Blogging, Revisited

Why We Need to Be Blogging

First of all, I’ll admit the obvious–I am biased. Blogging has become something that I cannot imagine doing without. It has given me a creative outlet, challenged me to test the validity of my ideas and educational beliefs, and expanded my network of peers. It has met and exceeded my expectations. The platform has continued to become more powerful, as well, giving me and my readers new and exciting ways to interact, such as threaded comments, video and audio comments, etc. It is enjoyable, challenging, and very, very rewarding. Blogging has become entrenched in society, with over 184 million users creating blogs worldwide, ever-increasing readership, and a continual move into more traditional mediums, such as newspapers, television stations, etc. The video below, by Rachel Boyd, does a great job of illustrating some of the benefits of blogging.

For these reasons and more, our students and teachers need to be both readers and creators of blogs. They are powerful tools for reflection, outlets for creativity, and foster critical reading and writing skills.

Ideas for Getting Started

Choosing a blog service

There are many blog services available to students and teachers, some of which cater specifically to the education crowd. Some services are free, while others require yearly or monthly subscriptions. Usually, the pay sites offer certain features that are not available on the free sites. Edublogs (the host of this blog), for instance, offers many extra plugins (such as video/audio comments, threaded comments, etc.) when you subscribe, and the cost is not exorbitant. Discounts are available for bulk subscriptions on Edublogs and many other sites, as well. For most users, though, free blogs are very valid and satisfactory tools. Some sites to check out are listed below (an asterisk indicates blogs specifically catering to educators).

Another option, and one that Jim Hirsch describes as the best option for schools, is to host their own blogs. WordPress is an example of a blogging platform that may be installed to a school or district’s own servers. This allows for far greater control over safety and content, and is much more likely to relax over-worried administrators.

Subjects

Beginning a blog does not have to be a taxing or overly time-consuming process. While many advanced features exist, and many more are constantly being developed, the basic blog is nothing more than a tool for writing. Subject matter should be personalized, and topics can range from professional issues to hobbies and interests to issues facing schools or society. As Frank Catalano states, bloggers should ask, “Why are you going to do it? To reach individuals with critical information, to express opinions, to teach students writing skills, or simply as an outlet for personal frustrations?” The key is to pick your passion. Some possible topics for teachers might include:

  • Lesson ideas
  • Professional learning experiences
  • Sharing class/school news with parents and communities
  • Classroom management
  • Subject-related topics
  • Class discussion starters
  • Personal hobbies
  • Family happenings
  • Book studies

Student topics might focus on:

  • Sharing classroom creative writing
  • Summarizing daily learning
  • School news/issues
  • Personal interests
  • Book reports/reviews
  • Social issues and events

Finding an audience

An important next step for student and teacher bloggers is to actively seek readership for their blogs. While the act of writing in and of itself is worthwhile for many reasons, the power and importance of an actively reading and responding audience cannot be overstated. Will Richardson describes blogs as never being actually finished, because the conversations between authors and readers leads to revisions and refinements of ideas. Catalano echoes this, describing the positive effect on student writing of “the power of audience.” Having an audience provides incentive to continue writing, to write better, and stimulates ideas for future writing. Some suggestions for creating an audience for a blog are:

  • Communicate with friends, family, and associates, telling them about the blog and asking for their input. Use opportunities such as school parent-teacher nights, PTA meetings, etc. to spread the word.
  • Read and respond to others’ blogs, including the URL of your own blog when you do so. Many times, when comments are thoughtful and well-written, readers will click on the link to see what else the writer may have to say.
  • Use other tools, such as social networks, Twitter, etc. to inform visitors of the blog and new posts.
  • Register the blogs with sites such as Technorati, which allow visitors to search by topics.
  • Use tags. Tags categorize blog entries by topic, and they allow search engines to find blogs based on their subject matter.
  • Write about interesting topics and don’t shy away from controversy. Blogs are powerful mediums for expressing opinions and generating discussions.
  • Write frequently. Don’t let the blog sit idle for weeks or months at a time. Loyal readership can’t develop in a vacuum.

A good list of tips by professional bloggers for bringing in readers can be found on the DailyBlogTips site.

