Blogs Are Not the Enemy

from Technology & Learning

How blogs enhance learning. Voices from

There is a problem with blogs in the classroom—a problem that has many educators looking at blogging and not understanding why one would want to blog, how it benefits students, or how it engages them in the learning process.

The word blog is short for "Web log." If we look at blogs as nothing more than electronic journals—replacing written journals—than I can understand why educators do not "get" how blogs work. Blogs as journals do not engage students any more in the learning process than a regular journal would. A journal is simple; a student writes, the teacher reads. An online journal is much the same. The students write in their blogs, and the teacher and the world reads them.

Blogs do not make the grading of journals any easier. In fact, many teachers find it more time-consuming. Slow Internet speed, the constant clicking from one blog to the next, or the typing of URL after URL...reading blogs can be tedious.

Further, we cannot protect our students from "bad people." Anyone could stumble upon their blogs. We do not know these people; we do not know where they are from, or what they do.

The problem with blogs: We do not understand them.

Extending the Conversation

Anyone who has a blog knows that education has it all wrong. If you are not a blogger, or are still trying to wrap your head around this new mode of communication in education. Let me see if I can help.

Blogs are not about writing, they are about a conversation. I have seen teachers give students a class assignment on their blog to write answers to questions or their thoughts on an issue, yet those thoughts, those conversations, are not brought back into the classroom to enhance the exchance of information and debate within. Sure, it is great to read how students respond to a question, but if you do not bring the conversation back into the classroom, they are no different from assignments written on paper and handed in to the teacher for a grade.

The power of blogging comes from the conversation threads that can be carried on within them. Few teachers, though, give their students time to read, reflect, or to leave comments during class—or even as homework on other's blogs. Yet those comments, either made by classmates or by others, can deepen learning and understanding.

When blogs are viewed as vehicles for dialogue, they bring a completely new meaning to the term blogging. They are no longer journal assignments; they are thoughtful discussions that extend well after a lesson ends.

If you are blogging with your students, or thinking of blogging with your students, I encourage you to not think of blogs as writing assignments, but instead as conversations that invite feedback from a variety of quarters on any topic. Blogging brings a new dimension to the classroom. You cannot blog and not change the structure of your classroom.

As educators, we are not accustomed to discussions extending past 3 o'clock, when the school bell rings. We are not used to having conversations that include more than the 30 students in our class, or ones that can affect student peers in a different hemisphere.

So really, there isn't a problem with blogs. The problem lies in how we utilize the power of the conversations that they create to engage students in the learning process.

Beyond the Classroom Walls

When we blog, whether in or out of school, communication encourages debate in many venues. It might happen at a staff meeting, in the classroom, or even over dinner. Once you start to blog and that information/thought/conversation becomes public, it begins to take on a life of its own, moving in multiple directions, thus creating a ripple effect of continual learning.

The bottom line is that blogs have the power to drive inclusive dialogue that goes beyond physical boundaries, national boundaries, and boundaries of status. In so doing, they make learning "real life."

The Importance of Comments

A compliment is nice, but it does not move a conversation forward. A comment extends a conversation. In each new class that I start blogging with, we spend one whole period talking about the difference between a compliment and a comment. I make my students read Vicki Davis's "How to Comment like a King (or Queen!)" (see sidebar below). We discuss the meaning of a comment, and whenever there is a good one left by someone, we talk about it in the classroom.

The problem is we are trying to fit a conversation into a space that was never designed to hold such conversations. Diane Quirk says it best in her comment last week.

To paraphrase Diane's comment, just a bit:
We are still trying to fit 21st-century conversations into 20th-century instruction without changing our pedagogy or recognizing the fact that the audience makes the difference. And that, my friends, is the problem with blogs. Thanks for the conversation!

Jeff Utecht is a K-12 technology specialist based in Shanghai, China. You can read (and comment on) his blog, The Thinking Stick, at

How to Comment Like a King—or Queen

By Vicki Davis

The following entry on techniques for effective blog commenting was excerpted from

1. Write a meaningful comment.

"Yeah" or "Right on" may make the author feel good, but of more interest to conversation participants is, "Why do you think it is right on?" If you don't care, don't comment. But if something resonates with you, and you have something to share, do it!

Sometimes authors (like me) feel like they are only posting to themselves. You can actually influence those you admire with a meaningful comment—blog writers change their opinions all the time. You can also reinforce opinions you agree with when you have real-world examples.

I think commenting is one of the most meaningful tools we have to show experts where they need to focus. It is like having a vote: When you comment, you are saying, "This is important."

You'd better believe that when a blogger receives an incredible number of comments on a post, he or she is going to be writing more about that topic. If you want more from them, tell them. In so doing, you draw attention to your own blog.

