Speaking of Blogs

I spent Thursday afternoon with UT law professor, Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a. Instapundit), and thirty or so other faculty and staff in a discussion of blogging and its potential impact on academic life. Reynolds’s talk was informal but familiar, leading me to assume that, during his two-year climb to the top of the blogging heap, he has participated in countless such presentations. The biggest surprises to me were learning that his daily audience outnumbers that of Phil Donahue’s failed return to television (and for less than $40/month in overhead) and that UT’s administration is downright supportive of his efforts. I figured that someone would be troubled by his partisan editorializing on university time. Apparently not.

We reached little consensus during our post-presentation discussions. There was much interest in the potential of blogging — particularly as a tool to foster critical thinking and cognitive development in our students — but finding a real-world application is tricky. In practical terms, there is little that can be done on a blog that can’t be done using, say, a class discussion forum or an email list. The big perk, it seemed to most of us there, was the very public nature of the blog. Glenn recounted the thrill of receiving his first emails from readers in Thailand, for instance, a thrill to which I can testify from personal experience. Feedback validates the blogger’s efforts, while also raising the bar. Or, in a nutshell: This thing has made me a better writer and a better thinker; I’m sure that some students would undergo a similar process.

If I were teaching right now, I think I would set up free Blogger accounts for all of my students, host them (again, for free) on Blogspot, then require each student to “journal” on the Web. For some in the class, it would, of course, be busy work. (But, for those particular students, everything is busy work, so who cares?) I bet a certain percentage of the class would really get into it, though, and would continue blogging even after getting a final grade. Imagine that: students coming out of a class with a desire to continue that critical thought process.

Anyway, here are some notes from the colloquy and our student paper’s write-up.