Maybe it’s all of the talk of resolutions, typical to this time of year, but I’ve been thinking more about blogging and why it’s a valuable thing for anyone (for me?) to do. And suddenly it seemed like a good topic to blog about….so here you have it – a blog post about blogging.
First and foremost, a blog can be a catalyst for a community of educators – bringing far-flung people with common interests together. It can also serve as an intriguing community catalyst for people who regularly meet (say, a teacher and his/her class). But with so many social and community building tools in the web 2.0 toolbox – why is blogging the right vehicle for this purpose?
Let’s first consider, what precisely is a blog? “Blog” is a portmanteau word made up of the terms “web” and “log”. A blog is typically the voice of an individual with regular entries displayed in reverse-chronological order (most recent first). A typical blog combines text, images, video, and links to web pages and other media related to its topic. Blogging software archives all entries and gives the blog’s readership the ability to leave comments in an interactive format that is mediated by the blogger. Blog posts can be long or short, text or multimedia, serious or fun.
A blog is sometimes described as a person’s online journal, but with the interactivity affordances of the web, it can be so much more. Let’s consider the potential benefits.
We know that learning is a conversation. A blog is an efficient way to begin and maintain conversations with a number of people in geographically disparate locations. The blogger writes a post on an idea or a question and the readers respond. The blogger responds to them and they respond to each other. This interaction between the writer and the reader, enabled by the blog, is immediate, deep, and unprecedented. The conversation goes on and both the blogger and the readership learn from the interaction and the experience. Darren Kuropatwa’s math classroom blog is a great example of this kind of ongoing conversation with students. And to keep with my theme of blogging about blogging, here’s a post from Darren, comparing the way he’s used blogs with his students in three different semesters. Darren also produced a very useful blogging resource for teachers, walking you through the process.
In this way, a blog can be a vehicle for getting down (or building up?) ideas and thoughts that have not yet grown into a more formal presentation (a book, a lecture, a lesson plan, or an article). It can become a way to test new ideas and garner preliminary feedback, a tool for reflection, and – dare I say it? – an assessment tool.
A blog is also a practical toehold into new, web 2.0 technologies. The software required to create and maintain a blog is very simple however, the array of web 2.0 technologies can be quite daunting. Since many of these new technologies relate to blogging, by keeping a blog, the blogger is exposed to them in a meaningful context. For instance, once you start blogging, you will want to add tags to each entry so that past posts can be easily retrieved. Tagging will lead you to bookmarking tools (like Delicious and Diigo) and the tags of other bloggers. You will want to provide a “feed” mechanism to allow others to easily subscribe to your blog, this will lead you to RSS (real simple syndication) and other use feeds. You may want to include a PowerPoint presentation in one of your blog postings to illustrate a point and that will lead you to the Slideshare tool. You might want to consider including podcasts in your blog, with students recording their responses/thoughts as audio files which will lead you to any number of audio recording options (vaestro, garage band, audacity). You may want to poll your readership on their opinions, which will lead you to online polling or survey devices. In this way, a blog becomes a means to engage with new web 2.0 technologies and gain an appreciation for what they bring to the teaching/learning equation.
A blog can be a time saving device; often-asked questions can be answered by directing people to archived posts on your blog. It can serve as an easy and efficient dissemination point for a variety of resources.
But perhaps the most important reason to blog is that it will expose your community (your students?) to the process of learning. Community of practice theory argues that novices, participating in a community, should be able to observe, and then participate with, experts in action. A blog can establish an online community of practice between you and your readership where everyone has a front row seat as you grapple with new ideas or reflect on your own teaching practice. So the blog becomes a living, breathing example of the very thing we’re all seeking – a reflective, collaborative learning community.