Question o’ the day: Should universities provide a free blogspace for their students, faculty and staff?

I’ve been asked to ponder this question and write a recommendation for the University of Texas at Austin. My response is, “Of course! Blogs are part of the new web culture…the interactive web…where individual voices can be heard. Blogs are part of a new social network, an online community that shares ideas freely.” To which my boss replies, “You’re just currently infatuated with blogs. ” “Am not!” “Are too!”

And he asks:

  1. How do blogs benefit students and faculty in pursuit of higher education and research?
  2. Why don’t we just advise faculty/students where they can set up a blog on a non-university server?
  3. Why is a blog better than email or a regular web page?
  4. Will blogs still be around in 5 years?
  5. If we do provide blogs for students, what happens when they graduate? Do we force them to move their blog?

And while I’ve only been active in the blogosphere for a very short time…I’ve already learned the value of thinking out loud…or should I say, thinking out blog…so that I can hear what others are thinking all around this wonderfully diverse planet.


  1. My initial gut response was “hell, no,” but then I realized: part of the reason why I’m still on LiveJournal after all these years (even though MovableType and WordPress are more feature-rich) is because of the community aspects.

    For example: adding other journals as friends lets you aggregate all your friends’ entries onto one page, which is a hell of a lot easier than using RSS + a newsreader; half of my modest readership wouldn’t read my blog at all, I’m sure, if it weren’t that easy.

    Also look into the other things that LiveJournal has implemented very well: communities, interest matching, finding nearby users (geographically), and so on. Imagine being able to aggregate blog entries by dormitory, by major, by individual class, and so on. Imagine a group blog set up for each class in order to facilitate collaboration. (God, anything to replace Blackboard.)

    It’d be an ambitious project, but if done correctly it could be incredibly cool.

    To address the questions:

    1. I don’t think they do, necessarily, and that’s the one question I can’t really answer. Certainly a blog can be very scholarly and can facilitate learning, but take a look at the blog of the average college student and you definitely won’t see much about academics. That said, not every service the university provides is strictly academic in nature, and it’s hard to speculate on how large groups of people will use the tools you’ve given them.
    2. Given the above, I’m sure there are those who’d wonder why the University would subsidize student blogging when these students could just as easily blog on LiveJournal or Xanga. My answer: if ITS could take an open-source project like WordPress and turn it into a community like one of these sites, I think it’d be valuable for all involved.
    3. Different tools for different tasks. Blogs don’t replace e-mail. They replace an ordinary web page only somewhat.
    4. Absolutely. They likely won’t be as fashionable as they are now, but a blog is just a framework for easy periodic site updates, so there’s no reason to think they won’t be around for a long time.
    5. I think the best solution here would be to give them some sort of post-graduation grace period in which they can still host their blog on UT servers. They’d also be able to download an archive of all their past blog entries, in some open format like RSS (which imports into MT and WordPress very easily) so that they can easily move their blogs somewhere else. Though I think 90% of students won’t even bother.

  2. Glenda, just a few quick thoughts on the above questions about blogging in higher education:

    1. Research indicates that blogging may make you smarter:

    Brain of the Blogger:

    And blogs are an excellent outlet for professional information sharing:

    EDUCAUSE Community Blog Service

    2. There is a lot of credibility that automatically comes with using an .edu domain (for good or for ill), whether that’s your e-mail address or blog URL.

    3. Aggregating RSS feeds from blogs helps notify readers of new content from feeds that they choose without getting tangled in spam filters. Blogs are also a quick and easy way for publishers of all levels of technical expertise to share their ideas with the world.

    4. Yes, I think so. I think different variations on text-based blogging like podcasting and vodcasting will also become more popular as software and hardware becomes more affordable.

    5. Current university policy requires students to surrender their UT e-mail account and Webspace after graduation, so it’s not unreasonable to expect them to move their blog after a reasonable amount of time following graduation/transfer. There’s some buzz about ePortfolios in education, and how they could be tied in with blogging–ping me with an e-mail if you’re interested and I’ll see what I can find in my bookmarks.

  3. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that UT somehow successfully creates a blogging community, similar to what the commenter above suggests.

