U blogging platform transitions to academics

The creator of UThink said blogs are no longer the dominant Web media.

Blogging at the University of Minnesota has come a long way in the past decade.
Shane Nackerud, who runs the UniversityâÄôs UThink blogging platform, said when the University started the system in 2004, âÄú[It was] created more to give undergraduates a way to express opinions about the University.âÄù It has since become âÄúmore of an academic publishing tool.âÄù
âÄúBlogging is fading away as a dominant form of social media,âÄù Nackerud said, and the University library system âÄî which administers the system âÄî is looking to change the UThink site.
While it may not be fresh, the platform still draws significant amounts of traffic âÄî with about 20 million page views and twice as many hits per month to blogs on the system. About 700 to 900 blogs are active at any given time, he said.
One of those blogs âÄî perhaps the UniversityâÄôs most popular âÄî is âÄúSmart PoliticsâÄú, a project of Humphrey School of Public Affairs research associate Eric Ostermeier. Since he started the blog in 2006, his research-intensive posting has swelled from a fraction of his job to âÄúnow almost 100 percent of what I do,âÄù he said.
âÄúI think Humphrey saw that [it was] getting a lot of coverage,âÄù Ostermeier said of the schoolâÄôs support for the blog, which boosts its web presence.  The Humphrey School has seven other institutional blogs.
Among the other University departments that run blogs, Nackerud said, the School of Public Health, the College of Education and Human Development and University Extension take advantage of the medium.
âÄúI view [Smart Politics] as more of a political news service,âÄù Ostermeier said, distinguishing his daily posting from the more frequent and spontaneous posting that characterize other blogs.
Many of the UThinkâÄôs most active blogs include those created for courses. Many professors use blogs as a way to organize content and update students. âÄúSex, Politics and Hip Hop 2011âÄù is fifth on the siteâÄôs âÄúactive blogsâÄù list.
But there are some University faculty who use blogs for the traditional broadcasting of personal opinion.
âÄúI look upon myself as first trying to point out questions that ought to be discussed,âÄù said Bill Gleason, a professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the University, and second, âÄúto beat the drumâÄù to get them discussed.
Gleason, who posted his first blog in December 2006, keeps both UThink- and Blogger-hosted blogs as well as a Twitter account. He is frequently critical of University administrators over several issues including rising administrative costs, the transparency of tuition rates and strategy at the Legislature.
âÄúAs a faculty member you have an obligation to speak up and say, âÄòHey, thatâÄôs not right,âÄôâÄù he said.
Among the University faculty blogs Gleason follows are âÄúFear and Loathing in BioethicsâÄú and âÄúFaculty for the Renewal of Public Education,âÄù who are contributed to by bioethics professor Carl Elliott and political science professor Teri Caraway.
Both Caraway and Elliott have been critical of the UniversityâÄôs administration âÄî Elliott has written extensively on the 2004 suicide of Dan Markingson, a clinical trial patient at the University.
Walt Jacobs, chairman of African-American and African studies, wrote his âÄúPlanet WaltâÄù blog for nearly six years before making his last update in September.
âÄúFacebook and Twitter are my outlets now,âÄù he said, listing several colleagues he follows on both services. In contrast, he did not follow other faculty blogs while his own was active. Jacobs said he guesses few faculty even write blogs today apart from courses.
What that means for UThink, or blogging in general, is anyoneâÄôs guess, said Nackerud. âÄúWho knows whatâÄôs going to happen next.âÄù