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THE USE OF BLOGS IN EDUCATION



What is a blog?

As defined by wikipedia, "a blog (an abridgment of the term web log) is a website, usually maintained by an individual, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse chronological order. "Blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog."

In his book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, Will Richardson defines a blog as "...an easily created, easily updateable Website that allows the author (or authors) to publish instantly to the Internet from any Internet connection."


What makes a blog unique?

A blog is constantly changing. Where a typical website can be static, a blog undergoes constant evolution. When students post to blog, they are just getting started. Other users can comment on, reflect on and ask questions about what was posted. The author is challenged to further think about what was written and develop his or her ideas. Too many times student are asked to complete and assignment that ends with the paper they turn in. Students should be challenged to reconsider ideas they might not have previously thought of.

Blogs have the ability to connect people even when separated geographically. Students can have conversations with individuals in different time zones and even different countries. Blogs can also connect students with experts in the field they are interested in - authors, scientists, doctors, mathematicians, engineers, etc.


Blogs also link to other information. A reader may be searching for information on a particular topic and in a blog they will find not only a written entry but often pictures, video, podcast, links to other sites or research and links to other blogs.



Brief History of Blogging

Edited from NPR article on the History of the Web Log.

1994: Claudio Pinhanezof MIT publishes his "Open Diary," a Web page documenting goings-on in his life. At the same time, online diarist Justin Hall would gain notoriety for creating a "personal homepage" on the Web covering his day-to-day activities in very revealing — and occasionally embarrassing — detail.
1995: Vermeer Technologies releases FrontPage, one of the first Web publishing tools, allowing people without coding skills to publish Web sites.
1996: Thousands of people use the Internet to collect photographs of people whose lives were affected by the Internet as part of a project known as 24 Hours in Cyberspace, an early experiment in collaborative photo blogging.
December 1997: Jorn Barger starts a daily log of interesting Web links published in reverse chronological order, calling it Robot Wisdom WebLog. The term "Weblog" is soon generalized by other online publishers to include any page with frequent short posts in reverse chronological order.
1998: Open Diary becomes one of the first online tools to assist users in the publishing of online journals. It would later be followed by other journaling tools, including LiveJournal(1999), DiaryLand (1999), Pitas(1999), Blogger(1999), Xanga(2000), Movable Type (2001) and Wordpress(2003).
Spring 1999: Online journal author Peter Merholz takes Jorn Barger's word "weblog" and splits it into the phrase "We blog." Blog soon becomes shorthand for weblog.
1999: The development of RSS, or Really Simple Syndication. RSS makes it easier for people to subscribe to blog posts, as well as distribute them to other sites across the Internet, using tools such as the early news aggregator, Dave Winer's Radio UserLand.
2001: Big-name bloggers begin to emerge, including Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds, aka Instapundit.
2002: The launch of Technorati, one of the first blog search engines, making it possible for people to track blog conversations on a continuous basis.
2004: Videographer Steve Garfield launches his video blog and declares 2004 "The Year of the Video Blog," more than a year before the birth of YouTube.
February 2004: The launch of Flickr, a photo-sharing community that helps popularize photo blogging.
2006: The launch of Twitter, one of the first "micro-blogging" communities that allows user to publish and receive short posts via the Web, text messaging and instant messaging.
2006: Research report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project estimates that 12 million U.S. adults publish their own blogs.




Have blogs replaced or enhanced something else used for teaching and learning?

Blogs have enhanced the process of journal writing. Richardson says, "Blogs demand interaction." Before the internet, students could hand write their thoughts and reflections into a notebook. A student may reread their entries at a later date but it is reasonable to assume many would write their entries and then not give them much more thought. When using a blog, students may still record their feelings and reactions however where a blog is very different from a journal, readers of a blog will comment on and question the author's entry. The author can then engage in a dialog about what they had initially written about. "Blogging is a genre that engages students and adults in a process of thinking in words. not simply an accounting of the days events or feelings." (Richardson 2006)


Educational Blogs




Concerns: Internet Safety and Security

One of the biggest concerns for parents and teachers in the safety of students when using blogs. Because students are free to share the feelings and opinions in as much detail as they choose, a teacher may wish to monitor posts before they are posted to the internet for public view. An article from Get Safe Onlinediscusses the risks of blogging and lists precautions that should be taken including:


  • Understand how blogs work before beginning
  • Don't post any confidential information
  • Don't post anything that may be embarrassing to you later
  • Restrict anonymous comments
  • Take extra precautions when allowing younger children to blog

How can blogs be used in classrooms?




In Will Richardson's book he gives an extensive list of ways to use blogs in the classroom. The following is a partial list:


  • Reflective, journal-type blogs for teachers
    • Reflect on teaching experiences
    • Keep a log of teacher training experience
    • Write a description of a specific teaching unit
    • Describe what has worked in your classroom and what hasn't
    • Share ideas for teaching activities
    • Provide how-to's for using specific technology in the classroom
    • Explain teaching and learning issues
  • Class blog
    • post class related information (calendars, events, homework, etc.)
    • Post assignments and have students respond on their own blogs, creating an online portfolio
    • Communicate with parents
    • Post prompts for writing
    • Provide examples of classwork or activities
    • Provide online readings for students to read and react to
    • Gather and organize internet resources specific to your course
    • Invite students to comment or post
    • Showcase student art, poetry and creative stories
    • Create an online book club
    • Build a class newsletter
    • Link your class with another somewhere else in the world
  • Student created blogs
    • Learn how to blog
    • Complete class writing assignments
    • Create an ongoing portfolio of samples of their writing
    • Express their opinions on topics studied in class
    • Discuss activities they did in class and what they thought of them
    • Write comments, opinions or questions on current event
  • Shared blogs
    • Complete project work in small groups
    • Showcase products of project-based learning
    • Complete a WebQuest

The Secret Life of Bees

One of the best examples of a blog used in a classroom is an online readers guide to Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees. Modern American Literature students at Hunterdon Central Regional High School began reading the book only 9 months after it was published. They collaborated on a shared blog in which they developed a readers guidecomplete with chapter summaries, research on historical events, related links, symbols, themes, Q&A, discussions and artistic interpretations of the chapters.

Perhaps what is most impressive about The Secret Life of Bees Blog is the fact the the author of the book was invited to participate and interact with the students via the blog. The students were asked to think critically to analyze the book and to develop questions for the author. Sue Monk Kidd's response for the class began like this:

Dear Students,
It is an exceptionally nice honor to have you reading my novel in your Modern American Literature class! I'm extremely impressed with your weblog, which I've been following. What fun for the author to listen in on your discussions and see the wonderful and provocative artistic interpretations that you've created. The experience has opened my eyes to new ideas about my own work!

Taking this digital and collaborative approach to education engages millenials and digital natives. They are excited and engaged by this use of technology in the classroom. We can assume many of these students are making use of the internet at home - facebook, myspace, personal blogs, twitter, etc. For a teacher to bring this technology into the classroom and use it as such a powerful learning tool is truly commendable.


References



Blog. (2008). Wikipedia

Carvin, Andy. (2007). Timeline: The Life of the Blog. www.NPR.org.

Get Safe Online. (2008). Blog Safety.

Richardson, Will. (2006). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. California: Corwin Press.

Richardson, Will. (2002)
. The Secret Life of Bees






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