Description

A blog is an online journal where an individual or group can present a diary of their thoughts, ideas, and/or activities. Many blogs operate as filters or collectors of various online information sources, typically adding short comments. Others focus on presenting original material. The word "blog" is a shortened version of the term weblog.

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As a defining characteristic, blogs also provide readers and visitors with a forum to leave comments and interact with the "blogger," or blog author. Blogs are usual prose, but pictures, audio, and video are often added. The "blogosphere" was coined to denote the universe of blogs.

wikipedia.jpgUnlike most of the Tools and Techniques in the section, the idea of keeping a personal or professional journal is clearly nothing new. Many of the earliest documents discovered are ancestors of today's modern blogs. In fact, if we take a blog to be defined as "an ongoing diary or commentary by an individual," we could consider much of the Bible as a holy blog.

Similar to the explosive use of the Internet, the rapid expanse of blogging occurred well after its invention/conception. The Internet backbone was constructed in the late 1960s, though most people did not use it until a quarter-century later. Mosaic 1.0 became the first commercially available browser in 1993.

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Justin Hall
Likewise, blogging dates back to 1994 when Claudio Pinhanez of MIT began publishing his "Open Diary." This website documented the goings-on in the life of this Ph.D. student in the Media Arts & Science program. During this same year, Justin Hall gained notoriety for creating the first "personal homepage." Entitled "Justin's Links from the Underground," Mr. Hall covered his day-to-day activities in very revealing detail. Interestingly, this ancient blog is still in operation today, and is still penned by Mr. Hall.

Since the turn of the century, bigger name blogger have begun to appear - and have gained both notoriety and clout. In particular, Glenn Reynolds, the publisher of Instapundit, became one of the most widely read political blogs in the United States.

Open Diary became one of the first online tools to assist users in the publication of their online journals. It would later be followed by other blogging tools and site such as LiveJournal (1999), Blogger (1999), Movable Type (2001), and Wordpress (2003). Moreover, the launch of Technorati made it possible for users to continuously track their favorite blog conversations.

In 2006, the Pew Internet and Americal Life Project reported that, "Eight percent of internet users, or about 12 million American adults, keep a blog. Thirty-nine percent of internet users, or 57 million American adults, read blogs." Interestingly, the vast majority of bloggers reported that had absolutely no monetary motivation for their blogging!

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Related Theories

Like most technology-related tools and techniques, blogging can be related to a number of learning theories. Indeed, that which ties the tool to the theory is how - and possibly when - it is implemented. Consider the following examples, which enlist the "Big Three" learning theories:
  1. Behaviorism - The teacher asks students to blog what they see as the "true meaning" behind a short story they recently read in class. After each blog, the teacher provides reinforcing commentary, both positive and negative. In this scenario, students are conditioned to look for things in future readings, such as traveling being a metaphor for coming of age.
  2. Cognitivism - After reading and discussing William Faulkner's short story "The Bear," the teacher asks students to blog what they see as the "true meaning" behind another short story they have been assigned to read. In this scenario, students have received previous sensory input and been given a chance to develop a schema around it. Now, they are asked to retrieve and use that information in another application.
  3. Constructivism - The teacher asks students to read a short story and, prior to discussing it in class, they are to blog what they see as the "true meaning" behind the tale. With little guidance, they must search for a deeper context to place the stated events in the short story.



Benefits

Because blogging can be similar to a traditional journal or diary keeping, it typically includes a date, a reflection, and a signature - though this signature may or may not be a pseudonym. One the key differences, however, is that blogging is published online for teachers, fellow students, and others to see. Within this context, we can see that blogging:
  1. peers.pngPromotes peer-to-peer learning and sharing of ideas differing points of view.
  2. Promotes teacher-to-student and student-to-teacher knowledge flow.
  3. Empowers students to actually and immediately publish.
  4. Provides students with more of the "classroom of the future" portability they desire.
  5. Allow for more of a sense of creativity that traditional writing formats - they cut and paste pics, clips, quotes, audio, video, etc.
  6. Builds a sense of community within the classroom.

In short, blogging gives students a creative outlet for self-expression that automatically connect to thier audience.

