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Go Ahead and Blog; the Experts Would Approve

from Educators' eZine --> Introduction Blogging—How will I ever master this technology when I do not even know what the word means? The initial fear and anxiety that I experienced when I was first exposed to the
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from Educators' eZine

Introduction

Blogging—How will I ever master this technology when I do not even know what the word means? The initial fear and anxiety that I experienced when I was first exposed to the possibility of learning new and advanced digital technologies left me almost paralyzed. I searched the Internet and readings for a technology that I felt I could handle in a short period of time. I began to download numerous programs and applications and found that I was experiencing excitement, rather than fear, at the possibility of utilizing these new methods of communication and innovation. As Steve Ballmer (CEO of Microsoft) once said, "The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn't think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential." As I began to explore blogging I realized the potential this technology would possess in relation to my ability to communicate information to my clientele. And research justifies blogging as a professional tool.

Ease of Access

People who are new to a particular digital technology need to feel that the technology can be implemented without having to be a computer programmer or technician. Richardson (2004) notes that RSS (Real Simple Syndication) and weblogs are providing opportunities for teachers and students to develop and design their own web technology rather than just participating in the Internet as a passive reader. He notes that technology is allowing for easier access and implementation for those who may not have had many years experience with computers or the Internet. Bryant (2003) also identifies that individual users are not necessarily looking for "bigger and more feature-rich separate systems but users are wanting to interact, learn, share and communicate better, faster and easier." (Bryant, 2003, p.3).

I have to agree with both of these authors. I found that Blogger provided a free service to host an individual's blog and a very easy introduction to set up an account and access the service.


Figure 1 - Starting a Blog with Blogger

I initially needed to immerse myself in the technology and become an active participant in my own learning. Working on a project that was relevant to my own situation facilitated my learning as I explored the many areas within Blogger that allowed me to achieve creative and aesthetically pleasing results with my blog. I think learning in context and being an active participant in my own learning contributed to my willingness to explore and gain insight into a new technology that can benefit both me and my clients.


A framework that encourages learning and the acquisition of new skills using technology has been provided by Driscoll (2002).

Communication and Collaboration Hub

Bryant (2003) observes that blogs have been firmly established as a web based communication tool and have emerged from email lists and instant messaging systems. Blogs have been adapted to have the ability to access an "unknown mass" of users and people who are ready and willing to interact with the author of the blog (Williams & Jacobs, 2004). The purpose for creating a blog in my situation was to provide my clientele with information that will supplement a seminar that they had attended on proactive teaching strategies and challenging behaviour. Blogging provides the participants the opportunity to add comments to the written posts and to engage in conversations following the seminar.

I was having difficulties with how I was going to keep engaging teachers after the seminars had finished. I contemplated newsletters but found that they would be very time consuming and would require a certain amount of time on my part to develop and send. It would not allow for continued dialogue amongst the participants. But a blog would. Duffy and Cunningham (cited by Driscoll, 2002) state that learners have the potential to solve complex problems using "real world contexts" through the utilization of technology. The blog allows me to add new information through the posting tool and permit the teachers to discuss their strategies, or, if they felt the need, they can engage in discussions on how they were coping with their class and students. Williams & Jacobs (2004) observed that this type of interaction between colleagues or professionals who are engaged in similar experiences can be a "cathartic experience" with the publication of one's own thoughts.

The opportunity for collegial collaboration is also a function of this software that I found useful. Blogs have the ability to create learning communities and networks that can positively benefit the members. Ferdig & Trammell (2004, p.2) have stated that blogs have the "potential to promote interactivity, provide opportunities for active learning, increase student and teacher relationships, increase higher-order thinking skills and improve flexibility in teaching and learning." The comment and editing tool allows the creator to edit posts and to monitor and respond to comments that are given by a member of the blog.

Bryant (2003) has also noted that it is important to make sure to remove obstacles and friction for people so that individuals are able to contribute without anxiety or fear. I found the "comment" link at the bottom of the blog is easily accessible for an individual to leave their replies. The comment feature is easy to use and encourages debate and discussion between the creator and participant.


Figure 2 - Posting a Comment

The comments section is advantageous as it provides information from other members of the community, which allows for increased circulation of ideas and innovative strategies. This is beneficial in working with challenging children because teachers can discuss strategies that they have used. The members can generate numerous strategies and utilize them in a variety of teaching circumstances.

Williams & Jacobs (2004, p. 2) makes reference to the power of blogs for the "creation of legitimate warehousing of captured knowledge and archiving for later retrieval" They also note that blogs can operate as a knowledge-management tool that has the ability to add value to information which may affect an individual's understanding of the information thus creating knowledge from information (Williams & Jacobs, 2004). To take this concept one step further Bellinger et al (2004, p. 2) elaborates Russell Ackoff's definition of knowledge management incorporating understanding as the step where humans "take previously held knowledge and synthesize new knowledge" which can lead to undertaking better understanding and undertaking "useful action". This can be very powerful for the seminar participants as the seminars continue to develop and grow so will the information that I can provide through the blog.

