The first blog that I ever read was Cameron Barrett's blog, CamWorld. Those early weblogs were "click trails". People wrote blogs to share interesting things they found online. Reading blogs made it easier to find the good stuff online. You used your favourite blogs as a filter. Blogs brought the web down to a manageable size.
I started my first blog as a teaching tool. It was called Design the Web and I used it to post links to the web sites I talked about during my web design class. (Here's the earliest version you can still find online.) When I found that learners were still checking the blog after the course ended, I continued to blog, and I've kept that habit ever since. I don't blog about web design anymore. These days I blog about technology and learning at Random Mind.
Like well-known edublogger Will Richardson, I've learned more by being a blogger than from most of my formal learning experiences. Blogging has connected me with some really amazing educators around the world, and it's given me a different view of what it means to be a teacher and a learner.
What is a blog?
Most bloggers agree that the only thing that blogs have in common is their format. Blogs are personal web pages that you update frequently. The newest post appears at the top of the page. Older posts fall to the bottom and are eventually archived.
I read a lot of different blogs. Some are related to my work as an instructional designer. Some are just things I'm interested in. Here are a few blogs I read every day:
- Joho the Blog (a blog written by Dave Weinberger - Dave wrote the book Everything is Miscellaneous)
- Post-Secondary Education blog (a great blog about university and community college news written by a professor at Memorial University)
- Inhabit (a blog about all things green)
- Boing Boing (just a fun place to go)
Smart Mobs (a blog about mobile technology)
- Cog Dog Blog (one of my longtime favourites -- Alan used to work at Maricopa Community College in Arizona)
- Clive on Learning
- elearnspace (George Siemens is a leader in Canada)
You can include just about anything in a blog post including pictures, video, a podcast, a PowerPoint presentation (click the forward & back buttons down by the words "on Slideshare") or a sketch. It's a really flexible tool.
The best part about blogging is the connection you make with other people. Before I started blogging, if I had an idea only my friends or colleagues knew it. Now, when I blog about my ideas, everyone sees what I'm thinking. They can comment on it, ask a question or share it with other people. I connect with other people and they connect with me. That's what blogging is. It's connective writing.
The reasons for blogging are probably as different as the people who blog. People blog because it helps then do something they want to do -- whether that's sharing ideas, resources, pictures, a great accomplishment or an "aha" moment. People blog to get feedback. People blog because it's an important way for them to learn.
Chris says, "I blog because I like to share & connect with people. It also helps me remember things."
Ian says, "I blog to express myself and share what I have to say with an audience that I hope will respond, one way or the other to it - to engage in dialogue ... to vent, to rant, to share my thoughts and talk about things that make me go Hmmm... "
At NSCC, people have used blogs to keep others updated on projects they're involved with or to stay in touch and support learners while they're on work experience. Learners use blogs to reflect. Others blog about us and our learners.
Other educators and learners use blogs to organize and share learning resources, to reflect on learning (does this look like an eportfolio to you?). Some use blogging as a key part of their course. Admissions blogging is becoming more and more popular. At the University of Manitoba, students blog their service learning projects. We can also use blogs to stay current in our own field.
Like many simple web tools, blogs give you a way to
- deliver content
- extend the learning that happens in the classroom
- build communities of learners
- connect learners with the larger world
- encourage peer review or peer teaching (i.e. learners post what they learn on their blogs)
- assess learners
How to get started
Blogging can be a big commitment or a small one. You can blog for one course. You can share a blog with other faculty. Learners can share a blog. You might decide you just want to read blogs so that you can learn and stay up to date with what's going on. (If that's the case, use an aggregator -- I use Netvibes -- and learn about RSS!! It will make your online life easier.)
There are a few really great free blogging tools. The ones I use are WordPress and Blogger (also known as Blogspot). Vox and LiveJournal are two others. It's easy to start.
A common sense approach to blogging
Most blogs are public so here are a few common sense rules to keep in mind when blogging:
- Don't post any information that identifies you (your address, your phone number, etc.) even if your blog is private since anything can be cut, pasted and posted elsewhere
- Don't share personal information
- Once you blog about something, it can stay online even if you delete it so think before you click "post" -- never post anything when you're angry or upset
- Ask other bloggers if you have a question
- Keep your Academic Chair in the loop if you're blogging with learners, and be professional if you're keeping a personal blog
How do I facilitate blogging if it's part of my course?
First, before you start, make sure that you're using blogging because it fits with the learning outcomes in your course, not just because blogs are cool tools. Do learners need to research, share resources or reflect? Then blogging may be a good choice. Is this learning something that would benefit from being shared with a wider community? Do learners need a real audience for their work? Then blogging may be a great choice.
Remember, just because a learner may feel comfortable with technology won't necessarily give them an easy comfort level with blogging. Even in the beehive of the internet, only a few genuinely participate. Blogging involves a lot of reflection and motivation. Learners may need the same level of help and encouragement that you'd offer if they were doing similar assignments in class. They will need guidance. (Here are some great practical examples.)
Once learners have established their blog, your role is similar to what your role would be in facilitating any online discussion or managing an online community. Sometimes you just have step back & let the conversation happen. Sometimes you need to probe. Sometimes you need to intervene. Some of these skills may come naturally to you. (Weaving is a great metaphor for what online facilitators do.) Some skills you may have to learn. But they come in really handy if you ever teach an online course or lead an online community. Don't forget the importance of commenting on blogs. (Vicki Davis has some great advice.)
A few NSCC bloggers