    How would this community differ from something like LiveJournal or Blogger or Xanga? It would undoubtedly have some nice UT branding, a little burnt orange and a graphic of the tower. It might have a nice tie-in to UTDirect.

    Other than that, though, there would be little difference. Why? Because simply fashioning a community does not direct that community’s discourse. Even if we embedded midi files of “Pomp and Circumstance” on every student’s blog, they’d still write about how messed up they got last weekend or how much Jurassic 5 rocked Emo’s last night.

    They might dabble in some academic subjects (communism and quantum mechanics are always a safe bet, especially for overly-caffeinated freshmen), but the quantity/quality of this “discouse” would be no greater than it currently is on existing services like LiveJournal or Blogger.

    To call those sites “communities” is really a misnomer. If they are communities, then all of Texas is a “community.” While this is a true, in a kind of peace-love-and-happiness sense, when it comes to justifying the cost of building and maintaining one such “community” at UT there must be clear and distinct differences between UT’s blogging services and existing blogging services. There must be palpable advantages that make a clear impact on learning.

    There’s a bit of flawed logic at work here. The logic goes something like this: Since all of our students and faculty work and study at UT, they could potentially create a really great community. The power and allure of the web, however, is its total disregard for specificity of place and identity. It doesn’t matter where you are or who you are, if you dig what I’m writing on my blog, then cool. Let’s link to each other blogs, even if you go to Texas A&M.

    This whole thing feels a lot like UT’s well known impulse to re-create technological wheels when the opportunity presents itself to do so. (I can say that because I’ve worked at UT for nearly four years and been involved on more than one wheel-reinvention project.)

    Let’s not waste students’ resources building another wheel. Let’s instead make people aware of existing blogging services and tools and let the people decide how to use them. The communities they build will organically arise from their interests and their writing; communities will not and cannot be imposed from “above” (read “ITS”) or from the framework of the community.

  4. Andrew, being a recent grad, I really appreciate your viewpoint.

    Stephanie, I’d recently heard you were a blogmaster…the Brain of the Blogger article is fantastic! I’m finding new pathways in my brain.

    Justin, ahhhh…you assume I’d just want it to be academic…when in fact I was thinking of Ublog as being no different than personal web publishing or email for students and faculty. So could the benefit of a UT blog be another tangible way the university could create an outlet for students and faculty to express themselves?

  5. “So could the benefit of a UT blog be another tangible way the university could create an outlet for students and faculty to express themselves?”

    Which brings me back to the problem of re-inventing the wheel. What advantage might a UT system have over other systems?

    I can think only one at the moment (there are probably others): integration with existing systems (UTDirect), therefore making a UT blog system easier to use (at least in terms of entry).

    Can you think of other advantages? I guess I’m thinking in terms of ROI here. Maybe that’s because I’m about to embark on a career in the corporate sector, and I’m kinda freaking out about that. :-)

  6. Glenda, let me ask you this, since Justin raised the point and I’m curious too: what is it you feel that a UT blog can offer that a student can’t get from LiveJournal or Xanga? The answer would go a long way toward defining the direction this project would take.

    My answer, as indicated in my first post: since each blogger is guaranteed to be a student or employee of UT, the community aspect is evident — it’s not just something I created out of thin air. It means, among other things, that there’s a bunch of metadata about each blogger at your disposal (though some of it would be subject to user-defined privacy settings, I imagine). From the directory alone you’ll know their major, their classification, and where they live.

    And that also means that in addition to the ways that users form groups in other blogging communities (my experience with LJ is that most of the journals you read are written by your real-life friends), anyone using our theoretical Ublog site would be able to browse others’ blogs more intelligently. One could browse the blogs of other people who live on his floor — and, through reading their blogs, come to make friends with those people in real life. (Justin, there are indeed communites that place emphasis on geographic proximity — just look at meetup.com.) Or you could browse by major instead, or by department if you’re an employee, or even by shuttle route if you live off campus. (I love the geographic plotting on NYCbloggers.com.)

    Now, whether that’s enough to justify UT’s own blogging system… I don’t know. But it’s definitely something that a UT student could get from Ublog that they couldn’t get from Xanga or LiveJournal. And I’m sure that others can come up with things I haven’t thought of.

