If you’re reading this, you know what a blog is. In simple terms, it’s an online journal or place where an author or group of authors can share information in a collaborative environment. similarly a vlog is an online video diary.
A blog is one of many applications reflecting the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. A blog ticks all the 2.0 boxes – it is participatory, collaborative and easily shared. Blogs put people in touch with each other, create communities (you’re part of one right now!), encourage conversations, enable knowledge sharing and promote creativity. They allow information/dialogue to be directed towards specific groups and communities.
Like many Web 2.0 applications, blogs are often established with niche communities in mind, they often concentrate on one narrow topic or present opinions from individuals with strong view points or specific interests. There are literally millions of blogs out there. In 2008, media research company AC Nielsen revealed that around 1.3milion New Zealanders had read a blog and 451,000 had created a blog.
Some blogs have large followings and the bloggers themselves become celebrities such as Cameron Slater of the Whale Oil blog who has sparked public debate on name suppression policies for well-known New Zealanders – particularly after he broke a suppression order via his blog.
Politics aside, in the education sector, blogs can enable us to action many of the core underlying values of the National Curriculum. Consider the document’s vision of our role in “creating confident, connected, actively involved life long learners”, of the principle fo encouraging students to reflect on their own learning, of community engagement and of creating links across learning areas. Yes a blog can do all these things, and more!
Whatever your subject area, I would suggest there is a place for a blog in your class. This could be approached in two ways. You might help students, or group of students, to set up a blog around a particular topic and then disable it once they have completed the relevant unit. Alternatively you might guide students to set up a blog as part of longer term goals of your teaching programme. Perhaps it has a place in developing their transactional writing, honing communication skills or creating a media product?
So how might you approach blog creation? Depending on your intention – is creating a blog the point or are you including a blog creation as one of several learning activities within a specific unit around a topic? If you are going down the open-ended path, you might need to brainstorm with students and give them some writing prompts to get started such as books they are reading, their interests, current affairs topics etc.
Anne Davis and Ewa McGrail in their article Joy of Blogging (Education Leadership, March 2009, Vol 66, no. 6) reported that writing and replying to comments was a favourite part of the process for their student bloggers. To encourage students to make thoughtful comments on posts, they supplied starters such as “I wonder….”, “Another thing to consider is…” or “I don’t understand….”. They also recommend recruiting readers from outside the school who are happy to comment on student posts. This might include other students or other teachers in your school or perhaps affiliated schools.
Students were also encouraged to create their own unique voice, to quote and link to other blogs and respond to readers’ comments. Through creating a blog students also learn about correct attribution of other people’s ideas (more on that in a future item!) which is sometimes a foreign concept to digital natives.
Other benefits for students via blog creation Davis and McGrail observed included:
- introducing students to new words, concepts and points of view
- providing links to further understanding
- providing opportunities for students to clarify/elaborate on their opinions
- helping students understand that grammar, punctuation, syntax, word choice and spelling weren’t just
“a teacher thing” – yes these are skills needed in real life!
- encouraging reflection
- allowing students to self-direct their learning
- enabling freewriting which enhances metacognitive ability
- making learning a creative, exploratory and joyful process
Of course with any online project, you will need to be familiar with your school’s Internet Safety Policy and make sure students understand those rules and their application to the blogging project. In particular Davis and McGrail suggest:
- Discussing Internet safety issues with students at the start of the project
- Advising students against including personal details through their blog
- Instructing students to minimise their screen and tell a teacher immediately if they receive anything that makes them uncomfortable
On reviewing these issues, it strikes me that before embarking on a blog creation project, it would also be advisable to inform parents/caregivers of the activity and give them the opportunity to discus any concerns with you. Once students leave your classroom and the school grounds, they will probably also want to log on at home and check posts and comments too. Your HOD might even insist that permission slips are needed to enable a student to participate fully in the activity…
So there’s a lot you could do but don’t be overwhelmed by the logistics! Because blogs aren’t new, there are several well-developed and tested formats available. This blog is created on WordPress and I can vouch for its ease of its use. Other options are typepad and blogger.com.
To wrap up, here’s a quick checklist of steps for incorporating a blog into a unit of work:
- Test drive some of the applications above, make sure you can do the basics
- Get a copy of your school’s Internet usage policy, make sure it permits this level of online interaction
- Decide if the blogs are part of a topic or an ongoing piece of work
- Clarify how you will assess students work
- Make sure you have access to computer labs and book them ahead of time
- Inform parents/caregivers of the project and discuss any of their concerns
- Introduce the project to students ensuring they understand: your school’s policy on internet safety, the basics of blog usage and correct etiquette for posting material/responding to posts
- Get blogging!