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Can blogs help students?

Rohini Kapur | June 12, 2003 14:40 IST

As the debate about blogs changing the face of journalism rages on, many media courses have already started including the topic in their curriculum

When the University of California at Berkeley introduced weblogging as part of its curriculum for their new media course, it received equal doses of bouquets and brickbats.

The who's who of the cyber world expressed their opinion - from the ever-popular Slashdot and Metafilter, to Wired and Weblogg-ed.

But the Berkeley faculty and policy-makers were undeterred, and its flagship project was created - the Berkeley Intellectual Property weblog, where not just journalism students, but even the law, computer science and information management and systems students participate.

This popular Web technology had also caught the eye of several Indians. Kiruba Shankar, a blogger, regularly lectures on emerging Web technologies (a non-tested subject) for the MSc in Electronic Media course at Anna University, Chennai. When he mentioned blogging, it caught the students' interest, and soon it was included as a part of the curriculum.

Says Shankar, "For starters, I believe that the media people are best suited to the concept of blogging. It's a great tool for them to air their thoughts clearly, as well as exercise their writing skills. Besides, it can act as a portfolio that will help them showcase their skills and help in the job market."

Shankar discusses a variety of issues and aspects about blogging in his class - blogs as a personal brand image builder, a knowledge management tool, and its use in education. He also discusses lessons learnt from the veteran bloggers.

Some students were initially hesitant about the concept. "They thought it was a complicated thing and involved complex programming with databases. When they learnt how easily it worked, they began to like the easy push button publishing," relates Shankar.

Anand, a student of the course, admits, "I did not know about blogging before. I have had a free page at Geocities for quite a while. Now, I've set up a blog under my own domain name."

With the increasing popularity of blogging, Shankar and his students organised a national-level seminar, 'Blog 2003: National Panel Discussion on Blogging', in association with RediffBlogs, on March 29. Several panellists and bloggers discussed topics including blogs as a personal image builder, what makes a great blog, their practical use, and whether blogs are changing the face of journalism.

As if on cue, the media from all over the world has begun to express their opinions on weblogging as a new form of journalism. Journalists covering the Iraq war, including Kevin Sites (who shut down his blog at CNN's request) as well as soldiers like Captain Eric Ruthman blogged about their experiences in the war zone and were as popular, if not more, as mainstream media sites.

Cyberjournalist.net maintains a list of journalist bloggers. While Indian journalists are still few and far in between, many have started to capitalise on the power of the medium. Joshua Newton, a freelance journalist reporting from the Indian sub-continent, updates his blog thrice a week.

Except for Anna University, however, blogging has not seen much prominence in journalism courses yet. Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication, when contacted, was not aware about blogging. Aruna Srinivasan, a journalist, who recently wrote about this phenomenon says, "Blogging is a way of organising your thought process. And journalism, or for that matter, writing, is essentially an art of organising your thoughts and putting them across in reader-friendly way. The exercise also helps to cultivate an individual style." Srinivasan, has meanwhile, joined the blogging bandwagon.

Amrita Kriplani, an engineering student, who has been blogging since 2002, says: "Blogging is an excellent way of showcasing your talents to the world. It is the closest you can get to having your own paper," she says.

There are others who see things differently. In response to an article on Cyberjournalist.net, Rebecca Blood, a veteran blogger, who wrote The Weblog Handbook, comments, "Weblogs are not a new form of journalism, and shouldn't aspire to be so -- I think we're stronger (and more important and more interesting) as something different, and trying to fit us into a pre-existing mold, to my mind, misses the point."

The teaching methodology for this subject is unlike any other, and there is much speculation on the best way of teaching. While Shankar believes in interactive teaching, Srinivasan feels the best way is to expose oneself to a wide variety of blogs. Adds Kriplani, "Blogging doesn't require any methodology, it comes down to the students to blog as a means to develop their skills."

But there is unanimous agreement on one aspect - the need for students to maintain a personal blog. Shankar says, "Students are given the liberty to choose the subject for their blogs. In addition, they are encouraged to create collaborative blogs."

Srinivasan adds, "There should be no fixed deadline - but the students should be asked to stick to a pattern or schedule - preferably daily." Kriplani points out that there should be interaction between the blogger and the readers. "The response elicited in the form of comments gives the writer an alternative perspective."

Anand started his personal blog after the topic was introduced in the course. "I have found blogging to be extremely useful not just as a personal publishing tool, but in building a well-networked community of people. In fact, after sensing the possibilities in blogging, I wonder how did I not know about it before," he says.

 



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