Introducing UThink

The libraries at the University of Minnesota have just gone live with UThink, a big blogging initiative. Every student, faculty member, and staff member will be able to have as many blogs as he or she wants. I've spoken to Shane Nackerud, the librarian who's heading up the initiative, and he hopes it will be pretty big, as in students will be able to comment on campus life in such a way that the blogs might compete with or even supplant the school newspaper. Also, instructors will be able to use the system to create community blogs, students will be able to start community blogs for group projects, clubs, sororities/fraternities and organizations will be able to have community blogs, etc. I'm pretty excited about it and am eager to see what people will do with it, but I do have a couple of problems with the system so far: First, no privacy. If you'll notice on my UThink blog, it says "Posted by ratli008" under every post, and I can't change that in my profile (I tried). That's my username, and anyone can see it if they look me up in the university directory. Also, I can't see my stats and referrers, which are vital if you're to know who's linking to you.

Cross-posted at Kairosnews.


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Thanks for the comments

Thanks for you comments on UThink. Your concern with privacy may affect some people, but I think most people, like you, won't mind standing by their posts. If you look at some of the most famous bloggers out there -- Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit), Jason Kottke (, Mark Pilgrim (Dive into Mark), James Lileks (The Bleat) -- we always know who they are. UThink was built in the same way as OIT's Web Hotel (the web space you automatically have through OIT) from your Internet ID as your home directory down to the terms of use. Secondly, user stats are coming. We just need to figure out how to make them available. I understand how important access and referer logs are to a beginning blogger, believe me!

By the way, you can remove your name(s) from the posts you make. In the Main Index template just take out the part that says:

Posted by <$MTEntryAuthor$>

That way, you could have a class blog and assure the students who post some privacy. Sorry to be so long winded!


I was thinking particularly o

I was thinking particularly of what Dennis Jerz calls "Forced Blogging," when students don't choose to blog (as Reynolds, Kottke, et al. do). What if there's a young woman who is trying to hide from an abusive ex-partner, for example? Or another such situation. I guess it might be considered farfetched, but thanks for the tip on how to remove the usernames.

Forced blogging

Yes, I see what you mean. If I could be more descriptive (sorry!), what I was alluding to at the end of my first comment is a professor or instructor could create a blog for a class using UThink and the first directory after will be the instructor's Internet ID. The instructor could then attach all of his or her students to that blog as authors using UThink's "Add Author" functionality. Finally, to keep the student's posts anonymous the instructor could modify the Main Index Template to remove all references to who the entry was "Posted by" (the administrative side of the MT blog will still include the original author information). MT also includes "if-then" type of programming functionality so that a professor could say if the author is so-and-so change the name to this (at least I think so ... I'll have to give it a try).

If the professor requires all students to have their own blogs, well then we'd have a problem. I've been in contact with Dennis Jerz, and I note his own class blog site still functions much like UThink. If a student and/or instructor had a problem with this I would be more than willing to come up with a work around.

Blogging and privacy

I have put a lot of thought into privacy issues... About the only restriction my school placed on me when I approached them about blogging was from my division chair, who asked that students blog under their own names.

I do let my students know that they can just print out and hand to me any assignment that gets too personal to be on line. I do mention the possibility of making alternative arrangements for people with legitimate privacy concerns. And two students have asked that I delete their blogs after the course was over. If those options aren't enough, of course I'd be flexible.

I might just tell a student to do all his or her work in the "comments" fields of everyone else's blogs.

--Dennis G. Jerz

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