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How can blogs be used?

It seems as though personal blogs are mostly used to keep friends and families connected and up to date on life events, so for everyday lives this can be a very useful tool. But they seem less useful as a public forum for discussion; there seems to be more ranting than discussing - at least this has been my impression from reading a limited number of blogs.

But for teaching I think the use of blogs is more challenging. When I think about blogs, they seem like diaries to me. I strongly feel that personal reflection can be a powerful educational tool, especially guided reflection, and I can see blogs serving this purpose very well. Again as a public forum for discussion, it can be useful for classmates to read each others' blogs, but often it ends up being too much reading to keep up with and/or it ends up being too personal. From my limited experience, wikis and social networks (such as Ning) are more effective for collaborative work. Blogs, podcast embedded into blogs, seem better for reflection.

Now, I'm sure there are effective ways to use blogs for educational purposes and I hope to learn some of those strategies from this course. In particular how to place some controls around the writing and the format utilized without eliminating the creative and individualized voice of the student. I also want to explore the way writing can help students master content and develop critical thinking skills.