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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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Harold Shaw's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jim - I believe that blogging re-opens "brain cells" that I haven't used in years. But actually I just enjoy the writing process and often find that what had originally been a 200 word piece has turned into a 1400 word piece and I don't even notice the time or "effort" put into it. I am getting ready to introduce my h.s. students to blogging, like you say you have to write to write better and if I can get them to take ownership in their "blog site" then they will write more and we both win. -- Harold

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a teacher, I talk all day long and when I get home I don't want to talk anymore. Reading your thoughts about writing reall hit home to me. I agree that writing is theraputic. I can definately let more of myself out there in writing than I can if I am talking to someone. I think that it is the way the the paper or computer can not judge or talk back. After a long day, I can feel more relief for writing down all of my thoughts than just letting them stir around in my head all night.

Stephanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have two blogs that I have started, one a blogspot and one on my own website. I have found that I enjoy bloggging, but that it is difficult to do it on a regular basis.

I think that blogging is a great outlet for teachers and students and can be used to create some very authentic writing assignments. Having a classroom blog that students are required to update to help inform parents and the community about their classroom and school is one way.

I find that it is very difficult to keep up with so many blogs. My husband, on the other had, reads more than 15 blogs a day!

Anne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am new to blogging. I am attending Walden University and our assignment this week was to visit blogs and respond with our feelings. Your reflections helped me better formulate my opinions about them. I appreciate all the new knowledge presented within them. I like to be able to learn from other professionals' experiences. However, I do not have unlimited time to spend reading blogs. I will try the aggregator that you mentioned. I also worry about the validity of the information being offered. It puts the responsibility on the reader to check the information. I never considered the point you made about the value of the blog being to the writer rather than the reader. Thanks for giving me new insight.

Erin Lasher's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for sharing your insights about blogging. When I began reading your blog I was thinking, "how does he know what I am thinking?" As I continued reading through your posting I came to the same conclusion as you. The value for me is in processing my thoughts and reflecting on my experiences or opinions. This doesn't mean that comments from others are irrelevant. Rather, they are an additional bonus.

Another value I have found in blogging is hearing ideas, opinions, and news from around the education world and being able to relate. It creates a sense of community within the education field. Thank you for sharing your reflections on blogging with the education community.

Alison's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

So true! I actually do think of myself as a writer. I did a lot of writing in high school and college but aside from poems I had to turn in for class, I never showed anyone my work. Why? Because it was for me.I wrote because I felt the need to, for whatever reason. I guess if I ever did show anyone and they liked it, well that would be nice but it really wouldn't matter. I already got what I needed by writing. I guess this is why I never got into Facebook or Myspace. I always felt it had nothing to do with me. It was other people writing about their life and to be honest, I have enough going on in my life to spend time reading about other people's lives!

Mark Spahr's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is so true. The idea that there is a potential audience for your writing really does increase my desire to write well. Having an audience is part of what I believe can make blogging such a valuable tool to help students improve their writing skills. I hope that student blogs are something that I will be able to implement in the future.

@Harold- Stretching those "writing muscles" that I have not used in years has been tough. Right now, there are no quick or easy blog posts, as I am constantly trying to make a post better before publishing it. Hopefully, with time and practice, I can get back into shape.

@Anne- using an aggregator (I use Google Reader) is a big help. I follow several blogs and it saves me a lot of time.
For me, blogging and participating in the conversation by leaving comments at other blogs has been an important step in becoming a better learner.

Mirlene's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am new to blogging. I decided to go back to school to earn my graduate degree after 9 years. Many technologies are still new to me. Part of our assignment this week was to visit a blog.I must admit I was a little skeptical about putting my thoughts or even ideas on a blogg but after you made the point about "who do we want helping young people become better writers? If I am in the business of helping young people than I need to show my blog! Which by the way, I teach first grade. I'm so excited to know that I will be able to learn and share ideas from other professionals.

smckay's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jim,
You certainly make a good point about wrting being a reflective, theraputic, and hopefully a profound experience; however, the time factor is a valid one.
I enjoy reading those topics that directly would impact me as a middle school LAL teacher. The rest of them are too numerous, and some are especially long. I do crave the interactive experience, but I am also impatient to get a response when I ask a question. The aggregator is like an adminsitrative secretary ready to do our searching for pertinent blogs. Without such a tool, it is a random hit and miss search and very time consuming. Some writers tend to get a bit carried away; I want them to get to the point a little more succintly. Thanks for bring this topic up; i will try iGoogle.
Susan

Mark's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jim,
You make a great point that viewing time is the key for searching for blogs and also using Tivo. I find that when I take the time to search blogs or web forums I do find some great information. However, it is taking the time to wade through the mass of informatoin that is tough.

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