October 22, 2004

A Use for Blogs

Imagine it is Sunday night. Tomorrow morning, you will go into your classroom and announce a group writing assignment. You want your students, in small groups of 3 or 4, to put together a series of essays on a given topic. Each essay can be done individually or jointly, but they should all be related to a common sub-theme that you will allow the groups to choose.

Since your school is trying to bring technology into the classroom, you want to involve computer technology SOMEHOW, but you don't want to spend a lot of time teaching technology since there already are not enough hours in the day for writing let alone teaching 20 or 30 kids (or more!) how to publish electronically. Heck, YOU don't even know how to do anything more than a boring web page.

If you leave the choice of publication medium to the students, you know you will be barraged with questions about how they are supposed to do this. They all have different schedules and cannot all get together at any one time to meet let alone work together. They don't all own computers or the same software, and you know you really don't want to read their scrawled copies of hand-written notes. They don't know how to publish things to the web, and if they do, they don't want to share their personal pages with other students.

So, what do you do? You blog.

No, "blog" is not a synonym for "cry in a corner". It is a way to publish content to the web quickly and easily.

A blog is usually defined as a collection of writings (called "posts" or "entries") on a theme arranged in chronological order on the web. The term "blog" is short for "weblog" or "web log" - which gives you some idea of the origin. "Blogs" were once ongoing web logs arranged by date as would any other type of log file. Now, as we enter the 21st century, they can be used for announcements, travelogs, personal journals, and informal personal publications.

Blogs are often hosted by blogging companies, although your technical staff can install blogging software such as MoveableType fairly easily and at low cost. They are easy for a host (such as yourself) to configure and make look reasonably good without knowing anything about web publishing whatsoever.

The best thing is that blogs can be set up so that a single author controls it or allows collaboration of a group, much like publishing a magazine. But unlike a printed magazine, blogs allow readers to make comments about the entries they read. It is like having an immediately available editorial page!

Blogs can be set up with various levels of restrictions, especially if you install it on your own system, so this can be tailored to the classroom's needs. While the tradition of blogging is for wide-open spaces and nearly anything goes, you may not want just anyone coming in to comment on little Johnny's work. On the other hand, it can be an incentive for learners to write well if they know they can share their achievements with family and friends. It might even help them clean up their spelling and grammar when the audience includes more than their teacher or professor.

But this is not to say that blogging is the answer to all of your collaborative or publishing needs. You should also look into related technologies such as threaded discussion and other collaborative software. Always start by looking at your needs and those of your students before selecting a tool!

Posted by bjohnson at October 22, 2004 12:14 PM