Participants can keep accessing information long after the seminar through the archiving function and continually apply information and knowledge to help understand their current situations and guide their teaching practice.

Hyperlinks to Investigate Information

Another feature that is useful is the ability to access quickly and easily other web resources through the blog. Blood (as cited by Ferdig & Trammell 2004) remarks that the hyperlink tool allows the creator and members to reach out to more information on a particular topic and may serve as supporting documentation to claims or commentary made by the blog creator. The reader can also determine whether or not the creator of the blog has belief systems similar to that of the reader, which may influence continued subscription to the blog (Ferdig & Trammell, 2004). Williams & Jacobs (2004) have also discussed the fact that links can provide up to date information and continued research on a particular topic which encourages higher level thinking and increased interaction around the topic.

I have used links to provide access to websites that contain excellent information and resources for teachers on a variety of topics, including autism, ADHD and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. The sites also encourage teachers to explore assessments, and planning documents that help promote positive learning environments within their schools. These links save them time trying to research the sites themselves.


Figure 3 - Addition of Page Element to Aid in Blog Ethics

The inclusion of videos, through the Page Element Section of Blogger, allows for discussions, which assists with the formulation of new and innovative ideas for the promotion of positive learning environments within schools in relation to challenging children. The addition of You Tube is done.

Rich Site Summary or Real Simple Syndication is another "tool" that is typically built in to most blogging software (Richardson, 2004). This allows participants to subscribe to a "feed" which allows readers to stay abreast of updates (Richardson, 2004). This would help readers subscribe to a site of interest and if new content is added they can access the information without having to check all the sites to which they had subscribed.

The process to implement the blog was extremely easy but I have encountered a few unexpected upsets. I had to be patient in some circumstances and learn to accept that technology had certain flaws that may not be easily repaired. However the frustration that I experienced did not hinder my enthusiasm to continue to learn more about blogging.

Technology Issues

One unexpected issue is the lack of comments from participants and trying to inform past participants that the blog exists. Downes (2006) has raised the issue that the community of blogging will only work if people are prepared to share their experiences and to talk about what they are doing. Other technical difficulties that have caused some frustration are: the videos from You Tube will not play and Education Queensland has filtered the site for some of the participants which make it difficult for them to access the information.

Conclusion

Blogging technology allows people to become active participants in the Web and create interesting and functional sites rather than passively engaging in other people's information. Participants can begin to investigate information that pertains to their situations which may then lead to an increase in participant understanding. Increased understanding can create individuals who may implement progressive teaching practices within their schools.

Teachers experiencing complex difficulties within their classrooms can utilize this tool to increase flexibility and create solutions. The software provides a network for teachers to express to others the challenges of their profession and to discuss and develop original strategies that may positively influence the outcomes in relation to their challenging children or classrooms. Discussing experiences may provide a professional outlet that encourages growth and meaningful interactions among teachers.

I found that the learning process for acquiring new skills when working with this particular digital technology required me to immerse myself in a project that was relevant to my own context and situation. Barriers and obstacles to begin the blogging process were removed as Blogger was very easy to access. I felt that I could engage and develop my skills without worrying if I would be successful with this technology when I initially started my exploration. Acquisition of new skills in my case definitely required that the learning occurred in context, was active and solved a current and existing problem.

REFERENCES

Ballmer, Steve. (n.d.). Woopidoo Quotations - Business Quotations. Retrieved August 28, 2007, from Woopidoo Quotations - Technology Quotations

Bellinger, G., Durval, C., & Mills, A. (2004). Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom. Retrieved August 31, 2007, from Systems Thinking

Bryant, L. (2003). Head Shift: Smarter, Simpler Social. Retrieved August 28, 2007, from Head Shift

Downes, S. (2006, October 2). Should all learning professionals be blogging? Retrieved August 27, 2007, from Stephen's Web

Driscoll, M. (2002). How People Learn (and What Technology Might Have To Do with It). Retrieved September 1, 2007, from Eric Digest

Ferdig, R. E., & Trammell, K. D. (2004, Feburary). Content Delivery in the 'Blogosphere'. Retrieved August 27, 2007, from The Journal

Oravec, J. (2002). Bookmarking the world: Weblog applications in education. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy , 45 (7), 616-621.

Richardson, W. (2004, Jan/Feb). Blogging and RSS - The "What's It? and "How To" of Powerful New Web Tools for Educators. Retrieved August 25, 2007, from Info Today

Williams, J. B., & Jacobs, J. (2004). Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology , 20 (2), 1-13.

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