Posted by: Greg Johns | March 1, 2011

Blogs for Information and Administration in Higher Education

Blogs are proving to be useful, not only for faculty engaging in public discourse and for students sharing understandings and reflecting on their learning, but for communication by departments and programs with their various constituencies. While wikis offer an easy tool for assembling repositories of information, such as course descriptions, blogs with their format of putting the latest posts at the top of the page, can be particularly valuable for making new information available to readers.

In the Graduate College of Management, a blog is used to keep students and faculty informed about upcoming events, award deadlines, and other items of interest.  Those that have realized this, like Tara Shea, find that blogs can be used wonderfully well in an educational setting.

Tara Shea, the assistant director of graduate programs, started a blog for the college last February (http://blogs.umb.edu/gradcm/ ).   The blog she maintains has become the main form of communication with existing and new students, typically more than 500 at any one time. Faculty and staff had found that the old way of communicating, via email, was not efficient. “This lets the students know what’s going on all the time,” Shea says, and it staves off all the emailing.

The College of Management’s blog lists departmental information, routine and regular updates, links to faculty and their publications, course listings and schedules, special event announcements, and job/volunteer opportunities. “This is my own version of one-stop shopping,” Shea says.  Even better, she finds that maintenance is extremely easy. No longer does she find it necessary to wait for an IT specialist to change or update the College of Management’s website. She does it herself on the blog. “This has become the main means of communication,” she says, explaining that the blog plays a prominent role in orientation, as well as for perspective students.

Creating and using a blog was natural, Shea admits, because she was already familiar with blogs. She never really thought about alternate options, such as wikis, offered through UMB’s IT department.

“A blog is completely user friendly. Students can see it any time and can leave comments with no issues.” While she had no problem designing and adding to the College of Management blog, Shea recommends that faculty interested in having a blog for their course or department “play around with it. And don’t just utilize it with faculty; get alumni and existing students involved, too.”

There are as many ways to utilize a blog as can be imagined. Other campus units, such as the Venture Development Center (http://blogs.umb.edu/vdc/ ), use blogs to create news headlines for the “news section” of their website. The main theme in a blog’s utility for campus use, it would appear, is invoking greater participation from students and faculty, a place not only to find answers to the repeatedly nagging and necessary general questions, but also to foster the sorts of interaction that can foster engagement and build community.

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