Something I noticed today made me get all reflective…
On December 8, 2006, I wrote and shared my first blog post, something about educating parents about Web 2.0 tools. That’s a quick 372 weeks, 2603 days ago. Since then:
265 posts, an average of 1 every 9.8 days or so.
25,316 views (Half of which are possibly my mother, I’m sure.), or a little more than 10 per day (since Jun 4, 2007, actually, but close enough).
588 comments (not sure how many are my replies–I do try to respond), which is about 2.3 per post.
62 pings (other folks’ sites or blogs linking to my posts)
Visitors from all 50 states and 135 countries
True story: I once bought a t-shirt with this on it. (Pretty much gave up being cool right after college.)
So, what does this mean? (It definitely means I don’t have the most popular blog on the Web, for one thing.) Importantly, that first post on December 8th represented the first day I started building my PLN–first blog conversations, then Twitter, Google+, etc. Too many great, professional and personal conversations to count. Imagine the challenges connecting with even a fraction of those numbers of folks only 15 years ago. That post led to others and to the first reader comment (Thanks, Jeff Whipple–my co-workers still make fun of me for an over-the-top celebration of getting a comment from a stranger.), the first conversations, numerous collaborations, and genuinely close friendships. It also was the start of some healthy and productive reflection. I never liked diaries or journals. Hated ’em, in fact. Yet blogging has somehow been something that I have enjoyed and stuck with, and it has helped me grow as a person and professional. I liken it to people who talk to themselves to sort out their thoughts, only someone occasionally eavesdrops and chimes in to find out what you are talking about.
Over these 7 years, I’ve read opinion pieces saying blogging is dead or has already died. Thankfully, those writers get paid to write nonsense (I do it for free–yea!), and I look forward to doing this for the foreseeable future. I encourage every single educator to give it a shot, too. Professional reflection is a very worthwhile exercise, even if you don’t load up on comments (Don’t discount the possibility, though!). While you’re at it, get your students blogging. It is a great opportunity to apply writing skills, share with an authentic audience, and start putting together a record of their growth as students and individuals. On top of that, it is quite simply a truly pleasurable undertaking. Thanks for reading (not just you, Mom)!
We’re getting down to crunch time. The big prizes will be announced next week, but for now, intrinsic motivation will have to do! For today’s challenge, you’ll need to create your own blog, using the site Posterous.com. Now, before you click back to the Cartoon Network site just yet, hear me out for a second.
Posterous is a site I recently shared that allows users to post using just an email message, even one that includes pictures or videos. You can even read and reply to comments via email. Accounts are free, of course, and you can blog about anything you like to talk about: family, sports, work, children, movies, food, etc. I want you to see how addictive they can be, and the best way to ensure that is to write about what you know and care about. Just be sure to share your blog’s address here once it’s set up!
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.
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:
Professional learning experiences
Sharing class/school news with parents and communities
Class discussion starters
Student topics might focus on:
Sharing classroom creative writing
Summarizing daily learning
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!
When I first read about the blogging site Posterous, I will admit that I was not overly excited. The site allows users to create blog posts by simply sending email messages to firstname.lastname@example.org (Try it–the site will automatically create a page for you with your first email.). Certainly easy enough, but not particularly exciting. After giving the site a test run, however, I have changed my opinion completely. Posterous is not only as easy as advertised, but it is a remarkably powerful and intuitive blogging tool with a surprising number of useful tools.
Some of the more notable features of the site:
Blog via email to a single, easy address. Blog administrators can add additional bloggers simply by adding additional email addresses.
Add images by inserting as attachments. Multiple images will be turned into a custom gallery, as seen below.
Add video by either uploading or (even cooler) by simply including the link from YouTube or other video hosting site. Posterous will automatically embed the video.
Attach documents, .pdf files, PowerPoint files by attaching to email messages.
Receive and reply to comments posted through email.
There is very little I don’t like about Posterous, now that I’ve tried it out. It would be nice to be able to choose from a variety of templates for a custom appearance, but the site claims to be working on that very feature. The biggest challenge, to some, is that it does require email addresses for student participation. However, given the availability of free, monitored student email through sites such as ePals and Gaggle, this should be an easy issue to overcome. Ultimately, the site’s creators have done a very nice job putting together as user-friendly a blogging tool as I’ve encountered to date.
I just activated a new plugin that will better facilitate our conversations by creating threaded comments. This means you can reply to comments left by other users, and they will list them underneath the original replies. Hopefully, this will be yet another way to make our conversations more engaging and powerful. Thanks to the folks at Edublogs for the great, new tool! Give it a try!
I finally was successful at uploading a video of some interviews I conducted this spring with students who published their writing to a class blog this year. In just six months, the students’ blog had over 1,000 visitors from six continents! What an effective way to motivate our students to write! The blog also includes some good insights by the teacher.