Category Archives: Blogs

Good Blogging – What am I Missing?

A friend recently asked me for some advice, to pass along to a business training enterprise intending to use blogging as a way to deepen the experience.  Just my cup of tea.  So I earnestly sat down and prepared the following suggestions:

The term “blog” is a portmanteau word, a combination of “web” and “log”.  Simply put, a blog is an online publishing tool.  Each blog consists of a series of entries (or “posts”), presented in reverse chronological order, with the most recent displaying at the top.  Blogging has evolved from its origins as a personal medium for keeping an online diary to a respected vehicle for commentary, news, editorials, and a way to deepen the teaching/learning process.

Through linking, commenting, and feedback, ideas and insights spread quickly through a blogging community.  Because blogs engage people in reflection and debate, they have become an effective mechanism for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. Blogs foster the growth of communities and the dynamics of collaborative filtering and referring. They provide an effective way to vet and critique new knowledge.

What makes for a good blog entry?

–       Blogs are generally written in the first person – they are personal, subjective, and social.

–       Try to stick to one topic per entry, stay focused. Brief is good.

–       Use your blog entry’s title to communicate what the post is about and draw the reader in – a short, snappy title is usually the most effective, maybe one that is… a question?

–       Good blogging, like any good writing, has an audience in mind (keep your readers – or a particular reader – in mind when composing your blog entries)

–       Give readers a chance to absorb information in your blog post by offering bite-sized pieces (lists, bullet points, quotations) of information where possible

–       If you’re reporting on some one else’s story, give it your spin or a new interpretation

–       Blog entries can include text, hyperlinks, images (photos or screen shots), or video.

–       Links (to other blog posts, resources, or articles) help to take the reader deeper into the topic or discussion (make sure your links work when you publish your post!)

–       A good blog post usually includes a question or an invitation to chime in or “comment”, fostering a two-way communication between readers and authors.

–       If you do receive comments on your blog, be sure to respond to them. Create a culture of interactivity and let your readers know that you have heard them.

–       Readers tend to respond well to humility – don’t be afraid to show gaps in your knowledge or reveal your own weaknesses.

–       Arguing and disagreement is good, as long as everyone remains civil, encouraging, and friendly.  Humor always helps.

 

Problem was, when I finished, it somehow felt a bit hollow.  If I had read this list four years ago (before I started blogging myself), I’m not sure it would have convinced me.  Not sure I would fully grok the value of blogging.  So, can you help me?  What am I missing here?

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Shrinking the Globe

I’ve got a network effect story for you.  About three months ago, I got a comment on one of my blog entries (about using VoiceThread) from Kylee Tindall, a teacher in Christchurch, New Zealand.

In her comment, she explained that she was taking a graduate certificate course in educational technology and that this was all new to her.  As part of a course she was currently taking, she had an assignment to find and interview a blogger about how they feel a blog could benefit from facilitation services. And, she wondered, would I be willing to talk with her?   Would I? You bet.

So, we exchanged email addresses and proceeded to correspond back and forth a bit, getting to know each other.  Kylee was taking her course, “Facilitating Online”, through wikiversity.  Here’s the course description:

This course is designed to help people to access and interpret models, research, and develop professional expertise in online facilitation. After completing this course people should be confident in facilitating online and/or be able to critique and offer advice to other people in online facilitation. The next facilitated course started 27 July 2009 and runs to 4 December 2009.

The course was part of a certificate program in Applied eLearning that Kylee was taking, along with a small group of other New Zealand teachers.  She sounded very excited about what she was learning.

After our email volleys, we decided to try to find a time to talk live, via Skype.  We had a terrific conversation (she has a wonderful New Zealand accent) – she told me about her kids, I told her about mine, and we compared notes on what she was learning in her course and what she found exciting about using technology. She gave me the link to her blog site and we commented a bit more on each other’s blogs.

Kylee asked me if I might be willing to be a guest speaker for their course “Faciliating Online”.   They wanted to hear more about the use of these new web technologies in U.S. schools. The course facilitator, Sarah Stewart, helped Kylee think through the tool options for setting this up.

Kylee and I tried a number of options…. First we tried Elluminate, but had a number of technical problems getting it to work with the various computers, configurations, and operating systems.  Then we thought maybe we’d just use Skype and Kylee could share a PPT deck of mine with the rest of the teachers.  We found a date that worked for everyone, set it all up, but the night we tried it, the call kept dropping.  The ever-intrepid Kylee was not giving up.  She did some more research and suggested we try DimDim.  We tested this a few times  – while we were able to get my slides uploaded and working, the connection seemed very shakey.  We found that things more stable if I initiated the meeting rather than initiating it at her end (probably something to do with bandwidth or the quality of the connection).

