Blogs in Education
Originally posted on Half an Hour, April 13, 2009.
Submission for a forthcoming STRIDE handbook for The Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). See related handbooks here.
What is a Blog?
A blog is a personal website that contains content organized like a journal or a diary. Each entry is dated, and the entries are displayed on the web page in reverse chronological order, so that the most recent entry is posted at the top. Readers catch up with blogs by starting at the top and reading down until they encounter material they’re already read.
Though blogs are typically thought of as personal journals, there is no limit to what may be covered in a blog. It is common for people to write blogs to describe their work, their hobbies, their pets, social and political issues, or news and current events. And while blogs are typically the work of one individual, blogs combining contributions of several people, ‘group blogs’, are also popular.
While the earliest blogs were created by hand, blogging becam widely popular with the advent of blog authoring tools. Among the earliest of these were Userland and LiveJournal. Today, most bloggers use either Google’s popular Blogger service or WordPress. These services allow users to create new blogs and blog posts by means of simple online forms; the writer does not need to know any programming or formatting. As a result, blog aggregation services such as Technorati have reported that tens of millions of blogs have been created.
Blogs are connected to each other to form what is commonly known as the ‘blogosphere’. The most common form of connection is form blogs to link to each to each other. Blog authors may also post a list of blogs they frequently read; this list is known as a ‘blogroll’. Blogs may also be read through special readers, known as ‘RSS readers’, which aggregate blog summaries produced by blog software. Readers use RSS readers to ‘subscribe’ to a blog. Popular web-based RSS readers include Google Reader and Bloglines.
While blogs once dominated the personal publishing landscape, they now form one part in a much more diverse landscape. Many people who formerly write blogs are using social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook. Others use ‘microblogging’ services such as Twitter. And blogs, which began as text-based services, have branched into audio blogs (also known as ‘podcasts’) and video blogs (‘vlogs’). Authors typically upload a wide range of multimedia content such as art to sites like Deviantart, videos to hosting services such as YouTube, slide shows and PDFs to SlideShare and photos to sites like Flickr.
Why Use Blogs In Education
Blogs are widely popular in education, as evidenced by the 400 thousand educational blogs hosted by edublogs. Teachers have been using them to support teaching and learning since 2005. Through years of practice, a common understanding has formed around the benefits of the use of blogs in education.
Because blogs are connected, they can foster the development of a learning community. Authors can share opinions with each other and support each other with commentary and answers to questions. For example, the University of Calgary uses blogs to create learning communities.
Additionally, blogs give students ownership over their own learning and an authentic voice, allowing them to articulate their needs and inform their own learning. Blogs have been shown to contribute to identity-formation in students. (Bortree, D.S., 2005).
Further, blogging gives students a genuine and potentially worldwide audience for their work. Having such an audience can result in feedback and and greatly increase student motivation to do their best work. Students also have each other as their potential audience, enabling each of them to take on a leadership role at different times through the course of their learning.
Moreover, blogging helps students see their work in different subjects as interconnected and helps them organize their own learning. Working with the teacher and informed by blogs authored by experts in the field, students can conduct a collective enquiry into a particular topic or subject matter creating their own interpretation of the material.
Blogs teach a variety of skills in addition to the particular subject under discussion. Regular blogging fosters the development of writing and research skills. Blogging also supports digital literacy as the student learns to critically assess and evaluate various online resources.
How To Use Blogging In Learning
Begin simply. Most uses of blogs in the classroom began with the instructor using blogs to post class information such as lists of readings and assignment deadlines. This fosters in the teacher a familiarity with the technology and with students a habit of regularly checking the online resource.
Lead by example. Before requiring students to blog, instructors should lead by example, creating their own blogs and adding links to interesting resources and commentary on class topics. This not only produces a useful source of supplemental information for students, it creates a pattern and sets expectations for when students begin their own blogging.
Read. Students should begin their entry into blogging by reading other blogs. Teachers should use this practice not only to demonstrate how other people use blogs to support learning but also to foster critical thinking and reading skills. Teaching how to respond to blog posts is as important as creating blog posts.
Create a context. Like the author facing a blank sheet of paper, a blogger will be perplexed unless given something specific to write about. Have students blog about a current issue, about a specific peice of writing, or some question that comes up in the course.
Encourage interaction. Blogging should not be a solo activity. Encourage bloggers to read each other’s works and to comment on them. Encouraging students to set up an RSS reader with each other’s blogs will make reading and commenting a lot easier. Teachers, also, should subscribe to student blogs and offer comments, again setting an example of the expected practice.
Respect ownership. A student blog becomes important because it is a manifestation of his or her own work. However, to have this value, a student’s ownership of a blog must be genuine. While reasonable limits or codes of practice need to be respected, student bloggers should have the widest latitude possible for personal expression and opinion.
Address issues immediately. The most significant danger to students online is posed by other students. In particular, bullying (or ragging) is a significant problem. It is important to spot instances of bullying as soon as they occur and to take steps to prevent further incidents. Teachers should educate themselves as online bullying can be invisible and hard to address.
Bortree, D.S. (2005). Presentation of self on the Web: an ethnographic study of teenage girls’ weblogs. Education, Communication & Information, 5(1), 25-39 [Paywall - http://taylorandfrancis.metapress.com/(2cddl0eerkzfyf45pssrryqw)/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,3,8;journal,3,13;linkingpublicationresults,1:107512,1 ]
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