    (It’s a good thing you don’t care about content, because I happen to agree with Justin on that issue. Blogs have proven that the signal-to-noise ratio is directly related to the barrier of entry. To prove it: visit Xanga and see how quick and easy it is to create a new account. Then browse through a few blogs there and try to find one you’d actually enjoy reading.)

  7. I think we are getting ahead of ourselves here. First, we need to be going back to 1975 and asking:

    1. How does email benefit students and faculty in pursuit of higher education and research?

    2. Why don’t we just advise faculty/students where they can set up an email account on a non-university server?

    3. Why is a email better than inter office mail or a regular postal mail?

    4. Will email still be around in 5 years?

    5. If we do provide email for students, what happens when they graduate? Do we force them to move their email?

    Dave the Luddite

  8. Dave, your comment is exactly what I was thinking in response to Justin’s latest post.

    Justin, you are right, if we were corporate, I would need to prove how $s spent would generate $s collected. But in this place…I’m thinkin’ ROI looks like this…resources spent vs. benefits.

    Perceived Costs:

    1. Blog Software – I’d go open source
    2. Hardware – I’d use pre-existing hardware
    3. Installation – x hours to install blog software
    4. Maintenance – budget of x hours per month to support/upgrade the software

    Perceived Benefits:

    1. Easy Blog Option for Students – students would have a 1 click option to create a blog, kinda like webspace
    2. Blog Culture – by hosting a blog for students, UT would be saying, blogs have value, we encourage you to think out loud, and share your thoughts and research (and have a blast talkin’ about your college experience).
    3. West Mall Blog _ okay, so this is the same point…but I have to say it…it is an area for free speech. Just like the free speech area on the west mall. College is a time to spread your wings and learn to speak out for what you believe in.

    And, if ya know me well, ya know I love the University’s Core Purpose and Values Statement.

    Core Purpose

    To transform lives for the benefit of society.

    Core Values

    Learning – A caring community, all of us students, helping one another grow.

    Discovery – Expanding knowledge and human understanding.

    Freedom – To seek the truth and express it.

    Leadership – The will to excel with integrity and the spirit that nothing is impossible.

    Individual Opportunity – Many options, diverse people and ideas; one university.

    Responsibility – To serve as a catalyst for positive change in Texas and beyond.

    And THAT sounds like a blog to me!

  9. Dave, email and blog don’t share as much in common as your post implies. Email’s potential for (relative) privacy and one-to-one communication make it a drastically different medium than blogging. Or perhaps you think it’d be okay for the University to post my paycheck information on a blog? Or my professor to post my grades? Or, conversely, for me to post the reason I won’t be able to attend class next Wednesday (a funeral service for my grandmother).

    Some interesting points, Glenda. I wonder about Perceived Benefits 2 and 3, though. Do you think UT would be okay with students posting about how much dope they smoked last weekend or how many students they’ve slept with? (Common college experiences, no?)

    Perhaps students already do this with WebSpace. I don’t know. I’m genuinely curious.

    Does UT police that sort of thing?

  10. I’m not sure about the students and faculty since I’m staff, but I do think it would be helpful to the staff of UT.

    We have a tremendous number of staff with similar jobs scattered around in different units and campuses. Currently we don’t really have an easy-to-use university-wide way to share ideas, techniques, and procedures related to our jobs (or outside interests, etc. without signing up for one of the email lists on specific subjects. Personally, I get a tremendous number of emails, especially since I and a co-worker routinely check at least 3 different email accounts. To be able to go to a page where we can share ideas and experiences without generating a lot of (sometimes long) email, and to have it simple enough that the staff that isn’t as experienced and/or comfortable with computers might be very helpful.

