Obviously, I like blogs. After all, what you are reading is a blog. I use this blog mostly for educational workshops I facilitate, but blogging is an endeavor that I could also use in my private life to celebrate a hobby, to collaborate with colleagues, to vent about what annoys me, to celebrate a place, to share photos, to discuss political views, discuss my favorite books…the list goes on.
Are you still with me? Not even sure what a blog is? Well, the line between blogs and other media have certainly blurred since they first began showing on the web, so if you’re a little confused, you’re not alone. Short for “web log,” blogs started as online journals, but have evolved into much more. Basically, blogs are web sites that the author can readily edit and update, usually written in the first person. Most blogs have messaging capabilities so that comments can be posted to the site, and some blogs are multi-user, meaning any “member” can post his/her thoughts—not just one author. Blogs are written in a serial format with “dispatches” posted sometimes several times a day or several times a month (if blogs aren’t kept up-to-date, you’ll likely lose interest). Posts are written in reverse chronological order, with the most recent posts appearing first on a page. Today, blogs have taken on some high profile spots, from those teetering on the edge of journalism, to those still posting daily thoughts, to multi-user blogs becoming online magazines, to photo blogs, where little or no writing is evident, just picture upon picture. And yet, they’re all still blogs.
So how can we use blogging in the classroom? Blogs can be a powerful tools in an educational setting, and can be used in all subject areas–but most frequently are employed as a literacy tool. Blogs have been successful at motivating students to write, and their commenting capacity fosters an online community that extends outside the classroom doors.Schools with blogs across the country have joined together to collaborate on projects together. Most school blogs are a combination of single and multi-user—so each student has their own writing space, but each student in the class can communicate online as members of a group blog. Being on the Internet, student blogs can be read by anyone with a web connection –and students can use that power to connect to famous authors, scientists, professionals, mentors…and each other. Knowing that their work is made public motivates students to do their most complete, creative and correct work.
Want to learn more about blogs? Find some good educational blogs on the web (see my list of links on my Blogs & Wikis post) and start reading and exploring. Have an interest or a hobby? Look for some blogs that are on a topic of your liking. Read several blogs to get the hang of their style, and you’ll probably be a convert in no time.
If you want to start blogging yourself, thankfully, blogs are easy to set up and can be done so for free. Go to blogger.com to set up a free account for yourself and your students (and now, Blogger is owned by Google, so if you have a Google login, you’re halfway there). Blogger contains no flashy, inappropriate advertisements, making it perfect for schools to use. Other free blog platforms include WordPress, EduBlogs, and LiveJournal…just to name a few. Check your school filter to see if any of these blog sites are blocked–blogger.com used to be blocked by the NYC Dept of Ed…so I just switched over to WordPress, and voila! (And, I like WordPress more as a result.)
Remember, blogs are essentially web pages out there for all to read, and students need to be aware that their work is being made public. Remind students to limit personal information they divulge, including their ages and last names, and nix any physical descriptions that could be misconstrued. Even better, try not to let students use their own personal email addresses; use an address provided by the school, or check out Gaggle.net to set up free, monitored student email that gets checked in and out by the teacher. Most blog platforms do allow you to also limit settings so the blog can be private, or only open to a small group (like members of a class). Play it safe, and blogs can be a wonderful tool in the classroom.
For a list of classroom blogs, go to my previous post on Blogs & Wikis. I also recommend that you check out my friend Paul Allison’s curriculum unit and his blog, Teachers Teaching Teachers, which is a cutting-edge online community for the ed techies in us all.
Blogger Tutorial (video)