MUniversity of Minnesota

August 2004 Archives


August 31, 2004

Educational Blogging

Stephen Downes, a Senior Researcher with the E-Learning Research Group, National Research Council Canada, Moncton, New Brunswick, has written a wonderful article called "Educational Blogging" for the September/October 2004 issue of EDUCAUSE Review. The article discusses blogging in general and it lists examples of how educators are making use of this new medium in the classroom. One of the highpoints of the article is a discussion of Henry Farrell's (of Crooked Timber) five major uses for blogs in education:

First, teachers use blogs to replace the standard class Web page. Instructors post class times and rules, assignment notifications, suggested readings, and exercises. Aside from the ordering of material by date, students would find nothing unusual in this use of the blog. The instructor, however, finds that the use of blogging software makes this previously odious chore much simpler.

Second, and often accompanying the first, instructors begin to link to Internet items that relate to their course. Mesa Community College’s Rick Effland, for example, maintains a blog to pass along links and comments about topics in archaeology. Though Mesa’s archaeology Web pages have been around since 1995, blogging allows Effland to write what are in essence short essays directed specifically toward his students. Effland’s entries are not mere annotations of interesting links. They effectively model his approach and interest in archaeology for his students.

Third, blogs are used to organize in-class discussions. At the State University of New York at Buffalo, for example, Alexander Halavais added a blog to his media law class of about 180 students. Course credit was awarded for online discussion, with topics ranging from the First Amendment to libel to Irish law reform. As the course wound down with a discussion of nude bikers, Halavais questioned whether he would continue the blog the following year because of the workload, but students were enthusiastic in their comments ...

Fourth, some instructors are using blogs to organize class seminars and to provide summaries of readings. Used in this way, the blogs become 'group blogs'—that is, individual blogs authored by a group of people. Farrell notes: 'It becomes much easier for the professor and students to access the readings for a particular week—and if you make sure that people are organized about how they do it, the summaries will effectively file themselves.'

Finally, fifth, students may be asked to write their own blogs as part of their course grade. Educational Technologist Lane Dunlop wrote about one class at Cornell College: 'Each day the students read a chunk of a book and post two paragraphs of their thoughts on the reading.' In another class, French 304, students were given a similar exercise. Using a French-language blogging service called Monblogue, Molly, a business student, posted a few paragraphs every day.

Check out the whole article if you are interested.

Posted by snackeru at 04:20 PM | Comments (3)

August 13, 2004

How do I give the authors of a group blog anonymity when they post?

In order to give the authors of a group blog some anonymity you will need to modify your "Template" files. Your students will also need to give themselves a "nickname" in the "Edit Your Profile" section of the blog administration pages (off of the Main Menu). For example, to display the student's chosen nickname rather than his/her Internet ID on the blog home page, in the Main Index Template find the section that starts:

" <div class="posted">Posted by <$MTEntryAuthor$> at "

Replace this in the Main Index Template with:

" <div class="posted">Posted by
<MTIfNonEmpty tag="MTEntryAuthorNickname">
<$MTEntryAuthorNickname$>
</MTIfNonEmpty>
<MTIfEmpty var="EntryAuthorNickname">
<$MTEntryAuthor$>
</MTIfEmpty> at "

Of course, this will only change the Main Index. If you want to give your students anonymity throughout the whole site, this process will have to be repeated on the Category Template, the Individual Entry Template, and the Date based Template.

Posted by snackeru at 04:18 PM | Comments (6)

August 12, 2004

How do I add links to my blog home page?

One thing I've noticed from a lot of new blog users is that they haven't added any links to the "Links" section of the home pages on their blogs. This section comes automatically in a new UThink blog and it is there to hold the links to all of your favorite websites, blogs and otherwise. If you would like to know how to add links to your UThink home page then this is the post for you.

First of all, log into your UThink blog. Select the blog you would like to put links on, and then select "Templates" in the left hand navigation menu of the administration screen. Now select the "Main Index" template. This is essentially the code for your blog home page. For those of you that don't know any HTML, or MT specific codes, this page can look a little daunting. Have no fear! If you make a big mistake you can always download the Main Index default template from the UThink site and start from scratch.

On the Main Index template scroll down the Template Body until you find a section that says:

<div class="side">
<a href="">Add Your Links Here</a><br />
</div>

This is where you will put your links. This section of code is located towards the bottom of the Template Body so just scroll down all the way and then scroll back up a tiny bit. You should see it there. Now add your links like this:

<div class="side">
<a href="http://blog.lib.umn.edu/">UThink: Blogs at the University Libraries</a><br />
<a href="http://www.lib.umn.edu/">University Libraries Home Page</a><br />
<a href="http://www.umn.edu">University of Minnesota Home Page</a><br />
</div>

Add as many links as you want. Of course, you can substitute these links with your favorite links on your own blog. Once you've added all of your links, click "Save" and then "Rebuild" and rebuild the Main Index (or "All Files"). Click "View Site" and take a look at your new home page, now with your favorite websites in the "Links" section. If you don't see anything, try to "Refresh" or "Reload" your blog home page in your browser.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions!

Posted by snackeru at 01:25 PM

August 04, 2004

What can I do with the Weblog Config section?

In the coming weeks I hope to write little tutorials or tips about UThink in a new category called "Tips and Tricks." The first post in this category will focus on the Weblog Config section of your blog within Movable Type. If you haven't ventured into this section of your blog's administration interface, you may want to check it out. Inside of "Preferences" you can:


  • Enter the number of days' entries you would like displayed on your index.
    What this will do is change the number of days you display on your blog's home page. The default is 7 days worth of entries. If you are one of the many bloggers who don't post every day, you may want to consider increasing the number of days to display on your blog's home page. That way your you can set up your home page to always have content on it mirroring how often you actually update your blog.

  • Select whether you want your posts displayed in ascending (oldest at top) or descending (newest at top) order.
    Pretty self explanatory, but useful if you are creating an atypical blog.

  • Select a Creative Commons license for the posts on your blog (optional).
    If you select a license, the index page of your weblog will automatically be updated to include information about the license you have chosen, and the same metadata will be added to your RSS 1.0 feed in machine-readable format.

  • Would you liked to be notified via email when someone posts comments to your site?
    Check "Email new comments" and receive an email every time someone leaves a comment on your site!


These are just a few of the options to choose from when configuring the Weblog Config Preferences of your UThink blog. To access the Weblog Config of your blog simply login to UThink, choose a blog you have access to, click on WebLog Config in the left hand menu, and then Preferences at the top of the screen.

Stay tuned for more tips and tricks!

Posted by snackeru at 03:26 PM