    As far as setting it up off-site, I think a lot of staff are more likely to access this resource if it is already linked to under the staff section of UT Direct. At least amongst the staff that I know, we’re all pretty busy most of the time and it’s easier, faster, and more comfortable for most staff to just go to a blog via the above route. ITS so far has done a very good job of making complicated things very easy, efficient, and non-intimidating for the average staff person here.
    I think that it also pays to remember that a lot of the staff here is older and less experienced and/or comfortable with computers than your average student or faculty member. A fair number of them only have ready access to and/or use a computer at work. A lot of them simply can’t afford one at home.
    I can’t predict how many staffers will use this resource and it will probably take a little bit of time for staffers to try it out, but I think they’ll find it helpful and get comfortable with using blogs quickly.

    As far as whether it’s better than email or a regular webpage, see the above text.

    I definitely think that blogs will be around in 5 years unless a better technology opens up. I think that they’re easy and quick to use, non-intimidating to just about any computer user, and won’t fill up my email with lots of stuff I have to read to sort through.

    I think that students should have to give up their blogs or move them to an outside site when they graduate. By then most of them should have no problem with doing that, especially if ITS does set up some web pages that instruct them on how to do it.

  11. I’m sure there are better ways articulate the distinction, but “All LiveJournals are blogs, but not all blogs are LiveJournals.” The question is whether we would want to use a blogging system that allows for single-person blogging with community-building abilities (LiveJournal) as opposed to single-person/small group stand-alone blogging (Movable Type).

    Would we want a “community-enabled” blogging environment? Justin makes a very valid point that many communities would be used for non-academic purposes. But at the same time, many university IT services are. I think it could be a tremendous benefit to university entities like large, multi-section classes, distance education, and student organizations. Imagine a “FR  506 First-Year French I” or “STS 311-Information in Cyberspace” or Women in Computer Science community blog*. (*Just picking examples, not affiliated with any of these personally.)

    While I think a “community-enabled” blog (ugh, I need to find a better label for this) could present some opportunities not available through a stand-alone blog system, the selection and implementation of such a tool would have to be undertaken with a lot more care than the other.

  12. I agree with Ann that university staff would also benefit from having blogs to informally share information with colleagues–not only within my department but with other staff members that perform similar job functions:

    Communities of practice and organizational performance

    I lose or delete e-mail mailinglist messages and can’t easily search through them if I keep them. I know there are message boards around campus, but I’ve not been introduced to any that are frequented by those whom interaction with would benefit my job. And message boards aren’t quite the same as blogs:

    What are the Differences Between Message Boards and Weblogs?

    My department’s blog on the MovableType installation on webapp.utexas.edu has been a fantastic way to share information, ideas and observations with co-workers; regrettably it doesn’t easily allow for follow-up dialog or discussion as spam comments either overwhelm the site or require comments to be turned off completely.

  13. I think Dave hit the nail right on the head with the questions regarding implementing e-mail for the first time. With my “blogging” experience, both first-hand and second-hand through practically everyone I know, a quote from FIELD OF DREAMS comes to mind as I read this, “…If you build it, they will come.”

    Let me answer the questions first, before I get into it:

    1. Yes, and on various levels. I will only touch on one for each for now. For students, it would actually create a community that you can only experience on an electronic level. For example, when you put your opinion out on these blog sites, no one really knows who you are. A complete stranger will comment on that post, be it positive, negative, indifferent, or irrelevant. A relationship begins. People, in general, do not realize they have so much in common with each other…I have a lot to say about this….but I’ll refrain for now. For faculty, a blog site would help on the research side because it’s one of the best environments for human behavior experiments. On the other hand, it could also be the ultimate course instructor survey. With the assumption that this would be an informal blog, which it should be in order to be successful, students would feel more comfortable talking about aspects of the university they feel could be improved. Hello window to what students actually want and think. (stay tuned for more on this topic as well)

    2. Yes…let them know it’s available, but don’t push it. The word will spread on its own. Someone will find out about it….tell all his/her friends…and the connection begins.

    3. It’s not better…Andrew answered this best

    4. Yes…they might not be called blogs, but they’ll exist in one form or another

    5. Probably combine Andrews and Stephanies answers on this one.

    The only issue I can see regarding cost is the maintenance. Of course this would have to constantly be a work in progress, so there should probably be someone or some-few in charge of maintaining and checking for inappropriate content. Maybe be it can have an iteration of the email and webspace guidelines for posting information/opinions/etc.

