An Introduction to Blogging

And its uses in educational settings

Communication in an online course is essential to the students’ success and can be one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish. A variety of successful communication methods exist that aid in solving this difficult task.

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What is a blog?
Web-based publication Last entry first Frequently and easily updateable Allows you to build social networks Modern blogs harness the power of RSS

How many of you have ever kept a journal or a diary? Why? Would you find any value in being able to quickly link similar topics together? How about being able to link to someone else's journal that discuss topics similar to the topics you discuss. Well at its base that is what a blog is.

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How are blogs different?

Email

Bulletin Board

Blogs/RSS

Email and bulletin boards are largely one way communications limited to individuals or a small group of people. Blogs are multidimensional in that they can be networked to several different people or groups of people and thanks to RSS people who are interested in a blog will always be kept up to date,

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Why are blogs important to online learning?
Engages people in collaborative activity Increase participation Sense of community and debate is fostered Blogging engines allow for the warehousing of knowledge Students have long learned as much from each other as they have from an instructor

Blogs have the capacity to engage people in collaborative activity, knowledge sharing, reflection and debate, where complex and expensive technology has failed. Blogs boast a level of participation not previously experienced by the earlier wiki initiative, and a greater sense of community and debate is encouraged as a consequence. The nature of blogging engines allows for the creation of a legitimate warehousing of captured knowledge, and archiving for later retrieval Students have long learned as much from each other as they have from an instructor or a textbook - it's just a question of finding an appropriate vehicle for facilitating this learning.

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How can blogging be used in an online environment?
Blogs were originally an online tool Provide students with a high level of autonomy and opportunity for interaction Contextualizes undifferentiated information Commenting systems gives students a voice Encourages student to become critical thinkers Sharing & linking to resources Up to date information

Blogs have the potential, at least, to be a truly transformational technology in that they provide students with a high level of autonomy while simultaneously providing opportunity for greater interaction with peers. As a knowledge management tool, blogs provide the potential for relatively undifferentiated articles of information passing through an organization to be contextualized in a manner that adds value, thus generating 'knowledge' from mere 'information'. Comments systems and democratic posting privileges allow students to give voice to ideas and provide feedback on course materials or activities in a manner not previously possible. Further, personalized responses to news and messages are a simple means of developing an understanding of the collective knowledge of an organization and a means of broadening that knowledge, thus creating 'intelligence' from 'knowledge‘. In addition to commenting on the advantages of using a tool that serves as an online journal encouraging personal reflection, and as a means of encouraging collaboration through the sharing of links to resources and up to date information, some observe that the blog has many dimensions that are suited to students' 'unique voices', empowering them, and encouraging them to become more critically analytical in their thinking.

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The instructional situation which blogging can be implemented
Anywhere academic discourse is needed Anywhere you might use a forum, news group or bulletin board Anywhere you want to increase communication with students and between students

It would appear from a review of the literature on the subject and of current practice at universities that blogs and academic discourse are natural allies. Compared to asynchronous discussion forums such as newsgroups and bulletin boards, some contend that blogs are more successful in promoting interactivity that is conversational; a mode of interaction more conducive to improved student and teacher relationships, active learning, higher order thinking, and greater flexibility in teaching and learning more generally. An informal poll of students showed that they are broadly in favor of the continued use of blogs as an effective aid to teaching and learning.

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How might you use blogging?

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The “pros” of blogging
Give students added convenience Highly motivating to students Excellent opportunities reading and writing Effective forums for collaboration and discussion Allow mentoring to occur

Blogs work well for students because they can be worked on at virtually any time, in any place with an Internet-enabled computer. Hence, they can be used by computer savvy teachers to create a classroom that extends beyond the boundaries of the school yard. In addition to providing teachers with an excellent tool for communicating with students, there are numerous educational benefits of blogs. Blogs are: Highly motivating to students, especially those who otherwise might not become participants in classrooms. Excellent opportunities for students to read and write. Effective forums for collaboration and discussion. Powerful tools to enable mentoring to occur.

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The “pros” of blogging
Aid in Classroom Management Provide a space for collaboration Opens the opportunity for discussions Present, organize, and protect student work as digital portfolios Help to prevent feelings of isolation and alienation Self-expression and creativity is encouraged and online communities are built.

As an educational tool, blogs may be integrated in a multi-faceted manner to accommodate all learners. Blogs can serve at least four basic functions. 1. Classroom Management Class blogs can serve as a portal to foster a community of learners. As they are easy to create and update efficiently, they can be used to inform students of class requirements, post handouts, notices, and homework assignments, or act as a question and answer board. 2. Collaboration Blogs provide a space where teachers and students can work to further develop writing or other skills with the advantage of an instant audience. Teachers can offer instructional tips, and students can practice and benefit from peer review. They also make online mentoring possible. For example, a class of older students can help a class of younger students develop more confidence in their writing skills. Students can also participate in cooperative learning activities that require them to relay research findings, ideas, or suggestions. 3. Discussions A class blog opens the opportunity for students to discuss topics outside of the classroom. With a blog, every person has an equal opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions. Students have time to be reactive to one another and reflective. Teachers can also bring together a group of knowledgeable individuals for a given unit of study for students to network and conference with on a blog. 4. Student Portfolios Blogs present, organize, and protect student work as digital portfolios. As older entries are archived, developing skills and progress may be analyzed more conveniently. Additionally, as students realize their efforts will be published, they are typically more motivated to produce better writing. Teachers and peers may conference with a student individually on a developing work, and expert or peer mentoring advice can be easily kept for future reference. Blogs helped prevent feelings of isolation and alienation for distance learners. Provides an online venue where self-expression and creativity is encouraged and online communities are built.

