Tag: Walden (page 2 of 2)

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/.

Web 2.0, Constructivism, and Creativity

The Constructivist educator should be excited by current trends in education and technology. creativityConstructivists emphasize such traits as active learning, discovery, construction (setting goals, self-assessment, research, creativity, etc.), situated learning, cooperation/collaboration, choice, automony, reflection, and complexity (Alessi, 2001, pp.32-35). The teacher takes on the role of a facilitator, guide, and co-learner as much as is possible. Learning is driven by students, and it is immersive, flexible, and responsive to student needs and goals. Constructivists value creativity, through writing, designing applications, and making works of art.

In 2007, the International Society for Technology in Education released its National Educational Technology Standards (NETS•S) and Performance Indicators for Students. This document provides educators with a blueprint for designing educational and technological experiences to equip students to thrive in the modern, connected world. ISTE emphasized these categories of skills:

  • Creativity and innovation
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Research and information fluency
  • Critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making
  • Digital citizenship
  • Technology operations and concepts

Clearly, these objectives are in harmony with constructivist principles. Given the increase in the numbers of educators who are subscribing to the constructivist school of thought, it is reasonable to assume that these objectives can and will be embraced with increasing fervor, and we are seeing that. Students are publishing their writing, collaborating with students around the globe, adding to the global body of knowledge, being given opportunities to explore and direct their own learning, and much more.

Unfortunately, however, a lingering education climate that focuses on basic skills in but a few subject areas and standardized tests all too often leads us as educators to neglect to foster our students’ creativity and relegate it to secondary status. Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally renowned expert on creativity and education, shared his thoughts on the need for a greater emphasis on creativity in the 2006 TED Talk below. The video is almost 20 minutes long, but it is well worth the time. Robinson is an engaging, thought-provoking, and funny speaker, and the time will pass quickly.

The reality is that technology will continue to develop and take on many of the basic tasks that we humans have traditionally undertaken. Daniel Pink (2005) wrote of this in his book, A Whole New Mind, and described the forces of automation, abundance, and Asia (outsourcing) as necessitating a new emphasis on “right-brained” skills, and creativity could be interpreted as the over-arching theme.

The tools of the Internet as we know it today continue to evolve in ways that are very reflective of these kinds of Constructivist ideals, as well. Web 2.0, by its very nature, is about creativity, collaboration, communication, and access to information in many forms at any time. In particular, the opportunities for creativity and innovation that today’s Internet provides are increasingly diverse and exciting. Web 2.0 continues to offer new opportunities for students to explore and express their creativity. Students can create works of art, add artistic touches to photographs, edit and produce videos, create music, share and even publish written works, create dramatic multimedia productions, and more. The following are but a very small sample of the types of sites that are available for nurturing our students’ creative abilities. Many more tools can be found at Amy Hopkins’s wiki from her presentation at the TCEA 2009 conference.

Drawing:

  • Imagination Cubed –easily create and share drawings with mutliple tools, including stamps.
  • TheBroth–collaborative drawing/painting site.
  • Google Sketchup–tool for creating 3-dimensional drawings.
  • Queeky–create and share drawings with lots of great drawing tools.
  • Comic Sketch–create comics, comic books.

Images:

  • Photosynth–create panoramic images.
  • Animoto–create animated slideshows incorporating images, text, and music.
  • Skitch–edit photos, annotate, add drawings (Mac only).
  • Blingeasy–add lots of special effects to images, such as glitter, animations, backgrounds, etc.
  • Storyblender–add voice and animations to images.

Video:

  • Jumpcut–easy to use and powerful online video editor.
  • Jaycut–edit and share videos online.
  • Animasher–create custom animations.
  • BubblePLY–add speech baloons to videos.

Music:

  • JamStudio–create music by selecting ryhthm, instruments, and style.
  • Noteflight–write music in standard notation and hear it played back.

Writing/Publishing:

  • Tikatok–wonderful tool for publishing student writing; includes images, writing prompts.
  • Bookr–create and share virtual books with virtual, “turning” pages.
  • Blurb–write, illustrate, even sell your own books online.

Programming:

  • Alice–3-D programming environment allows students to create animated movies and games.
  • Scratch–allows students to create animated stories, games, music, and art.
  • Kerpoof–uses drag-and-drop interface to create animated stories, pictures.

Presentation (I added this category because this medium is becoming increasingly visually and artistically complex.):

  • 280slides –create presentations, add PowerPoint slides, search/add media inside workspace.
  • Prezi –create stunning presentation with zoom effects.
  • Sliderocket –Flash-based presentation tools with beautiful special effects.

There can be made a compelling case that we have not only neglected, but actually squashed our students’ creative juices from their bodies. Hopefully, the tide is turning, however, and these types of Internet tools, which students are already discovering on their own, will begin to play a more prominent role in our classrooms.

Alessi, S., & Trollip, S. (2001). Multimedia for Learning: Methods and Development (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Pink, D. (2005). A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. New York: Riverhead Books.

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