Alright, so you’ve heard of blogging. In fact, you’re here, reading this, so you know something about blogging already since, yes, this is a blog. Now might be a good time to start a blog of your own. It’s a great way to post materials and resources, host online discussions, communicate with parents, or eliminate your paper newsletter. But I think one of the most interesting educational uses of a blog is to get students blogging.
There are lots of good stories out there about classroom blogs. My favorite is Darren Kuroptawa’s story. Darren is an AP Calculus teacher in Winnipeg and he started using blogs with his students as a way of summarizing what happens in class. In the fall, he’d assign one student on the first day, to take notes and post a blog entry that evening. The student was asked to summarize the class and then select a new “note taker” for the next day (in this way the chain continued and Darren didn’t have to assign it). At first students started simply – they wrote up short descriptions of class events without much oomph. But they quickly moved onto more complete descriptions, discussions, and started to outline their points of confusion. Other students chimed in with comments, suggestions, and questions. Then his students asked him if they could add pictures to their blog and links to other web sites that they’d found. Add to it? Heck, yes. Pretty soon they asked him for extra problem sets to put on the site and before long, they put up a chat box (a way for subscribers to add real-time commentary). The student blog entries got longer; more students were using the site to study, to talk to each other, and to talk with him. Darren reports that his students were frequently online at 11:00 or 12:00 at night – doing calculus! The classroom blog had taken on a life of its own. Darren now says that he couldn’t imagine teaching without a blog.
You can think of it as a way to give voice to what and how your students are learning. What’s more, you’re doing this by using a tool that is comfortable and familiar to them – meeting them on their turf.
OK, now for some mechanics. What is a blog exactly? The word “blog” is shorthand for the phrase “web log”. It’s basically a web site where entries are displayed in reverse chronological order (most recent first). One person starts a blog (is the administrator of it), then others chime in and comment on the blog entries. Keep in mind that “blog” is a noun as well as a verb. “To blog’ is to edit or add to one’s web log.
According to Technorati (a blog search engine), as of December 2007, there are over 112 million blogs out there in the “blogosphere”. Blogs can contain text, images, links, and other media (e.g. video or Flash files) related to the entries.
So where do you start? There are a number of blog hosting services out there. For example, Blogspot (Darren’s choice) is one; I prefer Word Press because it gives you more control over the look of your blog. There are also edublogging platforms – that is hosting sites that provide blogging space specifically for classroom use – such as Class Blogmeister and EduBlog. Any of these will work just fine and they are all free. If you’re one who likes to compare, here is a blog software comparison chart provided by the Annenberg Center for Communication.
With any of these options, you just go to the site, sign up, and you will be given a url for your blog. Most of the blogging sites offer free tutorials and you can learn a lot quickly by just experimenting.
Here’s a useful article from PC Magazine, which describes blogging fundamentals and provides a labeled view of the components on a typical blog page.
And here’s an idea – what do you do with your blog when the academic year has ended and your students move onto another class? You can capture the contents of your blog with something called SharedBook. This is a free widget that you add to your blog. It captures the blog’s contents (photos and all) so that you can, later, have it professionally printed into a physical book.
I’d like to hear from other teachers who are blogging or who have asked their students to blog. How is it going?