As part of one of my current research projects interviewing feminist bloggers, I attended a Blogher conference over the weekend. is a syndicate of 1,500 blogs written by women.   At the opening session, one of the organizers discussed some interesting stats about women blogging from a recent random sample survey. The survey, conducted in 2008 by Compass Media with Blogher, sampled 1,250 female Internet users through a nationally representative panel, and 5,000 visitors to BlogHer’s network. Here’s some of what they found:

  • 36.2 million women actively participate in the blogsophere every week (15.1 publishing, 21.1 reading and commenting)?
  • Women are so passionate about blogging that large percentages of women said they would give something up to keep the blogs they read and/or write:

    – 55% would give up alcohol

    – 50% would give up their PDAs

    – 42% would give up their i-Pod

    – 43% would give up reading the newspaper or magazines

  • More than half of women surveyed consider blogs a reliable source of advice and information

You can download a presentation with more about that survey here. One of the things I found most interesting about the opening remarks was that among women who blogging at Blogher, 43% are watching less television to keep up with the blogosphere.   I find that’s generally true for me.  What about you – blogging more (including reading more) and watching the tube less?

“Hack the Debate” is a joint effort of CurrentTV (the network founded by former Vice President Al Gore) and for all the debates in the US presidential election this month (hat tip to Stephanie Tuszynski and Anders Fagerjord on the Association of Internet Researchers listserv).

This means that if you watch the debate on CurrentTV, you’ll see running commentary of live “tweets” along with the regular broadcast. The way it works is some producer working over at CurrentTV will be working “backstage” during the debate and selecting messages from Twitter and sending those to go live and appear on your TV screen at home. (The backend of this is very similar to the job I used to have in the IT-world, back when I was producing live online events, but I digress.)

While Current and Twitter are both promoting this as a “first” time this has ever been done, it’s not. In fact, these sorts of short messages (SMS) over television has been common in Norwegian TV for at least five years now, possibly more. You can read more about it here:

Enli, Gunn. “Gatekeeping in the New media Age: A case Study of the Selection of Text-Messages in a Current Affairs Programme.” Javnost – The Public 2007;Volume 14.(2) s. 47-63

A new survey, sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s E-Business Institute, reveals students’ preference for “lecture capture,” the technology that records, streams and stores what happens in the classroom for later viewing.   There’s more about the study here, with a focus on the financial costs to universities for doing this.  I’m skeptical about “lecture capture” technology as a workable solution for delivering useful content in a way that’s financially profitable.   Personally, I’m more interested in the bottom-up, DIY-side of what this means in terms of pedagogy and technology.  more...

According to a recent report at Inside Higher Ed, some colleges are moving to connecting students and faculty via Instant Message.  At Ivy Tech Community College, in Indiana, serves more than 115,000 students a year on 23 separate campuses across the state, adopted an instant messaging platform called Pronto, from the collaborative learning software company Wimba.  Here’s how Andy Guess describes it in the article:

Like a turbocharged AOL Instant Messenger or Google Talk, it lets students chat online with their professors in text, audio or video form, for virtual office hours or impromptu question-and-answer sessions.

Unlike the free IM clients students are already familiar with, though, the software integrates with existing course management systems, such as Blackboard and Moodle, so that their buddy lists are populated with the classmates already signed up for a specific course. Students also see each other’s real names, with identities that are validated through the system — no “sk8rdude21″ who may or may not be your group partner — and they can save their chats for later consultation.

Several years ago, I experimented with being available to students via Instant Message for “virtual office hours.”  It was a new-enough idea at the time that it was sort of thrilling, for them and for me.  But, I have to admit, the thrill wore off pretty quickly.   In part, that was because of the blending of “public” and “private” personas on the IM client.  I may want to share my IM handle with friends, but it’s another thing to be that accessible to students.   And, the most frustrating part of me as a professor was that after the semester – and this experiment – ended, all my students were still on my “buddy list” and they continued to contact me via IM long afterward.   Perhaps this why I no longer use IM much.   Still, I think that a proprietary system that’s directly tied to class rosters, uses people’s real names, and  – perhaps most importantly – goes away at the end of a semseter, might have potential for creating a sense of belonging to a campus community.   This will be an interesting development in social media to keep an eye on.

I’m generally inclined to agree with Vint Cerf’s twist on the famous anarchist slogan: “Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.”

Nonetheless, many of us—myself included—end up using slides anyway. Done right, they can be a very good thing.

A fellow Minnesota grad student, Wes Longhofer, has developed a unique style of PowerPointing that really pushes the technology in a fun, creative way. I asked Wes if I could share one of his presentations here, and he said yes: Download the PDF here.

I’ll mostly let the slides speak for themselves, but a few notes:

  • This is for an introductory Political Sociology class. As you’ll see, the readings for this class were Domhoff’s Who Rules America?, John Gaventa’s Power and Powerlessness, and Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”1
  • All frames within each slide are displayed at once in the PDF, though you can easily picture how the various arrows, highlights and questions on each slide appear one-at-a-time during the presentation. Because of all the crazy fonts & images Wes uses, distributing the original PowerPoint file isn’t really an option.
  • There are four movie clips embedded in the presentation (obviously they’re not included in the PDF—you’ll just see a placeholder image). In order, they are:
    1. A clip from the film “Wag the Dog” about political spin.
    2. A clip from “Century of Self” on the role of psychoanalysts and the CIA in the overthrow of the Guatemalan government.
    3. A Reagan campaign ad from 1984.
    4. An anti-Howard Dean ad from 2004 about “latte-drinking” liberal “freak shows.”
  • This particular class meets only once a week in 2.5 hour sessions, in case you were wondering how so much material could possibly be covered in one class.

