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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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Comments (40)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Carol's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have considered the idea of using a blog in my science classroom as a means of reflecting on science issues in the news. We currently do this in a hand written format, with a fairly low level of enthusiam on the students' part. After reading the comments here I am inspired to make this happen with a blog. I believe that the studnets will participate more, both in freqency and lenght of response. We could even use the postings as a basis for critiquing writing skills. If you are a science teacher can you let me know your experience with blogging and perhaps share a link to your blog?

Jim R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been thinking about this question for quite awhile, and have been prompted by a friend and colleague to respond. I guess I had been holding off in part because it just seemed so "common sense..."

It seems to me, just as if a child were to write a comment in a daily journal that raised red flags for me as a teacher, I would report information shared in a blog if I thought it was either evidence of a child in an abusive situation or a cry for help for any reason. And as always, I would seek the support and counsel of my principal and guidance staff in making sure all were working together to do the best for our kids.

Here is an article that speaks to the topic of reporting abuse and mandatory reporting: http://www.smith-lawfirm.com/mandatory_reporting.htm

And far from a reason to be concerned or reticent about blogging, that one-in-many who may use a blog to cry out about an abusive situation may be yet another great reason to blog with kids.

Also, remember that in the administrative controls of your blog, the owner can control when and how comments and posts become visible, so while you may see a student comment that deserves looking into, it need not go public for all the world to see.

What do others think?

Jim

Jim R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Carol -

First off - full disclosure - I am not a science teacher. ;-}

But your request to hear from those in your field sent me looking for some resources. So...

Here is a collection of Kentucky teacher blogs: http://kentuckyclassroom.org/

A middle school science teacher found on the above:http://kentuckyclassroom.org/rison/

And here is a "teacher place" to start: http://edublogs.org/

I will look forward to hearing the responses that come in from science teachers!

Cheers.

Jim

Annemarie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently taking a Master's course that requires me to participate in a blog. At first, I was very intimidated since I have never done this before. Immediately I started thinking the same things you wrote about. I thought, "Who has time to sit there and read all these blogs and respond. In addition, if I have a question where in the world do I start to find the answer?" Your paragraph about the power of blogging really interested me. Honestly this is one of the first blogs I have read, and I was able to keep reading to the end. It really inspired me to think about the power of blogging. I see how wonderful of a tool it can be for the readers. Furthermore, I now see how enlightening it can be for the writers. I am a reflective person and go through the steps you talk about for each post I write. Also, as I am writing, I am learning. It is through these posts that I actually take a minute to think about what I think, to formulate my own opinion on topics that I would not have thought about on my own. Reading others responses stimulates my thinking and causes me to want to participate. So I say thank you. Thank you for helping me to realize the positive aspects of blogging and helping me to come to a decision on the issue. I hope other educators out there can use blogging to gain knowledge about new topics or old questions as I hope to.

Annemarie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am currently taking a Master's course that requires me to participate in a blog. At first, I was very intimidated since I have never done this before. Immediately I started thinking the same things you wrote about. I thought, "Who has time to sit there and read all these blogs and respond. In addition, if I have a question where in the world do I start to find the answer?" Your paragraph about the power of blogging really interested me. Honestly this is one of the first blogs I have read, and I was able to keep reading to the end. It really inspired me to think about the power of blogging. I see how wonderful of a tool it can be for the readers. Furthermore, I now see how enlightening it can be for the writers. I am a reflective person and go through the steps you talk about for each post I write. Also, as I am writing, I am learning. It is through these posts that I actually take a minute to think about what I think, to formulate my own opinion on topics that I would not have thought about on my own. Reading others responses stimulates my thinking and causes me to want to participate. So I say thank you. Thank you for helping me to realize the positive aspects of blogging and helping me to come to a decision on the issue. I hope other educators out there can use blogging to gain knowledge about new topics or old questions as I hope to.

Toni's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too am required to participate in blogging for a class I'm taking. I feel like it's just "one more thing" and very time consuming to find a topic you are interested in when you've been given an open-ended assignment like this. I do see the value if you had a particular question or topic to research, but hadn't thought about it in the way of it being more for the writer than the audience. I can relate to that, and now see some strong possibilities for using blogging as a response tool with my class next year.

albert's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jim - I believe that blogging re-opens "brain cells" that I haven't used in years.

Brett Perucco's picture

Jim,
I'd like to take your idea and spin it from teacher to student. I have my 7th graders blogging. Sure, part of the reason is so that they understand the technology and broaden themselves past MySpace and Facebook. But the real reason is that it "tricks" them into having fun with writing. I agree with you that often, the blog is not for the reader, but for the writer. I see the blog as a tool to help improve our students' writing abilities. It seems we are in a time when kids are struggling to form a complete sentence. If they can form a sentence, the reader better know text lingo to decipher it. Blogs are the perfect tool to teach proper skills.

Sarah's picture

I have to agree with your comments about blogging creating better writers. I am currently enrolled in an online university and because the only way for my professors to judge me is on the content of my writing, it takes a lot longer to finish my assignments than it did when I attended class. Blogs are very similar. You are being evaluated or judged solely on your writing skills and content. I often tell my 6th grade students, who think it is funny to speak grammatically incorrect in school, that they will not be perceived as funny in the outside world. In fact, they will be considered uneducated. The way you speak and write says a lot about a person. I think blogging it a great way to drill that into students. You never know who will come across your blog, so it should always be your best work. I have definitely seen a change in my writing since I started my online degree. I believe blogs can have the same effect on students.

Gayle's picture

Your explanation of blogging as a form of writing made me realize that a blog could be a great tool for my Spanish students. It could give them practice in everyday language and the give-and-take of a conversation with time to think and process. Great suggestion!

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