Should Universities Host Faculty or Student Blogs? (part 1: examples and fear)

Our CIO is asking whether or not Plymouth should get involved with blogs. Not to be overly academic, but I think we should define our terms.

Despite all the talk, “blogs” are a content agnostic technology being used to support all manner of online activities.

What you’re really asking is instead: what kind of content do we want to put online, and who do we want to let do it?

In thinking about that question, I’m immediately reminded of John Lovas, whose blog at De Anza Community College I discovered via some web searching some time ago. His post on street texts, for example, is a contribution to the community of knowledge on that subject. Most interesting, perhaps, is how he addressed controversy within his professional community. Though he succumbed to cancer in June 2005, his blog still stands as an outstanding example of the quality of De Anza’s faculty.

At the University of San Diego, Lawrence B. Solum‘s Copyfutures blog illustrates how valuable the (default) open nature of blogs are to the class exploration. In Copyfutures (active from 2004 to 2005), Solum’s students posted their work and thinking on matters of copyright and got quick feedback from the intellectual property community. Open source education it wasn’t, but current and topical (on a subject that demanded such) it was.

Harvard’s Berkman Center hosts blogs for all Harvard students, faculty and staff (“anyone with a harvard.edu, radcliffe.edu, or hbs.edu email address [can] host a blog with us”). The list is longer than I wish to count, but they’re clearly active, and the aggregation of selected blogs at the Berkman Center‘s website reveals a number of thoughtful, no doubt influential, bloggers. Best of all, their terms of use and legal FAQ are offer great templates for any other university considering such services.

Terms of service, of course, mean nothing when what we’re really afraid of is bad publicity. Washingtonienne Jessica Cutler, who blogged about her Capitol Hill trysts, and former Delta flight attendant Ellen Somonetti, who posted photos on her blog, are among a small handful of bloggers who’ve lost their jobs when they crossed one line or another. Bad publicity, of course, can come from non-employee bloggers as well. Kryptonite is still living down blog posts that explained how to open their locks with a Bic pen.

Branding consultant James Torio explains: “Blogs are effective for disseminating information because they have similar characteristics to word of mouth.” But also counters that, for those who understand it, the blogosphere responds to correction and facts in ways word of mouth never did. As an example, he offers Microsoft’s deft handling of the MSN Spaces censorship controversy.

Microsoft felt the backlash from the blogosphere, and to their credit they did not issue press releases or create new advertisements for damage control, rather a blogger [joined] the conversation; he worked with Microsoft’s customers and listened to what they had to say.

Both the Microsoft and Kryptonite cases offer examples of how the internet is changing the public relations demands on any enterprise. Blogs are just one of the tools consumers now use to communicate their satisfaction, delight, frustration, or pain in their dealings with others. Amazon.com allows readers to comment on books, Epinions.com and a raft of other rating sites do the same for every other product, and for better or worse, Wikipedia reports everything the crowd knows on any subject (including Kryptonite locks and the controversy).

It’s worth noting that in none of these cases of fired employees or public relations snafus were the blogs hosted by the companies at the center of the issue. The fact is, if somebody says something embarrassing about you, it doesn’t matter where it’s hosted. What matters is how deftly you handle it.

academia, academic blogs, blogging, class blogs, examples, faculty blogs, fear, plymouth state university, policy, psu, student blogs, blogs

6 thoughts on “Should Universities Host Faculty or Student Blogs? (part 1: examples and fear)

  1. First, Casey – it was great to meet you on Monday even though we didn’t really get a chance to chat.

    Anyway, back to blogs supported by academic institutions. University of Michigan started mBlog, which is a partnership between the University Library, the University IT department, and the Bentley Historical Library (which contains UMich’s university archives). I wrote a little about it on my blog in passing. Their terms of use are pretty vague and reference the University’s AUP, which is pretty unspecific itself. The interesting thing for me is that the archives got involved in seeing blogs from the University community as something worth saving.

    [tags]library camp, umich, blogs, archives[/tags]

  2. I use blogs for courses, and prefer it to, for example, Blackboard. It’s easy for me to post new content, and for students to engage in dialog with me and their peers.

  3. What you’re really asking is instead: what kind of content do we want to put online, and who do we want to let do it?

    Actually this is not the question at Plymouth. Any faculty, staff or student can already put any content they want online through their “oz” account.

    Being a content agnostic system what blog software offers is simplified content management, lowering the technical barriers for users. Considering this it seems the concern at Plymouth must be about the increased volume of web content not the increased freedom.

    So how about this question: Should publishing personal content to the web under the university’s domain be limited to only those with the technical abilities?

    Clearly other institutions have chosen to move forward with these exciting new tools. The leading edge has passed on this technology, now we just need to decide if we should be in the middle of the pack or bringing up the rear.

  4. To avoid confusion, this is a different Jon than the last poster.

    I don’t know that volume is the honestly the only concern. Yes, I am sure it is a factor, but as you put it yourself it will increase access to publishing on the web. Not a bad thing, but it means a different population will be using the tools offered.

    What’s more, a blog is much different from a web page. Not in the technical sense, but in the minds of most users. I doubt many people (if any at all) would bother to set up a website that took an effort to maintain and update just to put up party photos.

    My guess is that I am not the only one who see that difference and I think it is important to realize it.

  5. I should also add that I don’t think a blog will only be used for stupid things, but stupid things will be there and in much greater number– which increases their visibility.

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