    I would suggest thinking about expanding this from just a blog site….combine email, webspace, directory, picture posting (with limits of course), blog area, organization affiliations (ut orgs, sororities, fraternities, union (employee), etc), search (by affiliation, eid, interest, etc). The key would be versatility and customization per user with a standard template available for starters (see myspace.com)

    I guess that’s it for now….talk amongst yourselves….

  14. IMHO this whole vibrant discussion shows the University ought to give it a try. There ought to be some parameters that allow the University to shut down a blog based on decency standards, and the whole UT blogosphere should have a bold-font disclaimer at the top explaining the site is set up for free speech but the university does not endorse any opinions herein etc.

    But it’s something to try. And admissions blogs (already used by some universities) could be a great way for prospective students to learn about the university.

  15. There have been so many great comments. In lieu of repeating ideas, I’ll just add my two cents…I’ve been using blogs for the past three years as a student, TA, and now staff member. Although sites like CiteULike now exist, I began using blogs to document my research so I could access links and references from anywhere without having to carry storage media around with me. Soon we were using blogs in courses for group project communication and documentation, archiving them at the end of each semester. I worked on i312: Information in Cyberspace and i218: Technology Tools for Academic Success both require students to create blogs to ease communication, submission of assignments, and for the techno-social experience. i312 emphasizes the emergence of blogs as part of the job search and interview process (nyt pdf). In addition to using blogs pedagogically, we used them “behind the scenes” for communication among i312’s 4 instructors and 8 TAs. The WordPress blog was the smartest option for organizing and archiving problems, development, and the evolution of the course. My opinion is that blogs are undoubtedly beneficial to faculty, students, and staff.

    Marzton hit upon an interesting idea. More than a blog, a searchable knowledge management system. The sheer size of UT makes it difficult to know who (faculty, students, staff) if anyone is working on ideas similar to yours, has equipment that you are looking to buy/borrow, or has already developed a system for a problem you have just begun to tackle. I think UT supported blogs could open up many pathways for collaboration. Hosting blogs here would prevent many of the hassles associated with unexpected down time and slow server speeds.

    Blogs offer more than email, but don’t require the specific knowledge creating a web page does, allowing for a larger user base. They can be pre-built for usability, accessibility, and functionality.

    Blogs will most definitely be around in 5 years. I found this rather interesting article on MSNBC referencing a Pew survey about blogs; how many read them and how many author them.

  16. Glenda, thank you for asking these questions. I set-up a blog for my department two years ago as part of an exploration of these issues. We use the blog — just as you are doing here — to exchange ideas, express opinions, share resources, create culture, and get to know each other better. Those who are new to the department can look back at earlier postings and not only find resources, but also see how various topics have evolved (which makes it a more useful tool than email or a web page in this case). Those who are not in our department have an opportunity to get to know us from a different perspective when they read our blog. And everyone in the department has an informal outlet for expression.

    You listed the University’s Core Purpose and Values Statement, and I’m glad you did that. Blogs aren’t better than email or web pages; they each have different strengths. But if they provide us with one more tool for helping to create “a caring community, all of us students…”, “Expanding human knowledge and understanding”, with “Many options, diverse people and ideas” — then I’m in favor of making blogs available to the university community.

  17. University shouldn’t have to provide blogspace for their students. There are plenty of options available free on the net right now.

    In fact, one of the classes I’m currently taking requires us to post some of our work on blogs which the instructor has linked to our WebCT site. It works, clean and simple. One less expensive for the university to go to.


  18. I think blogs and blog-like content management systems are a great way to pry open institutions and increase interaction between them and the outside public. Look at what students in the RTF department have done with Flow, thanks to tools provided by the Instructional Design Group. They’re picking up contributions from academics across the country and getting feedback through comments to all those articles. Every department should have a similar website. But despite all the tools available outside UT, I’d bet Flow wouldn’t have happened without the IDG providing an in-house development team working on a customized solution.

    For the university, blogs have a lot of advantages over email and your average website because of their ease of use and interactivity: it’s a good way to test out ideas while working on a paper (Lawrence Lessig of Stanford talks about the feedback his blog receives in this Village Voice article); if classes did this sort of thing for assignments it would give students a chance to try out their arguments on a live audience; and it allows the outside community to see just what it is professors and students are spending their lives working on.

