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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 January, 2005, 00:58 GMT
Academics give lessons on blogs
By Shola Adenekan

computer user
Blogs are becoming increasingly useful
Blogs are increasingly being used by academics and students.

Until a few months ago, the attention paid to web logs, or blogs, focused mainly on politics and the media business.

However, many in academia followed the web-diary of Salam Pax, the famous Baghdad blogger during the build-up to the war in Iraq.

Now, the technology that has been an alternative source of news to many academics is being incorporated more fully into university life.

Blogs are giving departments, staff and students the freedom and informality of tone impossible in scholarly journals or even the student newspaper.

Blogging lecturers say the technology provides them with easy online web access to students and improves communication outside of the classroom.

Storing ideas

Esther Maccallum-Stewart, a Sussex University historian is one of the pioneering British academic bloggers who are using the technology to teach and carry out research.

She is researching popular culture during World War I and had already started a personal blog when she found she was increasingly adding ideas and thoughts that were more academic.

Her students were also looking for a place which would give them access to resources, information and courses on demand.

The web log on the war set up on the university web-server meant she could look up queries raised in her class and pass information on to the whole group rather than one person at a time.

"My research meant that I was working at more than one terminal, or was occasionally in places where I couldn't take disks or apparatus with me," she says.

Academics can become too insular, constructing their own language and cliques which do nothing to promote the getting of knowledge
Esther Maccallum-Stewart, Sussex University

"The weblog meant a place to store ideas, links and references."

"I feel very strongly that information should be disseminated into the internet world, but I also feel that academics can become too insular, constructing their own language and cliques which do nothing to promote the getting of knowledge."

That need for knowledge provision is the reason why Warwick University is giving its students and staff free space on its server to start their own blogs.

The blogging project at the university, which started last September, is arguably the largest of its kind in the academic world with some 2,600 users.

Warwick not only wants those within its four walls to be able to self-publish to the web.

John Dale, its head of IT services, says the university aims to provide new personal development opportunities for students and believes that blogs might be one means of helping to accomplish this.

"We believe that blogging may open new opportunities for students and staff," says Mr Dale. "It gives students an opportunity to work together on projects."

There are three such blogs in the Business School at Warwick alone and the university hopes that staff will also use blogs for collaborative projects.

There is not a clear-cut difference in the way students and tutors at the university blog. Some students use their blog for study-related purposes and some tutors post course materials on theirs.

Roya Hekmatpanah, an economics, politics and international studies' student updates his blog every other week, using it to send messages to friends and to share photos with friends and relatives.


But Robert O'Toole, a PhD student in philosophy, uses his blog for both academic and personal purposes. His entries include subjects such as creativity in technology, philosophy definitions and details of a recent trip to Botswana. He says he has received responses from far and nears.

"Blog turned my thesis proposal into a written one," he says.

"I've been able to speak to academic communities across the UK and have gained knowledge from strangers. Blog has allowed me to write in a single place almost daily and develop things in fairly cohesive fashion."

While Warwick has been able to celebrate some success in a project still at its infancy, experts advise that it is difficult to balance the opportunities the technology offers and the need for academic expression with guarding against abuses.

David Supple, web strategy manager at Birmingham University, says while blogs offer significant benefits for academia as a strong tool for rapid knowledge development, their unstructured nature also creates further problem.

"Universities have to be cautious," he warns.

"This type of technology is very open and easy to instigate and that often means in the rush to use it, the bigger questions on the most effective ways to use the technology without creating legal and reputational issues for the institution are forgotten or end up being asked too late."

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