Remember this: Most bloggers read the blogs of those who comment on their posts. I want to know more about the person. I want to see who they are, what motivates them, and what they are writing.

But, although the bloggers and other readers will read your work, that is not why you comment. You comment because it is part of joining the conversation—the right thing to do when you care about a topic.

2. If you have written about it, hyperlink to your post.

I have posted several comments on Kathy Sierra's amazing blog Creating Passionate Users. She has a box on the right of her blog that shows recent comments.

[Editor's note: Sierra received much media attention recently for being targeted by bloggers leaving hateful comments on her site—some even made death threats toward her on their own blogs. Her case has led to renewed interest in creating a set of codes for proper blog behavior, itself a controversial idea.]

Each time I've worked to make a meaningful post on Kathy's blog, I've received hundreds of people following the trail back to my blogs. I would like to think that my comments have hit on a vein in the readers of those comments, and they'd like to know more about me.

But remember the motivation—I don't comment on Kathy's blog because I want traffic. I comment because I have something meaningful to add to the conversation, and I care about the topic. (Sploggers, a.k.a. spam bloggers, comment to get traffic to their blog. Bloggers comment to converse.)

To hyperlink, many times, you have to type in the hyperlink by hand. Read my post explaining how to do this in detail.

3. If you have a blog, share some information about yourself.

When you post anonymously, you lose so much potential benefit for your blog and for the conversation you care about.

So much of my traffic comes from commenting, it's amazing. You will totally miss out on it if you do not set up profiles.

4. Use a comment tracking service.

This is for more advanced bloggers who really want to harness the power of the conversation, as well as to keep copies of comments they've made.

Have you ever made a comment and checked for days to see if the author or someone else replied? I can go to my coComment site and see all of the places where I've commented and read recent comments to those posts.

I can also create tags for each comment and coComment creates a "tag cloud" (a paragraph of words with the larger words being more frequent in my comments, for example), which makes it easy for me to go back to my comments on a certain topic.

5. Don't be afraid to comment.

It is common for a beginner to think, "Well, I won't comment until I know more." You have an important perspective (see my post, "The Power of a Newbie") that should be shared.

Beginners who comment will receive the feedback that will keep them blogging, push them to excellence, and will maybe even make them one of the Technorati Top 100 bloggers of tomorrow. I honestly believe that there is someone reading this post who will far surpass me and will do amazing things, but it all starts with a comment.

6. Teach commenting.

Children have a need to converse and will improve their performance when people comment on their work.

7. Remember the power of words.

Each of us, as an educator, has the power to build up or the power to tear down. Oh, the harm we can cause in our classrooms by a misplaced word.

I believe that there are people who are so abrasive and unhappy with themselves that they retreat to the Internet to wreck havoc on unsuspecting souls.

I say this to warn newbies of the villain you will soon meet if you are a prolific blogger: "Darth Commenter." (I'll call him DC for short.)

My first encounter with DC was really an eye-opening soul-searching one.

When you meet DC, you will be forced to ask yourself a central question: "Why am I blogging?" Ultimately, it is the blogger who decides if they will indeed remain a blogger. We have the ability to leave the blogosphere as quickly as we entered it, and many do.

As you meet DC, you will emerge with your own calling. Without a calling, it is difficult to keep up with the blog and it just becomes a nuisance.

Darth Commenter is out there and his goal is to steal your enthusiasm for blogging with his light saber of unkindness. Do not feel compelled for some "noble" reason to post his comment. Delete Darth and never look back.

8. Criticize Kindly.

While I delete almost all abusive comments and every single comment with profanity, I do allow people to disagree with me on my own blog. It is important that we model for children the right way to disagree on a topic and to show that we can do it while remaining civil and not attacking the other's right to their opinion.

Here are my guidelines before countering a blogger's perspective:

  1. Will it make a difference? Is this a blog that encourages meaningful debate?
  2. Is my perspective already shared in the comments?
    If so, you can echo the comments of others. If not, I feel that I must post if it is a topic of meaning.
  3. Start by genuinely complimenting the blogger in some way and point out where you do agree.
  4. Point out each area of disagreement and why in a brief, non-rantish, professional manner.
  5. NEVER: Be sarcastic, rant prolifically, curse, or personally attack a person. Commenting is part of this global conversation. People who make meaningful comments understand that the Internet is about discussing our common concerns and coming up with solutions in a more expeditious and helpful manner that does not exclude anyone.

Some people are afraid of commenting because they don't want to give away their secrets.

Well, guess what? If you died today and didn't share "your secret," it will die with you. And you will miss the chance to leave behind something far more important—a legacy.

Blogging, if you truly inhale its essence, will give you a calling, renewal, and purpose as you've never seen before.

Vicki Davis runs the Cool Cat Teacher blog. Visit it at