  19. Wow! Is it possible? I’m even more in love with blogs today because of your responses?

    Justin – I would recommend that UT blogs be held to the current free speech standards (but heck, that is just my opinion).

    Ann & Amy – Awesome examples of the value of staff blogs. And Libby’s academic ideas/experiences with blogs are proof enough for me.

    In a place as large as UT (50,000+ students, 20,000+) staff, I really believe blogs could help us create creative synergy and build relationships. Okay, so I’m permanently connected to the internet and believe deeply in electronic relationships. I know, I know…I’m wierd.

    Marzton & Lou – the idea of a searchable knowledge base and bloglike CMS are soooo on target. I can easily add another ROI to my list!

  20. meesh, i respect your viewpoint…universities could have students/fac/staff use free external blogspace..and it would indeed be less expensive for the university.

    I wonder, if you (in the role of student blogger) also prefer the additional freedom of posting to your own $%#@ site, where you can say whatever you &*%$ well please, with ZERO university free speech rules hangin’ over your head?!?

  21. Glenda-

    You’ve garnered a plethora of great comments about this, I’m going to add a few from an academic perspective, and a selfish perspective as well.

    As one of the developers and instructors of a LARGE web-based class here at UT, we’ve utilized blogs in our course for quite some time.
    try “student” as username, pass is “bevo”
    We’ve stuck with blogger.com since it supports SFTP posting back to our student server, but I’d love for their to be a UT-hosted alternative, even if there is no way it would be “free”. Why?
    Well, performance comes to mind, Blogger can make even the Blackboard gradebook look wicked fast at times, and hopefully a UT-hosted blog service would offer better performance. Authentication via UTEID would be nice, since the ability of college students to master multiple passwords varies quite a bit :-)
    We actually require our students to post assignments to their blogs, which are linked off of their webpages. Yeah, we could just have them create another webpage, but it’s a bit easier to use a blog if you just wanna say something. We’ve just introduced an RSS component to the class, but I have to think of how cool would it be if I could have subscribed to Bruce Buchanan’s, Gary Chapman’s, Thomas Palaima’s or any number of professor’s blogs when I was a student, and been able to read about what they were thinking about most anything.
    Dave Campbell’s comments just keep me smiling :-)
    Sorry not to stick to your questions, but others have done a masterful job of that. I think an open-source UT BlogSpace would be a great asset to the UT community, just keep it in the Unix group. Please.
    Justins’ comments on the UT Free speech standards are well-founded, and I worry a bit about public commenting on UT-hosted blogs, but the selfish part of me just wants something faster than blogger, with a single sign-on for my CRS-afflicted students….


  22. Glenda,
    Well, I’m biased, but of course I think blogs would add value. My answers follow.

    [1. How do blogs benefit students and faculty in pursuit of higher education and research?] I think every venue that promotes discourse has the potential to benefit education and research; certainly, I’ve learned a great deal from reading the blogs of other programmers.

    [2. Why don’t we just advise faculty/students where they can set up a blog on a non-university server?] This comes down to convenience, branding, and relationship-building.
    a) A UT blog could be more convenient (links on the UT Direct homepage, use UT EID to validate comments, etc.) I don’t think this is an overwhelming argument, but it has some value and would probably marginally increase participation.
    b) Having UT-branded blog space demonstrates the University’s commitment to open discourse. I think this has some “goodwill” value.
    c) Blogs build relationships. I’ve noticed that bloggers change URLs only reluctantly, for the most part. Once a student has established a blog at UT, it might help maintain our relationship with that student as an alumni. More generally, President Faulkner’s recent talk raised the issue of how the University can seem more relevant to the general population of Texas. The more “A-list” bloggers that are located at the University, the more obvious it will be to those who read blogs that the University is doing interesting, valuable things.

    [3. Why is a blog better than email or a regular web page?] It’s a broadcast medium that can be linked to in further discourse. It _is_ a regular web page, but specialized toward writing text quickly and conveniently. I would not blog if I had to hand-edit the HTML every time.

