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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Blogs, Blogs Everywhere: Does Everyone Need an Internet Journal?

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

I was working in a school where a teacher, who is technically savvy and making great use of digital tools in her classroom, openly challenged the idea that blogging is something to be encouraged for teachers and students. She voiced a concern that there is just so much stuff out there already, and all these blogs are just too much.

This was an especially provocative comment, as one of the other participants in the session, Mark Spahr, had just shared the blog he had launched as a place to post his thoughts about teaching and learning in general and on being a culinary-arts instructor at a juvenile corrections facility.

Her questions, juxtaposed with Spahr's excitement about his new endeavor and the connections it was creating, caused me to reflect on the amount of great thinking, great ideas, and great writing out there on blogs, especially those -- such as the Spiral Notebook -- focused on teaching and learning. I realized that there was way too much on the Web to even begin to digest. A human being could not regularly visit the sites on which this information is posted and still maintain a normal life in the real world. There are not enough hours in the day.

So the solution most often suggested for getting to all these resources is the use of an information aggregator (mentioned in a blog entry by Diane Demeé-Benoit and in one by Chris O'Neal) such as Bloglines or iGoogle. These aggregators go out and cherry-pick the content you have asked them to collect, then deliver it to you in one neat package.

But after you use an aggregator, what do you have? You have the ability to bring all the content you want to one place, the ability to create your own personalized and content-rich Web resource. Great, but what about that time thing? There is a TiVo-like sense to the aggregators that troubles me -- the inaccurate assumption that the only reason I don't watch this television show or that, the only reason I don't read a certain blog, is simply that it is not broadcast at a time that is good for me or that I don't want to go skipping all over the Web to look for it.

And then it hit me: The real power of blogging, the greatest benefit in writing for a blog, goes not to the audience but rather to the writer. It is in the very act of writing, the preparation of the content you are going to share, that the benefit is found. Writing is a reflective process, and the creation of content you're going to share causes you to work hard to make your thinking clear. An audience creates anxiety, and appropriate levels of anxiety support our best efforts. And the best writing calls for our best thinking.

Here is an example, from my own experience: This topic has been churning around in my mind for more than a week, and sitting down and writing this piece has been cathartic. I have crystallized my thinking and taken the time to get it as right as I can. I have made my best effort.

Should you read this and find that it causes you to think, that is good. But I have already received value from my effort. I have figured out what I really believe about the topic of universal blogging. I have a better understanding of my own thinking because I have stopped moving, thought, written, revised, thought, written, revised, and finally edited.

Would I have taken the time and put out the effort to do this if I was not writing for my blog? Let's be honest. Probably not. The blog is the taskmaster, the responsibility that not only provides the audience but also asks for my input.

Often, when I work with teachers responsible for supporting the development of writers, I will ask them, "How many of you are writers?" with the caveat that writing lesson plans doesn't count. The response is consistently troubling. Generally, less than 10 percent consider themselves writers. And I have to ask, who do we want helping young people become better writers -- a writer, or a nonwriter?

The writer, of course -- so show us your blogs!

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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Cari's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is the first time I have blogged and I too am completing an assignment for Walden. I have found this experience beneficial and see the value of blogging for the purpose of reflection and insights of other educators. As I was reading the initial blog, I was inspired by your thoughts of the writer gaining the benefit rather than the reader. Reflection through journaling is an idea I have wanted to pursue, but have not. I think blogging would encourage that and also would inspire the writer within myself.

Chieko Brown's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have to admit that I only thought about blogging because it was required as a class assignment. After going to several different blog sites and reading this blog that I'm starting to come around. I do think that we should use our best judgment when participating and using the information from blogs. I think that we should remember that a lot of the information in blogs are other people personal opinions.

Kimberley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jim - As someone who is looking at blogs for the first time, what suggestions would you make. I am a student at Walden University and part of our assignment this week was to check out educational blog sites and reflect upon our interaction with others through the use of blogs. I have to admit that I was extremely frustrated with the overwhelming information. I was having trouble navigating some blogs. Any advice to make things quicker and easier would be greatly appreciated.

