This past week, a public records request went out on campus for all of our syllabi for the Spring and Fall 2010. My first thought was: if they really want my syllabi or to have an idea what I am teaching in my classes they should just go to my blog or web site. Putting aside the inefficiency of doing that for every faculty member across campus, it made me think a bit about how blogging made our work at the university more transparent and how important this could be in a day-in-age when the university, and public education more broadly, is under the duel threat of declining resources and elevated (and perhaps unrealistic) expectations.
I was asked some months ago by a person in our admissions office here, what is was, exactly, that I did. After recovering briefly from the shock that this person would not be intimately familiar with my brilliant academic career (cough, cough), I tried to explain why it was that I needed to be in my office over the weekend and what it meant when I said that I was swamped by data.
More recently, I've encouraged my public history students to write a blog, and they have, more or less, here. One of the blog posts considers the difficulty in understanding community in the age of internet and easy travel. We tend to imagine communities that revolve around shared values or even experiences rather than any physical proximity. As a result, it is not only possible, but likely that someone in the admissions office here would not know what people at the university did even though they worked less than 200 m from their offices. On the other hand, it is likely that this individual knows well what folks in the admission offices at other universities around the country or the world do.
Finally, there is a recent initiative on campus to engage more fully with the local community. This is partially a response to the flap over the name and logo here, but it may also be a genuine effort to bridge the gap between the "town and gown" and to recognize our common ground and our shared resources
These conversations got me thinking about how my blogs function within our spatially local community and whether they serve as a point of contact between people here in Grand Forks, in North Dakota or even just at my home university. A blog authored by a class offered by Kostis Kourelis, for example, has succeeded in helping bridge the gap between his home university (Franklin and Marshall College) and the community in Lancaster. My blog -- with its tendency to focus on Mediterranean archaeology -- has not captured the public attention as effectively.
Teaching Thursday, on the other hand, was explicitly designed for the University of North Dakota community tends to be read as much by folks elsewhere as by folks here on campus. While this accomplishes the goal of improving the transparency of university level teaching methods, it does not necessarily present what is happening here on campus in a way that is of interest to the local community or in a way that attracts to community's attention.
Recent interest in geolocating and enhanced reality as major additions to the social media arsenal will certainly improve our ability to local our blogs spatially. Services like Foursquare already leverage the social network of Twitter and GPS receivers built into new mobile phones to establish spatially local connections on the internet. Enhanced reality applications like Layar enables an individual to view a very simple "enhanced reality" and a GIS interface updated in real time to view the social media, local businesses, and even tags left by other users embedded in space. In the near future, people will be able to locate our blogs spatially and use space to mark out a relationship to a community. In fact, our ability to localize our blogs will make it easier (it is, of course, possible now) to demonstrate (or even produce) relationships between the specific place where the blog is located (or composed, hosted, or even "anchored") and places discussed by the blogger.
The advantage of our ability to embed our blogs within real, lived space is that we will be better able to recognize the place of the new media in relation to our local selves. Our work will continue to be available and of interest to anyone with access to the World Wide Interwebs, but we'll better be able to localize ourselves spatially and demonstrate the global links present in to our local, lived, communities.