    [4. Will blogs still be around in 5 years?] Yes. That’s easy. What would replace them?

    [5. If we do provide blogs for students, what happens when they graduate? Do we force them to move their blog?] No. We allow them to keep their blogs as alumni… we want that relationship to continue.

    Presuming the University _can_ set up a “free speech area”, I think blogs are well worth a try.

  23. Yay blogs, yay university-hosted.

    Blogs are the best ways to get information from the library community, and I wish more unviersities sponsored them. Library journals are… not terribly informative. The most recent journals are publishing articles written several months ago, about usability tests performed perhaps a year previous. None of us have time or the inclination to publish every test, every brilliant idea, every CSS hack. Blogs are a great way to get that info out there, and would cut down on the re-inventing the wheel aspect of much web design.

    There are a few library blogs that I hit in google every once in a while, and I can’t help thinking that, while they are fantastically helpful, I bet they are done in spare time – a labor of love. If your university thinks that blogs are an acceptable form of professional communication (enough to host them), then perhaps that type of communication will start to count: count as work time, count as eligibility material for tenure, etc.


    p.s. there has got to be a better way to handle spam than our current Movable Type blogs do. Deleting comments is painful and irritating, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to preview comments before they’re posted, like in LJ.

  24. Good Grief! I was too busy to post on Friday, and I can’t believe how many comments you’ve got since then. Sorry if I end up echoing other comments, I got about halfway through. Although I don’t really consider myself a blogger, I have been addicted to them since 1998, and have plenty to say on the subject! First, the questions (are these from David? I can picture him asking all of these):

    How do blogs benefit students and faculty in pursuit of higher education and research?
    I really think it’s like learning a new language. Blogs themselves are not a cure-all solution to communication and education issues, but I think many of their conventions are useful, intuitive, and are on their way to becoming universal. Reverse chronological order, commenting, trackbacks/pings, and hyperlinked posts and conversations enhance meaning and understanding and foster holistic thinking.

    Why don’t we just advise faculty/students where they can set up a blog on a non-university server?
    This is a question I’ve pondered, actually, since there are so many free services available and we always seem to be short on time and resources. If we were to recommend/endorse outside services and hosts, I would still advocate for an opt-in directory of some kind that would allow you to locate and subscribe to feeds from others in the UT community. I learn a great deal from others outside my little corner of the campus.

    Why is a blog better than email or a regular web page?
    Oh, man, this one’s a no-brainer. As for email, I can say that the University Web Developers listserv I belong to had an extensive conversation on Ublogging. And all of those posts are archived in my mail program. But how long would it take me to find them? Even with searchable mail, there is still too much weeding to get to the piece of information you want. Plus I can only access my email archives on this machine. Blogs are searchable, from anywhere with a connection, which is nice for instant gratification junkies like me. Context is also easier to grasp than in message boards, imo.

    The difference between blogs and regular web pages is a little harder to explain. I’ll channel my husband the librarian, and say that because blogs have an ever-increasing set of conventions, they are more useful in the long run than regular web pages. In addition to the stuff mentioned above, blogs usually have lots of metadata built-in (date, time, author, etc) there are increasing options for adding your own metadata (categories, tags, etc). Not only is it easier for you and your friends and colleagues to find your stuff, but it’s much easier to aggregate. *insert flowery rant about semantic web here*

    Will blogs still be around in 5 years?
    Yes, but the gee-whiz factor will be gone. It’ll probably be a lot more utilitarian than it is now. When I first got email, I sent messages to whomever I could just for fun. Same with IM. Heck, same with the telephone. I picture blogs becoming just another communication tool. We will have to blog at work, for class, or what have you, and only the die-hards will maintain personal blogs.

    If we do provide blogs for students, what happens when they graduate? Do we force them to move their blog?
    What happens to their email addy’s when they graduate? Or Webspace? Isn’t it something like 6 months? Anyway, if it were up to me, I’d bundle all this stuff together as a student IT package. They’d get to use it for 6 months after graduating or leaving. Then if they want to continue, they’d have to pay on a regular basis. If ITS doesn’t want to administer alumni/former student/former employee accounts, Texas Exes might do it if they could turn a profit.

