Using Blogs
In general, blogs are best for allowing an individual student to develop his/her thoughts on a few issues at a time, tracking changes and growth in writing and thinking, keeping track of a progression of events, and/or engaging the readers of the blog in conversation over time through comments on individual posts.

The Tool

  • Terms and Examples - blogs vary widely in themes and appearance, but the basic definition of a blog and its major components are fairly consistent. In general, a blog is a regularly-updated site that lists all posts/updates to the site in reverse-chronological order. While blogs may also have attached static pages, the focus is on the list of posts/updates. Common blog-related terms: header/footer; pages; sidebar(s); post title; date/time stamp; RSS/feed/subscribe; blogroll; ads; archive/calendar; widgets/plugins; comments; trackbacks/pingbacks; permalink
  • Understanding and Working with RSS
  • Advantages
    • Similar benefit as discussion forum, except that blogs more easily allow for thoughtful/thorough consideration of a topic
    • Can more easily track and demonstrate learning over time
    • Can motivate students to write more often, fostering fluency and efficacy in writing, particularly if students feel a sense of ownership over their blog
    • As with discussion forums, blogs can encourage involvement from students who tend to be on the quieter side
    • Allow for group and individual options:
      • Group blogs create an idea forum in which students construct meaning and learn from one another
      • Individual blogs provide students with personal writing spaces, encouraging dialogue among teachers, students and parents
    • Supports metacognition; students can track changes in their own writing and evaluate their progress as learners and writers
    • Blogging about a few focused topics can, over time, help students to develop a rich understanding of those topics, particularly if you direct them to blog in a way that seeks to make connections among a variety of sources (online and off).
  • Disadvantages
    • Difficult to keep more than three or four issues/topics "current" (even when using categories ... compare with discussion forums)
    • Individual blogs require substantial time on the part of the teacher to read and respond (when appropriate)
    • Depending on the type of provider you use, organizing multiple users/blogs can be difficult (RSS can help with this, as can mash-up services like SuprGlu).

Ideas for Use

Some of the keys to successful uses of blogs include allowing students to have some ownership of the blog (in terms of topic, appearance, feature, etc.) and allowing for a genuine audience to grow around the blog (in other words, more than immediate classmates). Also see the Support Blogging wiki for more ideas and resources.
  • A class portal that tracks daily or weekly activities, updated by both teacher and students
  • A discussion prompt that raises a specific course-related issue (posted by the teacher or the students) to which other members of the blog add comments, or (better) that serve as inspiration for writing on students' individual blogs
  • An e-portfolio (if students have individual blogs) where students can post writing, solicit reviews, and evaluate their growth as writers over time
  • A reading/progress journal, where students track their thoughts as they progress through a project, a reading, or a collection of readings
  • A collaboration where students blog with other students or professionals; this works well with small groups working on an extended project or topic, particularly if some members of the group are outside the school
  • A research blog where students discuss the details and progress of a research topic or experiment over time
  • A fiction blog, in which students take on the persona of a literary character, historical figure, or important person in a field and write entries from that person's perspective
  • Instructor/school collaboration (as with all of these technologies)

Evaluation

  • I recommend you create your rubric with your students (or at least, review/revise a former rubric with students), and that you do this after they have been reading and discussing other blogs with you. (See below for sample rubrics.)
  • As with forums, there are some questions you should consider:
    • How often must a student post?
    • Is there a word length requirement for a post?
    • Will you also require students to comment? And if so, how often?
    • What kinds of topics will receive credit?
    • What kind of language must be used?
    • Must entries reference/link to other resources or use other media (images, audio, video)?
  • I particularly like the questions that David Warlick suggests for blog readers and writers:
    • When reading a blog, ask:
      • What did the author read in order to write this blog? What did he or she already know and where did that knowledge come from?
      • What are the other points of view? What are the other sides of the story?
      • What did the author want readers to know, understand, believe, or do?
      • What was left unsaid? What are the remaining questions and issues?
    • When writing a blog, ask:
      • What did you read in order to write this blog? What do you know and where did that knowledge come from?
      • What are all points of view on the issue?
      • What do you want your readers to know, understand, believe, or do?
      • What will not be said? What are some of the remaining questions about the issue?

Getting Started

  • As with discussion forums, you should already have a clear purpose for the tool in mind.
  • Your school may provide blog services, and Blackboard now provides blogs to its users in some of its packages.
  • Before you start asking students to use blogs--either as a classroom blog, group blog, or individual blog--be sure to familiarize yourself with blog reading and writing first.
  • Consider the providers/software and resources below and begin including the use of blogs into the classroom.
    • If you're using a blog mainly as a communication portal, or if students are using blogs in a very closed environment and for limited purposes, you may not need to spend as much time teaching students how blogs function in the general blogosphere
    • However, I recommend teaching students to critically read and evaluate blogs before or while helping them begin their own blogging

Providers / Software

Blog Software Comparison Chart

Resources