Professional Learning

Blogs, Blogs Everywhere: Does Everyone Need an Internet Journal?

March 25, 2008

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!

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