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ProfHacker Blog Highlights Widespread Interest in Teaching With Technology

Professors are past the days when most resisted technology. Now the question for many professors is how to make the most of the latest tools.

Two tech-happy English professors have started a group blog called ProfHacker, which provides tips for making the most of Internet tools for teaching and research. With 10 regular contributors, the blog—the brainchild of Jason B. Jones, a professor at Central Connecticut State University, and George H. Williams, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina Upstate—is getting 10,000 page views a week. The Chronicle spoke with Mr. Jones about the new site.

Q. With so many technology blogs out there already, why did you feel the need to create another?
A. We don’t think of ProfHacker as just a tech blog. It’s a site that wants to look at the intersection of productivity, technology, and pedagogy in higher education. There are blogs that do tech and blogs that do productivity, but there aren’t many targeted at faculty or the higher-education community. Even within that subset there weren’t a lot that explained how and why you might want to use some of these things.

Q. Who exactly is your audience?
A We’ve gotten readers who are faculty, librarians, IT staff. We think there are lots of people who want to learn these tools to teach with, but there are also plenty of people who want to make sense of their work environment.

Q. Do you have a lot of colleagues who could benefit from reading your blog?
A. I’m a little leery of answering that because I don’t want to sound like I am throwing colleagues under a bus. But having said that, yeah. A lot of people think, “Why would I change?” People feel comfortable teaching the way they know how. I think ProfHacker could be a way of showing that the barrier of entry to this new stuff is lower than it seems. If we can do it, they can do it too. We have the Home Depot mentality, “You can do it, we can help.”
It doesn’t take the world to get this stuff started.

Q.How much time do you spend working on the site?
A.You can do a lot these days behind the scenes. To get the posts organized we use a wiki and we have a grid of time slots to post to. All contributors have write access to the wiki and everyone signs up for slots. The technology lets the site become self-catering to a certain extent.

Q. How do you all decide what topics make it onto the blog?
A. The things we write about are the things we are struggling with or the things we want to work on. One hundred percent of this stuff we bring into our own classroom. If the slogan for software development is to eat your own dog food, we are always eating our own dog food. These are our assignments, our best practices.

Q. What have been your favorite subjects?
A. Some of my favorite posts so far have been ones that look at productivity. The thing that is distinctive about the site is it’s always in the name of practical research application. Not just, here’s a new thing that’s shiny and new, but here’s a new thing you might be able to use in your classroom in a really pragmatic way, or here’s an application that might make your soul-killing research easier.

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