Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 30, No.1

September 15, 2005


Academics take up blogging

Online diaries give professors a new audience

By James Allison, Editor,

Blogs are like iPods. At first, they seem all hype, just a fashion accessory. But once you have one, you can’t imagine life without it.

Many of the new stars of the blogosphere are university professors, including Glenn Reynolds, also known as the Instapundit,  a law professor at the University of Tennessee, and NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, of Press Think.

Prominent academics have also been bitten by the blogging bug. Gary Becker, Nobel Prize winner in economics, and Richard A. Posner, a judge on the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeal, must be dropping by each other’s offices at the University of Chicago to plan each week’s entry on their joint blog, the Becker-Posner blog.

Blogging professors have also turned up here at Concordia. Philip Harland is an assistant professor in the Religion Department. His blog, Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean, is a collection of posts on topics directly related to his academic interests, namely religious life among Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Christians in the Roman Empire and on the social history of Christianity.

Blogs are not the most obvious tools for higher learning as they disrupt standard academic practices by publishing information beyond the confines of the ivory tower.

“I thought my topic might have an audience outside of academia,” Harland said when asked about his motivation. “I wanted to share my expertise with average Janes and Joes.”

Blog entries tend to be short and concise, due in part to the requirements of the medium where website visitors “surf” rather than carefully digest a detailed argument.

Harland said adapting his writing for the blog has been a balancing act between maintaining a serious tone and providing light reading for a non-academic audience. However, it has proven beneficial in helping him to develop ideas and express them succinctly.

“When you’re reading a book and come up with idea, you don’t always take the time to jot it down,” he said. “The blog is useful for grabbing those ideas and developing them further.”

There are risks to blogging, since a blog is much more public than an academic journal. Personal details once indexed by search engines become a part of the permanent online record. Although he admits to exercising restraint, Harland still tries to be himself on his blog.

But a blog is not simply a tool for self-promotion. To write a blog is to take part in a distributed conversation, linking to other blogs, posting and receiving comments.

This semester, students in Harland’s courses will also be given the opportunity to take part in this distributed conversation. He will post entries on his blog that deal with issues raised in class and encourage students to continue the discussion online.

“The really enjoyable part of having a blog is the interaction with other people,” he said.

His blog receives on average 50 visitors per day, with traffic spikes when another site links to one of his entries.

Allowing the public to observe and participate in classroom-related discussions in the context of a blog is an innovative way of enriching the educational experience.

For more information on the use of blogs in academia, the Centre for Teaching and Learning Services is offering a workshop, Learning by Blog.

To find out more about blogs by members of the Concordia community, read the story on News@Concordia.