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The “cons” of blogging
FERPA and AUP rules must be obeyed Blogs are viewed publicly Content is generally considered opinion even when it is fact

School districts have guidelines and acceptable use policies (AUP) regarding the use of school and division-wide computer networks and the Internet. These terms and conditions identify acceptable online behavior and access privileges. Policies regarding the displaying of any student work must be adhered to strictly. Take the necessary steps to secure parental permission before using the blog in a participatory manner. Blogs may be viewed publicly, as any other Web site. Students must be trained on issues regarding access, privacy, security, and free expression. As blogs have no publisher, producer, or editor, students must carefully consider the content of postings to avoid anything defamatory, libelous, or an infringement upon the rights of others. Blogs are created by individuals for various and assorted purposes. Content should be recognized as the opinion of the blogger, and, therefore, may not necessarily be factual.

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How to use blogs
Incorporate blogs as key, task-driven, elements of your course Use assessment tasks that incorporate subversion Use blogs for what they are good for Use proven and effective blogging tools

You must incorporate blogs as key, task-driven, elements of your course. This may sound obvious but simply providing blogs to learners and saying ‘Hey, use them however you want’ is an absolute guarantee of failure as all but 1 or 2 people will take you up on it. Significantly here that I’m not saying assessment...you can provide non-assessable but socially motivating tasks as long as they form part of class activities (i.e. competition for best designed blog with each participant presenting for 3 minutes) but they don’t have to be parts of assessment, and talking of assessment. You should use assessment tasks that incorporate subversion. One of the worst things you can do is mandate posting on particular topics with particularly rigid frequency... you’ll over-assess and kill off exactly what blogs are good for: personal expression & exploration. By all means say that you’re expecting a post a week... or ever more, but let people approach this in ways that fit them and set tasks that allow for deviation and subversion. Never, ever, mention number of words! You should use blogs for what they are good for. Blogs are by no means the answer to everything, they are very strong alternative communication tools but if you want to build quizzes, run polls, have near-synchronous conversation, do listserv-y kinds of discussion or strictly manage just about anything then you’ll probably want to look at another tool. Use blogs to assist people to publish work, represent themselves online, interact with their peers as part of an organic community and manage their own digital content and identity. Use proven and effective blogging tools. When you decide to set off on your blogging journey don’t, please don’t, do it with some ‘tacked on solution’ to a large and established Learning Management System. Blogs are just as complex as any other form of software and you want to get the tools from people who know what they’re doing. You probably wouldn’t pick up an office suite from Macromedia, would you? ... Look at all the options and chose a proven path, there are lots of them.

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How not to use blogs
Never, ever approach blogs as discussion boards, listservs or learning management systems Don’t try and force blogging into something else Ignore RSS at your peril

Never, ever approach blogs as discussion boards, listservs or learning management systems. Almost invariably the first thing people do when encountering new technologies is to try and get it to do what the technologies they are used to do already and this is no exception when it comes to blogs. Don’t try and force blogging into something else. Blogging suits highly customizable, individual, owned and fiercely flexible tools like WordPress. You can try and fit blogs into other systems such as Moodle, Drupal or Tiki but you’re not going to do well because the entire centralized philosophy of these systems is utterly opposed to that of successful blogging platforms. Ignore RSS at your peril. Probably the biggest mistake that adopters tend to make is to ignore RSS or just throw it a casting glance. The problem is that these people aren’t bloggers and just don’t understand. Without RSS, blogs would pretty much just be extensions of geocities pages. Your learners are NEVER going to surf each other’s sites everyday and the majority of them won’t even go to that funky web-based aggregator you set-up.

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Are there other pitfalls to Blogging?

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The cost of blogging
Monetarily: Free An almost insignificant learning curve A number of free tools exist to aid in blogging I use www.blogger.com To get started:
Go to a free blogging site Provide the necessary information requested. Create a title for your blog. Accept terms and select a template. Publish!

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Blogging made easier
http://technagogy.blogspot.com
Audioblogger.com Email an entry in

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References on blogging
Dickey, M.D. (2004). The impact of web-logs (blogs) on student perceptions of isolation and alienation in a web-based distance-learning environment. Open Learning, 19(3), 279-291 Using Blogs to Integrate Technology in the Classroom (2004). Teaching Today [On-line]. Retrieved June 5, 2006, from http://www.glencoe.com/sec/teachingtoday/educationupclose.phtml/47 Williams, J.B. & Jacobs, J. (2004). Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(2), 232-247 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blogs http://www.blogger.com http://www.weblogs.com http://www.thebloghoster.com

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