideas in a group setting before bringing them to wider class discussion—or to elaborate on a portion of the class discussion afterwards.

Are we confined to our own group’s blog? No. I will make all of the blog addresses available to everyone (once they are e-mailed to me) through my public blog: You are welcome to read other groups’ blogs, and comment on things that are posted there, or to reference them in your own posts—preferably by including links to their posts in your own.

Your individual blogging grade—everyone will get an individual grade, although one portion of that grade will be the same for all members of a blogging group—will depend on three factors: the extent to which your course blog meets technical requirements; your individual posting history; and your conversational performance.

Technical Requirements. Each blogging group will create a blog before the second class session. The blog’s url, and the real name and user ID of everyone enrolled in the blog, should be e-mailed to me as soon as the blog is set up. I am indifferent as to the blog hosting service that you use; I use, mainly because it’s free and easy to set up. Each of these blogs must have the following features:

  • Every member of the blogging group must be a member of the blog as an individual. In practice this means that each member of the group must have their own user ID, so that posts that they make will be clearly identified as belonging to them. You need not use your true name as your blogging ID, as long as I know who you are.
  • The blog must permit comments on individual posts. You may choose to permit anonymous comments or you may require people to create a user ID in order to comment.
  • Each individual post must have a readily-accessible static url that people can use to reference the post. Different hosting services have different ways of making this static url available to readers, and you should make sure that your blog makes it obvious how people can obtain that address.
  • Finally, each blog must have some easy way that a viewer can bring up all posts written by a specific author. With Blogger, this is a matter of using Google’s “Blog Search” technology; other options exist for other blogging platforms.

Every member of the blogging group will receive the same grade for this portion of their score; fulfilling all of the technical requirements gets you an easy A on this section. However, I am not going to take class time to explain how to do any of these technical issues. If you have technical questions, I suggest that you either a) hit the ‘Net; b) ask around; or c) come to see me during office hours.

Individual Posting History. Each student is required to post on their group’s blog twice per week. The first posting, a “substantive” posting raising a point of interest about the week’s reading(s), must be online before the beginning of the class in which that reading will be discussed, so either Monday 9:55am or Thursday 9:55am. [Readings assigned for lecture days will be discussed on the next available discussion day.] The second posting, a “reflective” posting that begins with class discussion, or from an issue raised by any of the week’s reading(s), or from a point raised by someone else in their blog posting for the week, must be online before noontime on Saturday.

Note that no blog postings are required for weeks in which no readings are assigned.

Each enrolled student will keep a record of all of the postings that they make, broken down by weeks. This record, which you should keep on your hard drive and update after you post an entry or make a comment on someone else’s entry, should clearly indicate the static url of each entry that you make and each entry to which you have posted a comment. An easy way to do this is to make each week’s section of the record look like the following:

Week X

substantive: http://blah.blah.blah

reflective: http://blah.blah.blah

comments: http://blah.blah.blah; http://blah.blah.blah; http://blah.blah.blah.

[Obviously, you should replace the X and blah.blah.blah by the appropriate information for each posting.]

Each student will be required to submit that record to me by e-mail twice during the semester: once before Spring Break (must be received by 5pm on Saturday, 11 March 2006), and once at the end of the semester (must be received by 5pm on Monday, 1 May 2006). Fulfilling all of the weekly posting requirements will guarantee you an A in this portion of your score.

Note that comments on other people’s posts are not required, but see the next section.

Conversational Performance. If the previous two portions of your blogging grade were marks for technical merit, this is the portion of your grade that depends on creativity and artistic flair. In order to blog well, you need to be an active part of a series of online conversations. You signal your participation in such conversations in three ways:

  • Referring to other people’s posts in your own, preferably by embedding a link to their post’s static url in your own post. Note that you are in no way limited to referring to posts made by other members of the class; the blogosphere is a vast place these days, and you should feel free to explore it.
  • Commenting on other people’s posts, and reacting to comments on your own posts. This is the most direct way to engage someone in conversation: reacting to something that they have specifically written. Commenting is not strictly required, but it is the sort of thing that I expect stellar students to be doing on a regular basis. Once again, you are not limited to commenting on posts by other members of the class, or to posting comments on blogs maintained by class blogging groups. And you are in no way limited to posting one comment, especially if the author of the original post posts a comment to your comment…
  • Using trackbacks to signal that a conversation is going on. If you find a post and want to post about it yourself, you can send a “trackback ping” to the first post indicating the static url of your post. That way people reading the post on which you have commented will know that there is a post out there in the blogosphere that discusses it or refers to it.

The point is that you need to be an active participant in online discussions over the course of the semester. Quantity is not the point here; the quality of your posts and comments is much more important. References, comments, and trackbacks are simply ways to trace the conversational threads, as is the individual posting record that you are maintaining.

I will send each enrolled student a mid-course report on their blogging before the first scheduled class session after Spring Break, and a final report will accompany their graded final exam.


Thursday, January 19, 2006


This is a blog for Prof. Jackson's Debate in IR class at American University. The class takes place during the Spring 2006 semester on Mondays and Thursdays from 9:55-11:10AM. The members of the group using this blog are Jonathan Berman, Kat Kuhl, Tom Allen, and Matt Bank.