History Prof. Juan Cole’s weblog receives 200,000 page
views per month — reaching people in The United States and
Iraq with information about developments in the Middle East. He is
one of the many individuals who have come to count on this Internet
information medium to communicate with the public.

A weblog — or blog, for short — is generally defined
as a frequently updated website similar to an online journal or
diary. Blogs contain personal observations and excerpts from other
sources, and are an increasingly popular way to connect with the
community. Howard Dean, for example, relied on supporters of his
presidential campaign to spread the word about his cause via the
Internet and their blogs.

And several people at the University are following this
trend.

Cole himself started his blog in spring of 2002. He studies
modern Islamic movements and speaks Arabic, Persian and Urdu. On
his blog, Cole discusses areas of his academic specialization
— the Middle East, history and religion.

“I feel a responsibility to try to speak to the public
about unfolding events from the perspective of my own expertise and
life experience,” Cole said. “I think they are
wonderful in breaking down the barriers between academics,
journalists and readers.” Cole’s efforts won him a
Koufax Award for “Best Expert Blog” last year.

LSA sophomore Amjad Tarsin was a student in Cole’s class
fall term. Tarsin said although Cole listed his blog on his class
syllabus as a resource for students, he did not feel Cole’s
website was an integral part in the class.

“Overall, I don’t want to put down Prof. Cole, but I
don’t think it was a very important tool for that particular
class. We covered a certain subject and he’d say, for more
information, check out my site,” Tarsin said. He added that
it was supplemental material and was not covered on the tests.

Tarsin said he never considered fashioning a blog because he
keeps a paper diary and did not consider an online journal to be a
useful tool.

Blogs provide an opportunity for the author to freely discuss a
myriad of topics. The reasons for maintaining a blog differ for
each author and range from a public obligation or individual
enjoyment to a class assignment.

Philosophy Prof. Stephen Darwall started a blog for LSA Honors
students in the summer of 2003 when he became the director of the
school’ Honors Program.

He said he established the blog in order to instruct students to
give outsiders — including prospective students and their
parents — a sense to things that go into the Honors
Program.

Some professors said they use weblogs to remain active in their
fields of study. Linguistics Prof. Sarah Thomason is one of more
than a dozen contributors to the national linguistics blog,
languagelog.org. The site began last fall, headed by linguists Mark
Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania, Geoff Pullum of the
University of California at Santa Cruz and Arnold Zwicky of the
Ohio State University.

The linguistics blog discusses “anything about language,
always from a linguist’s viewpoint,” Thomason said.

These posts include “odd word usages, interesting things
about Asian writing systems, animal communication … anything that
strikes a blog member as worth commenting on,” she added. The
blog also includes information about events involving
linguistics.

“Our hope is that our blog will spark interest in language
among non-linguists, and help them understand why we find language
so exciting.

We also hope to teach people to understand the difference
between linguistic science and linguistic pseudoscience —
there’s a lot of nonsense about language out there,”
Thomason said.

For students, blogging often serves as a tool to voice their
perspectives.

Rackham student Nathaniel Poor, who studies communications, said
he keeps his blog for personal enjoyment. Poor said when he started
his blog in January 2003, the reason for developing the site was
because he missed writing on a regular basis.

One University course this year requires students to create a
blog.

LSA sophomore Rachel Pultusker said she kept a blog for
“University Course 151 — Community in the 21st Century:
Exploring Home, Identity and Place in Virtual Context,”
taught by Prof. Maurita Holland in the 2002 fall term.

“It was an assignment on virtual communities and how
people stay connected when they’re not close
geographically,” Pultusker said.

“I suppose it was effective because the point was to learn
about and learn to understand virtual communities and I succeeded
in becoming part of one,” Pultusker added. But she stopped
updating her blog after the assignment ended.

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