Marlene Marshall's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you that the blog is more for the composer than it is for the reader. Several of the teachers that I work with have started blogging for their students. If we think about it blogging is a technical saavy way to have your students journal. I remember going into class with my composition book, looking at the blackboard, and writing in my journal about the daily topic on the board. Now this can be done online. We have found that the students actually write longer responses to the journal questions when posting a blog as compared to the hand written journal. This also helps with the push for standardized testing and the emphasis being put on teachers to log in reading and language arts time. Maybe if we utilize blogging for writing assigments we could open more time for science and social studies in the school day. Just a thought.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am new to blogging, but have contemplated beginning a blog with my 5th grade class. Any suggestions for rolling out a blog? What has worked/What has not? What topics have worked well for beginning bloggers? Thanks!

Jen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I had always thought of blogs as a waste of time. It had seemed like just another place in this world for people to complain. It wasn't until last year when my school district began a "laptop initiative" that I began to look at blogging as a valuable tool to use in the classroom. With every student having a laptop now in my class, my colleagues and I began researching different ways to tie them into our curriculum. After trying a blog devoted to a novel we were reading, I began to see the students become excited to talk about literature. Plus, they were writing!

Val's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was surprised when Jim made the comment regarding the greatest benefit to blogging is the writer. It was almost a stunning surprise to him. I thought the reason for blogging/journaling is for the writer. I'm surprised that anybody would be surprised at that. Lots of surprising going on! Jim expressed the personal results of writing clearly and it was extremely well worded. He is definitely a writer! One of the good side effects of blogging is sharing the ideas. It helps to know that you're not in the proverbially boat alone. One of my concerns as I was reading and really stood out in the last paragraph is the encouragement "so show us your blogs". The context was in the school setting with teachers and students. I'm concerned with all the online blogs and journals from young individuals who don't realize the implications of their actions and words until they come back to hurt them. I think an over abundance of sharing causes problems in young peoples life. I know this opens another can of something but teachers and parents need to be aware and use caution in encouraging online blogging. Sometimes a personal journal is a good thing to.

Chad's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have heard the buzz over the past few years about blogging and I have been quickly introduced to them in a one hour session about incorporating it into education programs. Unfortunately that never turned into a blogging lifestyle because time is precious in the teaching profession both in my personal life and in the classroom. The time required is definitely a negative aspect as you mentioned. I am a very personable person and I find it hard to muster up the energy to keep up in reading blogs even of my closest friends and I would much rather have personal discussion with others. It also seems to be a hard concept to involve in the everyday classroom unless you are teaching a computer based class.

At the same time I do see a value in blogging as a posting of ideas and a collection of insights from others that we can use to ponder and reflect some items in our own lives. Along the lines of your insights, I do believe it would still be a positive in students' lives if we encourage them to write and learn how to express themselves and their insights with others. Only when we share our insights with others can others learn from us.

Carissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a new teacher this year and am also pursuing my master's in reading and math. One of my assignments was to search through blogs and find one to participate in. I opened all the links my instructor gave, became overwhelmed, and closed them about 15 times this week. Time seemed to always be a huge issue. I kept thinking to myself, how will I fit blogging into my already packed schedule? Finally, deadline nearing, I opened Edutopia and stumbled across your insightful entry. Although I have often thought about the benefits of venting or exhaling through writing I had not bridged the connection with blogging. Your entry really helped me to think about it, not so much as a burden of time, but as a therapeutic tool to use at my disposal and when time permitted. There are days when I come home and "blog" to my family for hours about my insane day with 30 kids or a wonderful thing that happened that day. I may try writing my blog down for a change and seeing how people react and what insights people have to share about it. Thanks for putting your thoughts in print Jim!!!

Joel Zehring's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Blogging allows others to chime in with encouragements, disagreements, and other perspectives.

If you're not up for writing your own blog, commenting on other blogs can be a great step in the right direction.

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