Learning about blogs through blogs.

If you’re thinking of starting a blog for yourself or with your students, there are lots of good resources available. In this post, I’m going to draw upon some of the resources from other blogs in an attempt to structure a “blogging 101” guide for UWCSEA teachers.

What is a blog?
A blog is short for weblog. They are typically a chronologically-organized series of literature (or images or video) called “posts” created by an author (blogger) or group of authors about a particular topic.

Michael Hyatt describes the anatomy of an effective blog post this way (I’ve condensed it):

  1. Lead Paragraph.
  2. Relevant Image.
  3. Personal Experience.
  4. Main Body.
  5. Discussion Question.

    I also follow a few overall rules when writing my posts:

    • Make the posts short.
    • Use short paragraphs.
    • Keep short sentences.
    • Use simple words.
    • Provide internal links.

Why should you blog?
Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of learning technology in the Faculty of Health, Education and Society at Plymouth University explains in his seven reasons why teachers should blog post. I’ve taken excerpts here.

From personal experience blogging is one of the most beneficial professional development activities I have ever engaged with. I learn more from blogging than I do from almost any other activity I participate in. Here are 7 good reasons why teachers should blog:

1) Blogging causes you to reflect.

2) Blogging can crystalise your thinking. In the act of writing, said Daniel Chandler, we are written. Sometimes we don’t really know what we are thinking until we actually write it down in a physical format.

3) Blogging can open up new audiences

4) Blogging can create personal momentum.

5) Blogging can give you valuable feedback.

6) Blogging can be creative.

7) Blogging can raise your game

if you’re think “yeah, but…” Jabiz Raisdana addresses the most common concerns of teachers starting out blogging (or trying to think of excuses not to) in his post deal with the fire. (I’ve edited)

I just wanted to share some misconceptions about blogging that I have overcome, in hopes that my sharing will help others.
You are publishing so everything has to be perfect. Write from your heart. Do what we ask kids to do. Reflect honestly, authentically. Be vulnerable and your admin and parent community will respect and appreciate your openness to show your learning.
Nobody cares what I have to say. If this is true for you, then it is true for your students. And if this is the case then lets all go home. We tell students that they matter. That they have a voice and that they should learn to share and express this voice. We tell them that when they talk to others, they will learn and grow from collaboration. We tell them that writing is an art, that you craft and improve over a life time. We tell them not to fear failure. We tell them to dig deep and find their passion. We tell them that they are special and that we want to hear what they think and feel….now just tell yourself those things when you don’t know what to write.
It has to all be about tech or education. Find things in your day that you find meaningful. I like to write about epiphanies I have in class. I like to write about ideas that worked and those that failed. I like to use my writing to connect with others, but really I use my writing to help me make sense of my teaching, my life, myself.
You have to blog everyday and all the time. Write when you feel you have no choice.  Make it fun. Not a chore.
People who blog do nothing but spend time online. I have a full life with two kids, a wife, a voracious appetite for books and TV and many other hobbies. But I make time to write. I have a routine: Music and the couch- Me and the my words. Make one up.  Stick to it.

 Why should students blog?
This is a nice list (edits – mine) from Mrs. Rippwhy students should blog – my top ten.

I have written about it before, I will write about it again I am sure, so here is why students should blog:

  1. They have an actual audience to write for.  The writing is no longer just for me but the whole world.
  2. You can track their writing progress. 
  3. It opens a dialogue.  Students have a direct line to their teacher and to anyone else they are connected with.  Blogging helps us write back to each other, but great blogging is like a conversation with questions and critique. 
  4. It establishes their internet identity in safe manner.  By being on the internet and establishing a presence they are actively practicing staying safe rather than just talking about it.
  5. They teach each other.  Numerous times my students have corrected misconceptions or created new awareness of concepts being taught within our room.  They become teachers rather than just students in our classroom and blogging allows them to continue that outside our classroom walls.
  6. They are global citizens and global collaborators.  We speak of creating global citizens but then forget to actually connect kids with kids.  My students know where places in the world are because they speak to kids from those places. 
  7. Transparency.  Too often teachers shut their doors to the world rather than sharing the amazing things we concoct along with or students.  Blogging opens up that door and shows the whole world what is happening. 
  8. They become aware of themselves as writers.  Students start to create their own essence as a writer first playing around with fonts but then creating tag lines for their blogs and deciding how they want to present themselves to the world as writers. 
  9. I can easily check in on their learning.  When my students blog about a concept I can quickly see whether they are understanding the essential concepts or need another learning opportunity.  
  10. You give them a voice.  Students need a way to express themselves to take ownership of their learning, so through our blog students tell the world their thoughts on education, their learning and their needs.  I am a better teacher because of their blogging.

How do you set up a blog in Mahara?

How do you organize your reading?
We suggest organizing your blog reading by using an RSS reader like Google Reader
By using Reader, you’ll “subscribe” the the blog and every time it is updated, the unread items appear in your Reader. Once you read the, they go away.  This is a simple way to keep track of the potentially prolific writing generated by all of your students. Your students will want to set-up Reader as well so that they can follow each others writing, any classes you’re collaborating with, or blogs that the class recommends. 
 Reader allows you to make Bundles, which are groups of blogs that you follow that you can share with others.  By doing setting these up you make it easy to share a whole group of blogs at one time.
Here are some bundles that I’ve created for teachers.

What about comments?
Commenting encourages conversation and allows a level of engagement between writer and reader that doesn’t exist in other types of writing.
Jabiz Raisdana has compiled a list of comment prompts for students and combined it with a good list of guidelines for student commenting from Clint Hamada that I’m including here.

  1. Be respectful, kind and honest. This is no place to be offensive in any way, shape or form! It is okay to disagree with somebody –  it’s even encouraged! – but do so in a respectful manner. Make sure that whatever you write as a comment you would be willing to say to somebody in a face-to-face conversation and you would be willing to repeat in the classroom.
  2. Read before participating. If you are new to the site, take some time to read previous posts to get an idea of what is acceptable. If you are new to the thread, be sure to read the post or topic and the comments that have been written before you.
  3. Make sure your comment adds value to the discussion. Avoid comments that only agree or disagree with a previous post. Be sure you include supporting details in your comment. Also, make sure you comment stays on the current topic.
  4. Communicate clearly. Before submitting your comment check it for typos and grammar mistakes. Do not use slang, abbreviations or TXTSPK unless it is a site where everybody (including your teacher!) will understand it and it is relevant to the topic.
  5. Never use ALL CAPS. It is the same as shouting at somebody and is considered aggressive. It is also a good way to get your message deleted from lots of sites.
  6. Use smileys, emoticons and formatting when appropriate. These help explain the tone of your message. It is very easy to be misunderstood if you do not use them, especially if you are joking!
  7. Don’t be afraid to admit mistakes. If you make a mistake that somebody later corrects, be sure to write a comment saying so. If you change your point of view because of the discussion be sure to acknowledge that.
  8. Problems with other users. If you have a problem with another user, contact the moderator or the administrator privately.
  9. Don’t feed the trolls.
  10. Remember the Golden Rule. It is very easy to misinterpret what you read in the comments because you cannot hear that person’s tone of voice and you cannot see their body language. (If you’re not sure of what was meant, just ask the person to clarify!) This is why it is very important to communicate clearly! Keep in mind the Golden Rule: It’s not just what you say, but how you say it!

Further resources: my “blogging” links in diigo.

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