Think of the words we use when introducing a new assignment. Sometimes they can create counter-productive images in the minds of students. For example, imagine saying to a class of seventh-graders, "Today we are going to write a diary." For adolescent girls a diary may be pink in color guarded by a heart-shaped lock and containing the secrets of school ground crushes. But chances are most of the boys will be turned off as soon as they hear the word diary. Yet imagine the teacher saying "Today we are going to write a journal." Now the word journal carries with it the notion of Lewis and Clark and of other brave explorers keeping a leather-bound record of their discoveries and adventures. It sounds more acceptable – rugged, no-nonsense, and even important.
Try saying "Today we start blogging." It's sure to be an attention-grabber, even if some are not quite sure what it means. This term from cyberspace carries an air of mystery sprinkled with a dash of high tech. Blog is a shorthand term for a Web log or Internet journal. The term log is associated in many minds with the way the Star Trek characters record their adventures in the computer of the Enterprise. A blog is high tech and futuristic and may get students interested in writing. Blogs may also help teachers share ideas about their interests in education.
What are Blogs?
Blogs are Internet-based journals. These journals are different from traditional journals in several ways. First, blogs are public. Others are invited to look at the blogger's thoughts and opinions on a regular basis. A teacher may discuss the planning and execution of a particular lesson on her blog. She records the steps involved and the choices of materials and strategies on a regular basis. Readers of the blog may follow the development of the lesson as it takes place. The readers will wait with some suspense to see if the lesson was a success.
Blogs are hyperactive. This means that blogs can link to other Web sites. If a blogger has read an article on the Internet that he thinks others should read, the blogger can make a comment on the article and link readers directly to it. This allows the blogger and readers to have access to the same materials on the Internet and enter into a discussion about them.
Blogs are interactive. As the lesson plan is being developed readers are also allowed to make comments. The teacher/blogger may post a decision to introduce material using a small group activity. The readers now switch roles and become participants. They can post comments offering support or suggesting alternative ways to handle the same material. Bloggers place their ideas out in public for the world to see and react to.
Because blogs are like diaries or journals they are organized according to time. The most recent postings are at the top of the page. Often postings refer to an earlier discussion that may be found by scrolling down or following a link to an archive. Adding a new posting to a blog is easily accomplished with the use of specialized software programs for maintaining blogs. Blogs often list links to other blogs. If you like a particular blog you might be interested in following the links which that blogger finds helpful.
Blogs are not just about education. There are blogs on so many subjects that it is almost impossible to keep up with them. Globe of Blogs is one Web site dedicated to keeping track of the many different blogs available. Here you can sort blogs by geographic area or by subject matter, and you can also search by topic by location, or for blogs with recent postings.
If you have never seen a blog before, or if you wish to see one heavy in political commentary, InstaPundit.com is a good place to begin. Glenn Reynolds, a law professor, updates his blog several times a day with insights about the law and politics. Since this is one of the most popular blogs on the Internet there are no comments. Another popular blogger dealing with political issues is AndrewSullivan.com: The Daily Dish.
To see sites with active comments visit: Little green footballs, a pro-Israel blog with discussion regarding issues in the Mid-East
Critical Mass is related to educational issues, but scroll way down to get to the archived items
The Volokh Conspiracy illustrates how several people can post to a single blog to sustain a discussion.
Blogs and Education
There are many blogs that deal with topics in education. The examples here are not meant to be exhaustive. They are illustrative of the types of activities taking place in the blogosphere (the wider community of blogs):
joannejacobs.com gives a general overview of educational issues. Clicking on the Comments tag at the end of each article will allow you to read the comments of others as well as giving the opportunity to post a comment of your own.
Number 2 Pencil is interested in issues related to testing.
Blogs and Education, part of Jim Flower's Radio Weblog, has a section devoted to education.
Suzanne Pitz's EduBlog, offered from Georgia State University, emphasizes instructional technology and the classroom.
Specific subjects have blogs for teachers interested in developing a dialog with others in their fields. Since the number of bloggers is growing everyday it might be of benefit to use a search engine such as Google to find additional blogs. Enter the term "blog," the Boolean operator AND, plus the desired subject matter, such as "social studies" to get a list of blogs related with social studies. You can search for blogs related to your own subject matter and interests or you can simply browse. The blogs listed here are meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive.
Science Blog gives a quick summary of news items with a connection to science. The summaries link to whole articles and comments are possible.
Setting Up Your Own Blog
While a blog can be maintained using HTML code in a standard Web page it is much easier to use specialized software to post entries to your blog. This software is often easy to operate. This means that teachers and students can put mental energy into their entries instead of manipulating the software. Moveable Type is available for free to non-commercial bloggers.
One of the jokes about Internet use is "On the Internet no one knows that you are a dog." There are no restrictions for the use of free sites on the Internet. Students are not asked to provide proof of age. This means that students can start blogging at any age. Xanga offers free sites allowing students to set up their own blogs. The Xanga sites have some limitations that some bloggers might consider as too restrictive to their blogs. On the other hand, teachers might want to carefully inspect this site for inappropriate content before sending students there.
Why a class blog? Well, return in your imagination to parent-teacher nights before cyberspace. Teachers took care to ensure that every child had some example of work posted on the classroom walls. Since blogs allow the use of .jpeg files, teachers can have a daily classroom bulletin board with samples of art or writing from students. Parents can access the blog from home or work to see what their student might be doing. Teachers can use the blog to inform the class about scheduled activities or exercises for the week.
Blogs offer resources to teachers. Teachers have the opportunity to exchange information and ideas through immediate interaction. Websites that we discover to be powerful may be shared with others who, in turn, share their own insights and discoveries with us.
Blogs offer an opportunity for student writing. One key to writing is to write a lot. Students may be encouraged to post to their blogs on a daily basis. As they read what others write they can comment about what they read. Hyperlinks can direct readers to topics of interest.
A Low Tech Approach
Some schools and students may not have the sort of access to the Internet to make on-line blogging a practical reality. Teachers may want to investigate low-tech options that would simulate the blogging experience. These exercises might also act as suitable activities to introduce the concept of blogging before going on-line.
Students could be assigned a space on a bulletin board or notebook to post messages on an assigned topic of interest. Other students would be allowed to comment on strips of paper attached to the side of the original posting. These comment strips could be folded accordion style to keep them in place. Imagine a bulletin board devoted to the topic of "Was the book better than the movie?" Students would be assigned to write a reaction to books that have been made into movies. The teacher could group the essays together according to title: Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. Students could read each others' opinions and react. If this activity was moved into the blogoshpere then students could be interacting with other students who might be geographically dispersed but with an interest in the same movie.
After reading this article you should be able to start participating in the world of blogs. You can begin by reading blogs about education, politics, or someone's pet. The next step you can take is to create a blog of your own. Let others know that you are blogging and that they can read your ideas on a regular basis. Don't be afraid to borrow an idea from another blog. As long as you give credit to the origin of an idea this sort of sharing is one of things that makes reading blogs an adventure. The final step is to create a class activity where students read blogs and then create their own.
Email: Mike Stach