    Even if we stop hosting their email/blogs/webspace, they should have a window of opportunity to access the content to move it somewhere else.

    Okay, now on to the issues I thought of over the weekend.

    Yes, people will blog about illegal activity. What responsibility will we have in that scenario? Or what if threats, or other suspicious stuff starts cropping up? Will we be liable if we don’t police threats? I don’t know what our current policy is on this, but since I work with a lot of folks who would be reviewing such cases, I just wonder about that sort of thing. Then, if we do monitor it, in addition to the time and resources it will take, we’ll get all kinds of “big brother” accusations. If we do manage to offer the service with free speech and no policing, we are saying we trust our bloggers a great deal. That empowerment would carry weight in the old school blogging community, but I don’t know if new bloggers would understand what a privelege that is.

    UT bloggers will complain about the institution. They will name names. They will be specific, and often unneccessarily crude and nasty. They will do frightening things with photoshop and then post it. I am fine with this. I imagine several of the folks reading this will be fine with this. But the President’s Office and OPA will take exception, I’m sure. “We reserve the right to delete content …”, but then we run into the big brother accusations again.

    Finally, a no advertising policy is a no-brainer. But what about viral marketing? Plenty of bloggers are accepting money, products and services in turn for writing favorable reviews and building hype. Most of the communities I belong to use shaming and deletion to get rid of such posts and posters. What would UT do to a blogger that was found to be participating in viral marketing?

    Anyway, that’s all I can think of for now. I think it would be great if UT ended up hosting blogs, and I wish I had time to work on a project like this! Keep going, Glenda!

  25. Publication, the Public University and the Public Interest
    a conference on the future of scholarly publishing
    “Traditional modes of publishing–print journals and books–have served scholars for decades. Today, though, scholars in some disciplines advocate making research results available through free electronic archives, and some are even suggesting that universities and funding agencies require “open access” publishing. Other new publishing genres like blogs have also been embraced by scholars.”

  26. Cool comment from Stephanie:

    One of the blogs I follow had an interesting proposal today about how an organization could use message boards and employee blogs to generate useful information, and then filter, organize, and archive that information using wikis. It’s an interesting read, I thought I would forward it on since it touches on a lot of your current

    A Model for Customer Support Using Blogs and Wikis

  27. Glenda,

    I’ve lately come to the world of blogging, and it has certainly captured both my imagination and challenged my technical expertise, or lack thereof. I have the distinct pleasure and honor of working with several of the folks who are posting, so I have them to thank for patiently supporting and informing my quasi-autodidactic attempts to catch up.

    A few random thoughts that don’t follow the listed questions:

    1) A UT blog could link to UTOPIA as well as the General Libraries and UTDirect to enhance the uni’s mission as a knowledge gateway.

    2) A UT staff blog could be helpful in real dialogue among the administration and those who administrate. For instance, besides mass e-mails, the best we have to offer at the moment is the Town Meeting, which is inconvenient for many, even with videos and campus-wide e-mails available after each meeting. In a blog, staff members could pose questions and enter into a dialogue that can’t happen as it is now configured. As a former admin person, having a blog to get immediate feedback and cross-pollination of ideas would go a long way toward supporting a feeling of a community that actually cares what you think, and cares about supporting the university staff at large. Other applications could support student services, such as recruiting, advising, etc.

    3) A UT blog could be used as an instructional technology tool for the entire UT community and not just those who are tech-minded. A “practice what you preach,” “make technology accessible to everyone” approach. I believe there is real merit in this, perhaps encouraging faculty or staff who have not had formal technical or computer training to avail themselves of the wealth of information that could be made available through a UT blog. This would also extend to those who access the uni through UTOPIA, etc.

    4) Yes, it would involve personnel and expense. However, if it furthers the university’s mission, then it’s justifiable. We have no real place where the entire university community can engage in dialogue. Yes, there may be some abuse, AND we would be supporting the vital issue of democracy and freedom of speech. Think of how it would open minds and disseminate knowledge. As a premier university, one would think we would want to lead in this area, rather than simply react. We’d be setting a good example for higher education in general.

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