Think blogs are a passing fad? Then consider this: A new blog is created every second. There are more than 900,000 blog posts a day. Some two million blogs are updated every week. At this point, I think it's safe to say that blogs are here to stay. As any journalist, politician, or business executive will tell you, a world inhabited by content-producing ordinary people—also known as bloggers—means big changes. That's soon to be true for educators, as well.
Web log software lets users create and publish content online without knowing HTML or a server language. Most Web logs are primarily textual, but there are also audio blogs, video blogs, and photo blogs.
At my school, Web logs are used as collaborative spaces where students, teachers, and guests can build content together. For instance, my students read Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, then used a blog to build an online readers' guide where Kidd posted answers to questions. A journalism student used her blog to chronicle her reporting and writing of a magazine article with the help of feedback from a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Students in our Holocaust class use blogs to communicate with students from Krakow, Poland, as they study the event together. In each case, students create meaningful content for audiences wider than just a teacher and a small group of peers. In the process, they learn to negotiate meaning and knowledge in real and relevant ways, preparing them for the connected world they will find once they graduate.
These days, however, school use of blogs generates more concern than content. Stories about teens using sites like Myspace.com and Xanga.com to share provocative pictures have prompted districts to block access to blog sites. Law enforcement officials say adolescent blogs can have "a catastrophic effect" because they might give predators access to personal information about teens. Blogs have officially entered an ungainly adolescence of their own, and it's not pretty.
That's not to minimize the safety issues surrounding the publication of personal information to the Web. But we can keep our students protected with thoughtful teaching and clear policy. After all, thousands of children are already using school-sanctioned blogs in safe ways. Many students who use blogs inappropriately simply don't have good role models, in part because educators have failed to grasp the significance of blogs as learning tools.
I've learned more in my four-plus years as a blogger than I have in all my years of formal education. I've shared hundreds of conversations with dozens of educators, parents, and others, both on my site and on theirs. One of these conversations about blogging involved more than 25 posts and eight people and still stands out as one of the most thought-provoking discussions I've had, online or off.
Blogs are one of many new disruptive technologies that are transforming the world. They are creating a richer, more dynamic, more interactive Web where participation is the rule rather than the exception. Like it or not, our classrooms and schools are about to be enveloped by these changes as well.
You can find Will Richardson's blog at www.weblogg-ed.com.