Challenges

Though the benefits of blogging within an educational environment are numerous, there are also some significant challenges. Most notably, the ability to blog does inherently assume some level of technical access and savviness. Students and teachers must be have access to the requisite equipment, a computer that is network to the Internet - preferably with adequate filters and other safeguards. Moreover, both must be able to fluently navigate the Internet and have some basic typing skills.

USDOC.jpgAnd while many of us at the university level take these somewhat basic things for granted, both access and previous exposure to computers may be significant challenges for the students and the schools in which we are mostly likely to be working, particularly early in our careers. The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently released a report showing that just 64% of American households had broadband Internet access as of October, 2009. According to the NTIA head Lawrence E. Strickling the findings are encouraging, but fall short of what is acceptable.

In addition, blogging presents challenges to teachers as they design their lesson plans. They must not only educate students and construct pedagogically sound blogging assignments, they must also prepare students for the "dangers" of digital permanence. As blogs are public forum, students work will be read by their teachers and fellow students, which is what they would surely expect - but it may also be read by family members, neighbors, clergy, and employers (both current and future).

Special Guidance

training.jpgLike any outside resource, blogging poses some unique problems that need to be addressed prior to there use. First and foremost, the teacher must have a solid understanding of the resource. It can be beyond frustrating to the students to have genuine questions and have a teacher that cannot answer them in a timely manner. In the case of blogging, the teacher should be knowledgeable on the topic from practical and technical points of view.

Even if the teacher has outside exposure to blogging - perhaps even being a very experienced blogger - they should seek out formal training on using the media in the school environment. Many schools districts, such as Milwaukee Public Schools, offer such training.

Teachers should check school and district policies before designing their lesson plans. They should also check on computer availability for students as they may need access during the class, as well as during non-class times.

Current Research

David F. Warlick
Classroom Blogging: A Teacher's Guide to Blogs, Wikis & Other Tools That Are Shaping a New Information Landscape
Raleigh, North Carolina : Landmark Project, c2007

Mark J. Stock
The School Administator's Guide to Blogging: A New Way to Connect with the Community
Lanham : Rowman & Littlefield Education, c2009

Lesson Ideas

When it comes to designing blogging activities for you class, your only limits are your imagination. Or, even better, the limits of all your collegues' collective imaginations! That are so many websites listing great blogging ideas, it's hard to focus in just a few. One such site is TeachersFirst.com. Two ideas attractive ideas found that are:

"Ice Breaker" Blog
This is especially effective near the start of the school year. Use student-selected pseudonyms to register your student users (they must tell only you what their secret identity is) and allow them to comment outside of class on hot topics from class discussion for a few weeks. After a few weeks, ask in class if anyone thinks they know who each f the pseudonyms REALLY is and if they can match all pseudonyms to actual classmates. This is a great way to allow even the shyest people to comment without fear to start the year and to find out which quiet, non-participants in class are quite vocal at a computer. Your students will know each other far better, creating a greater sense of classroom community.

“Sister Community” Blog
Just as real communities often form relationships with other towns in other states or countries, your class blog community can set up a direct link with another class blog reading the same play or studying the Civil War at the same time. Imagine if your 11th grade "yankee" U.S. History class in New Hampshire conversed with a class in Mississippi during this unit? The blog comments would be fascinating. All you need to do is use a bulletin board to find that comparable class and allow them to join your blog as you join theirs. Even Romeo and Juliet viewed from New York and Sidney could be very different - or very similar?

As a more original idea, the following may be fun for more advanced classes:
What is GOOD Writing? Blog
rules.jpgAsk your class to the read the webpage entitled "Seven Bad Writing Habits You Learned School" and ask them to pick one of the "bad habits" to blog about. In each blog, the student should consider whether or not their chosen rule is really applicable. As breaking rules is almost always inherently appealing to students, this should be a fun exercise for them. To build some literary awareness, ask them when the rule should and should not apply - and require a specific example. Encourage them to read blogs, books, newspapers, or whatever, to find rule-breakers. And ask them to make their case for or against the example being good writing.


Resources

http://wordpress.com/
http://www.livejournal.com/
https://www.blogger.com/start
http://www.movabletype.com/
http://www.ntia.doc.gov/reports/2010/NTIA_internet_use_report_Feb2010.pdf
http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/computer/2007.html
http://web20intheclassroom.blogspot.com/
http://www.teachersfirst.com/content/blog/blogideas2.cfm