Blogging – Should You Jump In?

A blog is is web lingo for a web log, or online journal. Judging by the media, blogging has been overtaken by microblogging, such as brief status updates in Twitter or Facebook. However, judging by the number of quality blogs that I read daily and that I know of, I do not believe that to be the case. For example, almost all of the teachers that I follow in Twitter also have a blog. Most are excellent. I find blogging to be both an excellent creative outlet and a teaching tool. This post will hopefully convince you to find some blogs to read regularly (if you aren’t already doing so), and possibly start your own, either a class blog, a professional blog, or a personal blog. If you do decide to create a blog, let me know if the comments and I’ll add you to my Google Reader.

Why should you use a blog as a teacher?

Teaching is one of the most time-intensive jobs on the planet. Combining that with meager salaries sometimes leaves teachers feeling like there isn’t time or motivation to add something else to an already overflowing plate. However, blogging is not just 1 more thing that we have to do. Blogging is both fun and rewarding. As I was discussing on Twitter with @lasic a few weeks ago, writing helps you to figure out what you really think and blogging helps you to write responsibly and articulate your feelings properly. It is both fruitful and rewarding to use blogging as a reflective tool; it is good professional practice and can help you to see what worked well and what needs more fine tuning.

In addition, teachers as a whole are very giving. While there are those who hoard their ideas so that they can be the only “smart” teachers around, I find that most teachers are more than willing to share. Blogging is a way to give back to the teaching community. We all have successes and failures; both we and others can learn from both. When you publish something online, it is there permanently as a testament to what you have done. You open yourself up to critique and relationship with a gigantic potential audience. My highest volume day is 47 unique people. My average is between 0 and 10. Anyone that I can help or reach through the blog is someone that I most likely would not have been able to otherwise. People have actually looked at this blog from as far away as Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Australia (look on the left side of this page for a map of this blog’s visitors). It sounds less impressive when I say that it is only 1 person from each of those countries, but these are still people who I would not otherwise have been able to communicate with otherwise; I feel honored when someone takes time out of his or her day to see what I think about something. It is both humbling and encouraging.

Why should you use a blog with your class?

Blogging with your class is a great way to increase communication, productivity, moral, and student accountability. I consider having a class blog as about halfway between not having a website and having a full blown course management system, such as Moodle or Blackboard (these let you supplement your existing physical class with an online course component).

There are a number of ways you can approach a class blog. A teacher this year decided to replace his journals with a class blog. He posts the questions or prompts weekly and has the students respond and reply to each other. The mere fact of having a potential audience of both peers and anyone on the Internet will often cause students to spend more time on their work and take greater pride in it. Having other students respond or politely offer constructive criticism can improve the sense of community in the classroom. Students need to realize that the lack of a physical presence does not imply lack of normal boundaries, but you just train students early and reinforce as needed. I have used discussion forums online and various online publishing tools with all of my classes and never had a major problem.

You can also allow the students to write some or all of the main entries that are published on the front page. This gives the students more creative control and shows the students that you have confidence in them, both in their ability and their judgment. I have seen this model work well, but it does take a lot of forethought about the policies that will govern the blog and the procedure that you use to get the students from idea to publishing. Do you assign ideas or give them liberty to do so? Do you have to approve the final draft before they publish or no? Can they change the blog’s settings, such as layout or theme, or is that your decision? There is no right and wrong to these questions; it is simply preference and what you believe would work best with your students.

How do I get started?

First, you should definitely go to http://google.com/reader. You will need a free Google account if you do not have one already. Google Reader is an online RSS reader. What is does is take all of the blogs that you read and puts them in one place. I read between 20-30 blogs on a daily basis. I probably needs to trim it down some because it gets out of hand quickly if I don’t keep up with them. When you find a site that you like, you just put the URL in where it says Add a Subcription. It will from then on take every post that the website publishes and brings it to your Google Reader for you to read. Here is a screenshot on the education blogs that I follow with my Google Reader (Yours don’t have to be alphabetized – I’m a librarian so I can’t help it).

reader

There are numerous free online applications that will let you have your own blog for free. This blog is based on WordPress, which is easy to use, powerful, and open-source. The following are some popular sites that let you run a free blog:

  • WordPress – This is both simple to use and powerful if you want more advanced features.

  • Edublogs – Edublogs is based on WordPress but designed for teachers so even the most restrictive school firewalls should let you have access.

  • Blogger – Blogger is Google’s blogging platform and you can start one without having to create another account if you already have a Google account.

What has your experience with blogs been? Please leave your story, questions, or concerns in the comments.

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