Ensure safe and responsible blogging

Before diving in, students (and teachers) should be educated on the rules of the blogging world. Safety and ethics are critical for all bloggers, but for children in particular. Some important concepts to cover include:

  • What information is/is not okay to share. While blogs may be very personal in terms of subjects, personally identifying information should never be shared by children bloggers.
  • How to manage comments. Identifying spam, responding to dangerous/inappropriate comments, etc. are skills students should learn, and the teacher should play an active role in modeling this and monitoring students’ comments.
  • Don’t make personal attacks. “Flaming” is an unethical practice, and, increasingly, it is being viewed by courts and law-enforcement as illegal. Teach students how to express differences of opinions or make revision suggestions civilly.
  • Observe copyright laws. The availability of vast resources of shared materials via Creative Commons licensing should mean that students never have to use video, images, etc. that lack the required permissions. Flickr, for instance, has a library of tens of millions of images that contributors have licensed for use, free of charge, by others. Also, teach them how to paraphrase and use quotations and how to credit sources.

Now, get to writing

Once these preparatory steps have been taken, the student or teacher simply needs to get started. Don’t worry about readership lacking in the beginning. As content and quality grows, the readers will come. In the meantime, critical literacy skills will be strengthened, and confidence in the medium will grow. As I can attest, it can be quite addictive. I recall vividly the first comment I received from a complete stranger, and the sense of excitement, validation, and empowerment that it gave to me even at my age (very young, of course!). Imagine the same powerful experiences for our students!

References: Catalano, F. (2005). Why Blog? Retrieved March 26, 2009, from http://www.thejournal.com/articles/17616_1.

Hirsch, J. (2006). Is Student Blogging the New Social Disease? Retrieved March 27, 2009, from http://www.aasa.org/publications/saarticledetail.cfm?ItemNumber=6071.

Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

State of the Blogosphere (2008). Retrieved March 26, 2009, from http://technorati.com/blogging/state-of-the-blogosphere/.

8 Comments

  1. How I wish computers and blogging tools were available to me both as a student in the 1950’s and 60’s and later as a teacher and home school mom. Sometimes I think the physical act of writing on paper is what discourages young writers. Typing is easier, once learned, and allows one to keep up with one’s thoughts. My teen son hated to write, but would, I believe, have taken to blogging like a duck to water.

    • We do have a remarkable fascination with paper, don’t we, Barbara. It’s ironic that, as society moves to the digital, schools still spend 90+ percent of their time engaging students in paper-based work.

  2. Peggy Creighton

    March 29, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Hi, Randy,
    You posted a lot of good information about the ways schools could benefit from blogging and how they can get started. I think that hosting our own blog might be the solution to the blogging issues in our district. I definitely think that blogging could enhance student writing and critical thinking. As far as readership, I believe that would not be an issue–we would have readers built in, with parents, grandparents, community members, and staff and students at the school. I would love to see our district take advantage of this sort of resource.

    • Parents and family are a great, built-in audience, Peggy. What is amazing is how fast that audience can grow beyond the humble beginnings. I advocate that my teachers use a visitor map plugin, like the Clustrmaps one on my page. It really stokes the fires of students, as they see their audience grow visually. It can also lead to some good questions/research in geography, by the way.

  3. I find blogs move into the traditional news sphere to be very interesting. Many papers newspapers are migrating into online only formats or going out of business. Furthermore, many blogs are becoming powerful means of diffusing legitimate news.

  4. Randy, I am in agreement with you about the benefits of blogging. For me, blogging is adventure learning and I am still at the beginning of my adventure. I have not ventured the waters much outside of our class environment because I have been struggling to figure out all the nuances of RSS, animato, Voicethreads, Moodle and a host of other learning environments that I want to subscribe to. It all takes time and technical stamina to understand why a software download does not respond as you think it should in the time frame that you think it should. Blogging has been an environment that has been easier to understand and participate in. For this reason, I am sure I want to have long-term involvement at a professional level.

    I still need to understand RSS feeds better. I have read our course materials on RSS feeds, but I still have not mastered the use of them as well as I want to. Conceptually, it is a great idea, but I still need work. Keeping track of blog responses will be much easier when I realize how to aggregate my feeds and put myself in the habit of checking and answering blogs.

    I have searched for blogs on RSS feeds. The Pamela recorder has given me some problems in not knowing when it is not working. So, there are about ten different items that I want to understand better and keep up with our lessons. And, blogging may be a good way to learn more about these items.

    I enjoyed your blogging post and video on reasons why we and our students should blog. I tried Edublog. I was looking for examples of blogs, but did not get beyond the sign in page for passwords for some time. I wish there was an easier way. I wish there was a way for every software package we would ever want to use to accept the user names and passwords that we need, uniform across all platforms, without telling us that the username is taken. There could possibly be a blog topic covering this uniform user name and password across platforms item. Thanks again for the blogging post.

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