Of course, each time we had one of these sessions, it had to be early in the morning (New Zealand time), and late in the evening for me  – or vice versa.  One such “dry run” resulted in a funny email exchange between Kylee’s husband and me.  He saw my email come into their account and quickly answered, knowing that we had been trying to find a good time to meet, and explained that Kylee had gone to bed.

Finally, we got it all working at an appointed hour, with all the participants there, online.  For about 30 minutes, a small group of New Zealand educators (whom I’d never set eyes on), talked and shared ideas about using technology with students.  For about 30 minutes the 9,000 miles between us was nothing.  For about 30 minutes we connected.  Thanks, Kylee.

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Why blog?

blogMaybe 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.

 

 

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Wordle

Have you played around with Wordle?

The contents of my blog in a wordle "word cloud".
The contents of my blog in a wordle

Great fun.  Wordle is an online tool that generates “word clouds” from text that you provide.  The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more freqeuntly in the source text. So you copy a block of representative text (from your blog?  your resume?  your mission statement?), paste it into Wordle, and see what it looks like.  You can alter the look with different fonts, colors, layouts and then print them out, save them, or email them.  This one pictured here is a wordle of the complete contents of my blog so far.  I was pleased to see the word “student” so prominently front and center.  And it looks like I believe that all of this CAN be done.

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CoveritLive: Live Blogging

 

The Writer's Console in CoveritLive

The Writer's Console in CoveritLive

Live, interactive blogging.  Interesting idea, eh?  CoveritLive is a free live-blogging tool could take blogs to a different level.  To test it out, you just go to their site, register (no downloads necessary), then copy the embedded code they give you into your blog and you’re ready to roll (there’s a nice demo movie on their site to walk you through it). You, as the writer, are given a “Writer’s Console” (pictured here) that looks different to what your participants see.  The console is your hub.  Using this you can post entries, questions, add polls, audio and video files.  The console also displays the readers’ comments on the right side.  

I can see this turning blogging into a much more immediate and active experience.  Imagine teachers setting up a “live blog time” (almost like office hours) when students could get online, post questions, discuss, and work through problems.  It would also be great for covering a live event (a conference, a field trip, or a lab as it was unfolding).   

When your live blog is finished, the window converts itself into an “Instant Replay” window.  So readers can view/read the live blog later, if they missed the live session. 

Cautionary note:  it works best with Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers.

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Bubbleshare Yourself




BubbleShare: Share photosPowered by BubbleShare

This is a bubbleshare. Bubbleshare is an easy-to-use online photo sharing site. You upload your digital photos, create and edit albums, and then share them via email, blogs or wikis. Simple and straight up. The photos you’re seeing are from the March 2008 Biology Leadership Conference – an annual gathering of professors teaching the introductory biology course for science majors.

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Read/Write Web

There’s a very interesting article in the March 31st New Yorker by Eric Alterman called “Out of Print”, about the state of of affairs with the American newspaper.  The author talks primarily about the Huffington Post, which is one of a new breed of internet newspapers, featuring news, blogs, video, and commentary.  Most of its news stories come from other news sources.   The editors link to whatever story they believe to be the most relevant and interesting and then provide a comment section beneath it, where readers can comment. So surrounding each news article, you’ll find highly opinionated posts from a string of bloggers and interested readers, even some celebrities (like Nora Ephron, Michael Goldfarb, or Erica Jong). The bloggers aren’t paid and everyone is invited.  The point of the Huffington Post seems to be that the real news is the conversation about the news. Interesting.

Here’s a quote from the article:  “news is not something handed down from above but a shared enterprise between its producer and its consumer…The internet offers editors immediate information about which stories interest readers, provoke comments, are shared with friends and generate the greatest number of Web searches.  An internet-based news site, is therefore alive in a way that is impossible for paper and ink.”

Ring of truth here?  And maybe not just for newspapers, but for educational tools?  We teachers, curriculum developers, and content builders tend to think of our materials as one way streets – we build them, students consume them.  But as we emerse ourselves further in this Web 2.0 world, it seems clear that we’re moving onto a two-way street where the world wide web is a read and write environment.

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