: a glorious failure

Through the 2004-2005 academic year I presided over, using Movable Type 2.61 on a cast-off machine in my office.
July 25, 2005
The Upshot

Finally at the end of July I get around to adding up this experiment, and concluding that it was a glorious failure, with some local success. I (reluctantly, and with eyes rolling) judge that there's essentially NO interest in the medium at W&L. Now why is that? What could/should I have done differently? supported 20 blogs. In an effort to provoke interest, I did an October IT Forum presentation and a December Faculty Institute hands-on workshop, and both of those activities resulted in requests for blogs to be set up... but nothing came of most of them. 9 of the 20 had no use at all; Wythe Whiting, Hongchu Fu, and I were the only users with any student involvement.

A few stats:

My blogs [including their text, as backed up from]:
Urblog 13 entries 12 comments 18 authors
Anth230 143 entries 207 comments 25 authors
CCSinM 120 entries 49 comments 20 authors
EAS190 19 entries 7 comments 7 authors
Intr296 14 entries 49 comments 10 authors

Wythe's blogs
Cogblog 13 entries 897 comments [mostly spam] 3 authors
Society of Thought 15 entries 3 comments 7 authors

Hongchu's blog
Lit295 10 entries 3 comments 26 authors

Speaking for myself and my students, blogging was a very useful addition to the courses, but that's because I put a lot of emphasis on their experiments with the medium, and made specific assignments for postings and comments. how-tos and FAQs

13 October: Technology Forum material

Thanks to an award from the Instructional Technology Laboratory's Microgrants program and Pat Harris's efforts with installation on a Linux server, W&L has a site license for Movable Type, one of the most widely used environments for the creation and management of blogs. The initial intent is to explore ways in which blogging can contribute to teaching and learning, but other experiments are also welcome. This page offers links to support for experimenters, and will be subject to revision and reorganization as we have more experience with the medium.

Some background: Science Librarian Hugh Blackmer ("I" or "me" below) has been following the evolution of blogs for a couple of years, and his blogworld log page caches links and ruminations in the "log file" format he has been using to track evolving interests for several years. oook blog is an externally-hosted general cache-and comment blog. A prototype of class blogging enlivened Contemporary Global Issues in Spring 2004.

Blogs are a distinctive kind of communication, a medium that supplements or complements other more formal channels and styles. Many blogs are conversational in tone, and some are even confessional; they are usually quite personal expressions of their authors' interests and experience. When a blog has multiple contributing authors, it may take on the properties of a salon or a marketplace, and be worth following just to see what will happen next. Blogging (as a public medium) is a means to distribute news to a community that may never meet face-to-face, and may in fact not even think of itself as a community --may be more like a karass (in Kurt Vonnegut's memorable coinage)

There's a blog about W&L's blogging environment (UrBlog), and I'm also experimenting with keeping a log file in my own space, some entries in which will find their way into UrBlog.

Setting up a course blog

The first question: do you want students to participate as authors, able to make their own posts to the blog, or to be restricted to posting comments on your postings? If they are to be authors, you will need to add them to the blog's author list and provide them with the necessary login information.
From the Main Menu, once you've logged in to,
  2. fill in information for each under 'Add Authors' (provide a password, perhaps the user's initials, and point out to them that they can change the password
  3. check the box that says "This user will be associated with"
  4. SAVE
  5. on the Edit Permissions page, you may wish to check 'Upload files' and 'Rebuild files' --probably not the other options
  6. tell each new author to use the URL to login in order to make a posting to the blog. A link to that page on the course home page, and another to the blog itself, may be the easiest way to facilitate student access.
  7. Bloglines provides a (free) aggregation service, and those who register can log in with any browser to see if their collections of blogs has new content. Student authors could be encouraged to set up and use personal Bloglines accounts.

If you want to create a new Weblog

You'll need to e-mail me with the new blog's name so that I can create the proper folders on the blog server. Once that's done, the blog is yours to manage

Publish or Draft?

When a blog is first set up, the default "Post Status" is set to Draft. You'll probably want to change that to Publish, since Draft-status writing doesn't reach the blog... This only has to be done once, but it will simplify things for all authors:

Changing the style of your blog: the default style can be changed pretty easily, and custom styles can be created at will. To see the palette of basic style templates, go to the MT default_styles page and scroll down. You'll find a link to instructions for replacing the Style Sheet code (basically a matter of copying and pasting).

Editing the text of the main blog page: Once you have logged in to MT and chosen Manage Weblog, click on the Templates button, and then on Main Index to see the HTML code for the blog page. Anything you change will appear on the blog after you Save and Rebuild the Index file.

UrBlog: I'm making each manager of a blog an Author on UrBlog

Syndicating with RSS: Movable Type produces RSS feed streams for blogs, which enable anybody to monitor traffic on a particular blog via an aggregator. I suggest Bloglines, a Web-based feed manager ("the most comprehensive, integrated service for searching, subscribing, publishing and sharing news feeds, blogs, and rich Web content. It's free and easy-to-use.")

A user registers with Bloglines and adds blogs to be monitored to a list of Feeds. One then puts on one's browser's Favorites list and checks periodically for new postings on the Feeds.

Adding a blog to your Bloglines list

  1. login at
  2. under the 'My Feeds' tab, click ADD
  3. put (ideally, paste) the URL of the blog you want to add into the search box
  4. choose the index.rtf feed if there is a choice
  5. click the SUBSCRIBE button at the bottom of the page
...and the blog in question will be added to your list. The server polls the listed blogs about once an hour, and BOLDS the label when there are new postings awaiting you. You might want to use my instructions to Anthropology 230 (points 2 and 3) for a quick how-to for students.

Some examples of the uses of blogging:

UThink: Blogs at the University Libraries from U Minn ...and see Into the Blogosphere from U Minn, "online, edited collection [which] explores discursive, visual, social, and other communicative features of weblogs."

Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan, uses Informed Comment (Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion) to track developing news and develop his own commentary

Jon Udell, technology columnist for InfoWorld, posts his explorations to Jon's Radio

Alex Halavais, professor of Communication at University of Buffalo, uses his thaumaturgical compendium as an integral part of his courses

Boing Boing "the blog of wonderful things", logs the perpetually surprising discoveries of a group of very hip and connected explorers of the Internet universe

Peter Suber, a research professor at Earlham, uses Open Access News to track developments in an important movement now challenging the giants of academic publishing

Stanford Law School professor Larry Lessig's Lessig Blog (author of The Future of Ideas and Free Culture) follows developments in the law of cyberspace

Pepys' Diary serializes the journal of Samuel Pepys

D'Arcy Norman @ The Learning Commons ("Thoughts from the trenches of learning object oriented software development at a post-secondary institution. And some other stuff thrown in for good measure.")

Bryan Alexander, codirector of the Center for Educational Technology at Middlebury, has Infocult: Information, Culture, Policy, Education ("Information: its culture, history, and role in teaching and learning.")

Bruce Landon's Weblog for Students (a Psych prof at Douglas College in BC)

Textologies: The changing spaces of reading and writing (UBC) ...

So who keeps track of it all?
One important resource: NITLE Blog Census, and see a summary by Alex Halavais of U. Buffalo