What is a Blog?

Like rabbits, there has been a proliferation of blogs on campus at EDS… or at least the visibility of them. (I maintain eight blogs – all invisible until now – that run the gammut from a community forum (Shiphrah and Puah Society) and a course interaction site (Being Church in the 21st Century) to rearch collections and presentation materials (mirroring the original understanding of a blog as “web-log” – a log of web information one wanted to be able to find again easily – as defined below).

From my recollection, Dr. Kwok Pui Lan was the first EDS public “post-er.”  I think her first post was on June 7, 2009 when she offered her reflections on Barack Obama as a Religious-Educator-in-Chief after his speech at Cairo University on the Religion Dispatches Blog.  Call it a premonition, she likely did not anticipate the significance of her post which we now see in light of Egyptian President Mubaruk’s resignation.  

Pui Lan, also a  contributor to Pathos (A Transational Approach to Religion, Sept 2010), and fellow faculty member, the Rev. Patrick Cheng, PhD., a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, were instrumental in the launch of 99 Brattle, the Episcopal Divinity School blog for “Progressive theology and critical thinking to transform the world.”  More recently, following my lead, Pui invited students to create blogs for class and launched her personal blog “Kwok Pui Lan: on post-colonialism, theology, and everything else she cares about” on January 23, 2011.

So… what is a blog, who is using them, and why are they useful?

The term blog is short for web log, a “log” of diary-like entries published on a web site. Originally a site that collected personal references to find again, blogs quickly became a way for people to share their daily thoughts with whomever could access the site. According to wikipedia, Jorn Barger coined the term weblog to describe the process of “logging the web” as he surfed. In 1994, Justin Hall, credited as one of the first bloggers, began chronicling his life online while working as a student intern for Wired Magazine. 

Ranging from short phrases to longer critical essays, new entries may appear often in a day or rarely in a month. New blog site providers like Blogger, Moving Type, Live Journal and WordPress make it easy, and almost instantaneous, to publish text, pictures, and video.  By 2004, “blog” was proclaimed the “Word of the Year” by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and their use broadened. Businesses use blogs for data sharing and marketing, political action agencies use them for advocacy, and publishers use them to update, expand and promote books. 

According to the June 2005 Pew Internet & American Life Project’s “Blogging is bringing new voices to the online world,”  “the blog population has grown to about 12 million American adults, or about 8% of adult internet users and that the number of blog readers has jumped to 57 million American adults, or 39% of the online population.” Though by no means a majority of the population, blogs offer many the ability to engage.

As the origin of the name implies, blogs are useful for “logging.” As I mentioned in the introduction, I maintain a number of blogs to collect data I found on the web and to provide an easy-to-access-anywhere location for presentation materials.   As a form of journal or diary, blogs contain personal reflections that can aid integration and encourage discipline. Public blogs generally invite engagement and spark commentary fueling collective wisdom. Fairly easy to create, they provide everyone -young and old – with a way to publish. Particularly in places of political upheaval, like Egypt, they can also be a means to provide alternative views of what people in power identify as “truth.”

BLOGGING RESOURCES

In 2007, Tim O’Reilly proposed a Code of Blogging Conduct which includes:

1. We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.
2. We won’t say anything online that we wouldn’t say in person.
3. We connect privately before we respond publicly.
4. When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.
5. We do not allow anonymous comments.
6. We ignore the trolls.

Mindy McAdams, Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of Florida, posted her research collection of information about blogs and blogging.

As blogging gains popularity, academics are currently asking whether or not and how it can make a difference in education.  Can Blogging Make a Difference, Campus Technology, January 12, 2011 offers some insights. Caroline Cerveny, SSJ maintains “A CyberPilgrm’s Blog” and which includes her Feb 14, 2011 thoughts on Religion Classroom Blogging. In it, she encourages authors to be aware of acceptable use policies and recommends iSAFE, the self-proclaimed leader of iinternet safety in education.

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