Web log provides forum for debate

Lindsay Shoff

After a 45-minute in-class discussion on the war in Iraq, English professor Dr. Karyn Hollis and her students have produced Villanova’s own online forum to discuss political issues outside the classroom, entitled “BlogaNova.”

Blogs, short for “weblogs,” are becoming more and more popular on college campuses and throughout the world. A blog is a free Internet diary which allows people to comment on issues and debate topics. Howard Dean, presidential candidate contender, used a blog to communicate with voters. One Iraqi citizen became famous after he used a blog to document daily life under American occupation.

“Some schools have blogs for everything,” Ryan Costella, senior and co-founder of BlogaNova, said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily the best way of communicating to groups, but for debating purposes it’s good.”

Villanova’s blog began as the brainchild of Costella and Hollis. Both were unhappy with using class time to debate issues, but both thought the discussions were valuable.

“I love to talk politics; it’s one of my great passions,” Hollis said. “But I don’t feel it’s always appropriate in class.”

Hollis mentioned setting up a blog to discuss topics outside of the classroom to Costella. Having never heard of a blog before, Costella investigated the trend.

“Dr. Hollis thought of the name,” he said. “I set it up so students and faculty could all sign on under the same username and password.”

Hollis began by sending an invitation to her travel writing class to start a debate on the war in Iraq. A handful participated. Hollis then opened it up to the Villanova community at large.

“Even if 10 students and five faculty members go to the site, at least it gets a discussion going,” Costella said. “Theoretically, it could be huge.”

The blog thus far is sponsored by the English department’s Writing and Rhetoric program, and the Student Government Association tentatively plans to endorse it.

“SGA is the voice of the students and this blog is the place to have their voices heard,” Costella said.

Hollis noted, “As director of the concentration in Writing and Rhetoric, I’m particularly excited about sponsoring BlogaNova because it will give students an opportunity to do more argumentative writing for a real audience.”

Issues will range in scope, but all will be political. Right now posters are discussing the Iraqi war, but the discussion is open to new issues.

He also reminded students and faculty of the blog’s academic, not social, purpose.

“The entire blog is like one giant ‘letter to the editor’ without limits and no editor, so everyone’s voice will be heard and read,” he said.

Hollis also hopes students and faculty will take advantage of the opportunity to place links to other sites when they make postings, which “will lead to more in-depth examinations of topics.”

One of the great differences between blogs and WebCT, the program the University favors for classroom chats, is that students can remain anonymous.

“If your want your voice to be heard, go for it.” Costella said. “That’s a personal preference.”

Costella remains confident that posters will be polite about what they say on the blog. A professor at Indiana University’s Bloomington campus got in trouble after making offensive comments about homosexuals on a blog on the university server, against which several gay and lesbian students spoke.

“I would encourage people to be as free about it as possible, but no swear words or racial slurs,” Costella said. “If you wouldn’t say it in the classroom, don’t say it on the site.”

Costella and Hollis also hope this blog will promote civic involvement.

“I’ve heard about blogs sponosoring ‘meet-ups’ where posters agree to hold face to face debates, participate in rallies or have dinner [together],” Hollis said.

“It would be great if BlogaNova produced this type of real world response.”

Costella noted the blog’s opportunity for exercising one’s right to free speech.

“America doesn’t work when people just sit back and accept things,” he said. “I just hope people try it at least once and see if they like it or not.”

BlogaNova can be accessed by visiting www.blogger.com, and entering “bloganova” as the username and “debate” as the password.