And Wes puts this kind of care into every lecture he prepares. (Is anyone surprised he won our department’s Outstanding Graduate Instructor Award this year?)


  1. Of special value to Wes & I as we are both native Kansans. []

As the semester (or trimester) gets under way for most academics in the U.S., faculty are dusting off lectures and preparing their lectures.   The “chalk and talk” lecture format is, of course, still popular.  Yet increasingly universities are opening up the classroom to those outside the enrolled student population and posting digital videos of faculty lectures online.   I’m sure there are more, but here’s a beginning list of resources (from OpenCulture):

Spotlighted Collections

Other University Collections

This sort of opening up of higher education is, as John Seely Brown points out,  part of a larger Open Educational Resources (OER) movement, that began in 2001 when the William and Flora Hewlett and the Andrew W. Mellon foundations jointly funded MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) initiative, which has provided free access to a wide range of courses and other educational materials to anyone who wants to use them.   Just another sign that we’re in the midst of a sea change in higher education.

A news item caught my attention about the recent Hurricane Gustav and blogging, including micro-blogging such as Twitter.  James Jenaga, writing for the Chicago Tribune, reports this:

The fearful weather reports about Hurricane Gustav did not persuade Sheila Moragas to leave Old Jefferson, a suburb just west of New Orleans. It was the 38-year-old mother’s dwindling ranks of online friends on the micro-blogging network Twitter.

One by one, Twitterers with nicknames like “HumidCity,” “DomesticKitty” and “NOLADawn” pulled up stakes Sunday and left south Louisiana, live-blogging the building drama through text messages on their laptops, home computers and cell phones.

“It’s been helpful,” Moragas said. “It’s less hyperbole, more reliable. There’s also a lot of people panicking, but it’s neighborly. It feels like you’re talking to your next-door neighbors and trying to say, ‘What’s the best thing to do?’ ”

At noon Sunday, Moragas, known as “NOLAnotes” to her followers on Twitter, decided the wisest option was to leave, abandoning the New Orleans area in advance of a massive hurricane for the second time in three years.

This story makes me wonder how differently disasters such as Heat Wave, and the pattern of humans coping with disasters, might be in the future.

Do you Twitter?   Twitter is a microblogging software that allows you to post short updates, just 140 characters, in answer to the question: What are you doing?  The updates that people add to Twitter are called “tweets.”  You can choose to “follow” people, that is read their tweets.  And, people can choose to “follow” you, or read your updates.

I know, I know.  Another web application to update, what a pain.   I thought so at first, too.  But Twitter continues to surprise me in its usefulness.   I follow a range of people from Barack Obama to friends to people I don’t know offline but who post really interesting updates.   The most useful tweets are those that include links to other websites, so it’s one of the main ways I stay informed about breaking news these days.

And, I predict that Twitter is going to have increasing significance as a tool in sociological research.   Just last week, for example, I posted a short announcement about a new research project I’m doing for which I need a very specific set of respondents: feminist bloggers.  So, I posted an update on Twitter that I was looking for (at least) forty feminist bloggers to interview.     A feminist blogger I follow on Twitter re-posted, or “retweeted,” my call to her network of followers, then posted it on her blog.

A week later I have responses to my quick online survey from twenty feminist bloggers and follow-up (face-to-face and phone) interviews scheduled with 15 of those.   That’s nearly half my sample in a week.   Now, I’m considering revising the total sample size upward.

It’s not a representative sample, to be sure, but it is a solid “snowball” sample and a perfectly fine sampling strategy for qualitative research.    Twitter as sampling strategy simply means that the “old” way of snowball sampling, by asking respondents and key informants to recommend people, is now being mediated – and speeded up – through online networks.     This morning, I’m off for my first in person, face-to-face qualitative interview for this research project.   All arranged via the “snowball” sampling strategy for the digital era: Twitter.

Contexts just wrapped up the first phase of an online roundtable titled, “The Social Significance of Barack Obama.” We solicited short statements from six sociologists on the significance of Obama’s candidacy and potential Presidency, published them online & then held a group discussion about the statements in the comments.

The roundtable is now public & open for comments. One of the topics that hasn’t been discussed much so far has been the role of technology & the internet in Obama’s campaign and in modern politics generally. In fact, I might just head over over there and chime in about this myself… Come join us & encourage others to join in as well!

Sarah Lai Stirland writing for Wired magazine calls this Democratic Convention the “techiest” (her term) convention ever.   That’s not hard to believe as lots of people bypass the talking-head-pundits on the broadcast networks and seeking out their own streaming video of the convention (as Jon described yesterday), or looking for outside-the-mainstream commentary from their favorite bloggers at the convention.    All this makes me think about Todd Gitlin’s famous book, The Whole World is Watching (1983), about the role of the mass media in the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.  But, the world has changed since 1968…. more...