adapted from Blogs 101 by Paula Ogg © Sheridan College 2013
The word blog is a combination of the words web and log - weblog. It is a running chronological list of web entries like a “drawer full of folders” (Zawilinski, 2009, p.651). Students can post entries, reply to posts, make comments, and rate posts. It shares similarities with discussion forums or journals, but it is quite unique in its own right; it is much more open-ended and public. We can blog announcements, reflections, showcase pieces, reading responses, current issues and events, and even academic research. Watch a three-minute video from CommonCraft called Blogs in Plain English.
Use your imagination. What could your students blog about? What would be an appropriate blog for your students to follow? Only you know what would be authentic to your field of study, your curriculum, and your students. To get started, consider these ideas:
Blogs are a new information literacy tool. They can foster higher order thinking, collaboration, and possibly social change. Not only are students blogging, but professors are too. While primarily for writing, blogs can have rich media like pictures, video, and audio. They are an emerging trend in academic publication.
Internet Literacy. Blogging is a relatively new literacy that emphasizes higher order thinking. Students need to gather, analyze, and synthesize information critically in their blog post. It might be to respond to something. It might be to upload and share something. It might be solve something (Zawilinski, 2009).
Higher Order Thinking. A blog can help students develop reading comprehension skills through open-ended prompts to encourage interpretation and persuasion. First, they can build background knowledge to prepare to read. Second, they can read with the prompts gained from that prior knowledge. Third, they can clarify and summarize their reading by connecting the background knowledge and first impressions of the reading. Finally, students can share their blog posts for discussion which synthesizes diverse perspectives and captures rich exchanges of talk and text (Zawilinski, 2009).
Collaboration. Students can share their blog with their professor and their classmates. Through the sharing of student comments and various forms of audio and visual media, blogging can improve writing, communication, collaboration, and problem solving. Blogging not only captures ideas and reflections on concepts, but it can also link the formal and the informal. Sharing one’s blog with a broader audience can break down barriers. It can bridge the gap between in and out of school literacies (Zawilinski, 2009).
Live Feed. Some professors run a live blogging feed during their face-to-face (F2F) class. This keeps students engaged with the lecture and discussion via their mobile devices. For students who are shy or simply do not get a chance to participate in class, it gives them an opportunity to contribute. It acts a repository of the class discussion for review and posterity; it also allows the conversation to continue even after the class has finished. For students, who drift to their social media during class, the live feed might bring them back from their socializing to the class! Watch a short five-minute video, The Twitter Experiment, about how professor Monica Rankin at Texas University Dallas uses Twitter with her history students:
Social Change. Although there is very little quantitative data about the use of Facebook or Twitter in education, the obvious potential of building networks through communication and collaboration exists. In its purest form, social media blogging might be used to create social networks for research, change, awareness, and advocacy at a local and global level. For example, if a student can connect with an organization, they have the potential to learn from as well as to influence the audience that follows that blog. The potential to conduct action research in this area is vast.
Accessibility. Blogging would appeal primarily to linguistic learners. It is definitely a great tool to develop writing skills. Yet, if students use audio and visual media, then it would appeal to a variety of learning styles, abilities, and English as a Second Language (ESL) students. Visual learners and art students, may prefer social media like Pinterest to blog about images (Gardner, 2011) (CAST, 2012). Adult online learners can blog any time, any place, and any pace (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).
Publication (Blogademia). While formal publication is still the gold standard in academia, some professors blog about their research logs. This allows them to reach a broader audience in an open access forum. Few people read journal articles with the exception of other academic researchers. To the layperson, the message can be difficult to decipher from the style of research writing; many journal articles require a paid subscription, which limits the audience who reads it even more. Lastly, it can take years for research to progress to a formal publication and even longer for the message to evoke change. With a blog the audience can keep abreast of the potential breakthroughs as the happen!
Professional Reputation. Not only is blogging an emerging trend for publication, but it is also a way to build a scholarly reputation. Professors can post updates on research, industry trends, or changes to policy. Students can follow and interact with their professor’s academic blog, too. Building one’s brand online also engages peer exchange of ideas. It is a place that fosters the academic freedom to post creative and reflective thought (Kirkup, 2010).
With Internet literacy come many challenges. Blogging is still a relatively new genre on the verge of acceptance even in scholarly writing. We need to teach students about privacy online and respecting the tenants of Netiquette. in particular, we need to be wary of rants and blogs, especially about academic life and academia. The more open-ended the topic, the more willing students are to engage.
Open-Ended. Not all students will enjoy blogging. While we do need to provide grading criteria to students, Zawilinski found that students wanted to write about what they wanted to write about (2009). We may still need to provide prompts, but students want to post their own work, post their own questions, and post their own open-ended topics (Zawilinski, 2009).
Netiquette. Some blogs fall into the category of rants. Professors and students should be very aware of their audience and any repercussions of ranting too boldly in the wrong arena. Likewise, students need to be aware of trolls - bloggers looking to stir up trouble and pick arguments. We need to watch sarcasm and inciting angry posts to avoid flame wars. Students should exercise Netiquette in their comments - avoid cyberbullying, trolling, or flaming. If students are using shareware blogs, they may want to set their privacy settings to include only their professor, select classmates in an assigned group, the entire class, or even the entire world (Shea, 2004).
Privacy. Most journal articles speak to the privacy issues and boundaries between the student and professor. Students who use Facebook and Twitter to build their social identity may not want classwork or homework to creep into their online world. As professors, if we choose to interact with our students in these domains, it is a good idea to have a personal profile for your personal life and a professional profile for interacting with your students. Some schools completely ban all social media on school and any kind of interaction between professor and student via these types of websites. If you do use social media with your students, make sure that they understand how to maintain their privacy and the importance of protecting their identity, location, and personal information online.
Rant. Many mainstream bloggers simply rant about current issues. Constructive balanced critique can lead to informed change. However, critiquing one’s own academic institution or discipline too strongly may result in backlash or fallout (Kirkup, 2010). A rant may also invite flame wars and trolls. On the other hand, a well-argued and highly stylized rant can be very effective!
Blogademia. One challenge with this new academic literacy is it does not count as a formal publication. Professors do not receive credit for blogging. Another challenge is the pros and cons of blogging about academic life. Whether reflective or not, blogging about much needed change in academia, especially within one’s own institution, could lead to repercussions (Kirkup, 2010). A blog calling for change must come from researched unbiased frame of mind, not an emotional one.
In 2009, a blog called, Night Jack - An English Detective, received the Orwell Prize for political writing. This legitimized blogging as a form of academic writing (Kirkup, 2010). However, that same year, the constable, who anonymously wrote the blog, was forced to reveal his identity. The blog was subsequently shut down the blog. He was disciplined by his police force for breaching the standards of professional behaviour (BBC, 2009).
Use a backwards design approach. First, start with the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB); if you teach in the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program, consider your themes and units as well. Second, create your assessments. Third, plan your instructional activities. Finally, choose a technology to enhance the lesson.
Design. Consider your curriculum; look carefully at your benchmarks, program learning outcomes, course learning outcomes, and lesson learning outcomes. Will a blog fulfill the learning outcomes? How will you evaluate what the students learn through a blog? What technologies will you and your students need to learn in order to keep a blog? Will a blog enhance the learning experience?
Develop. Review the kinds of writing practice common in ESL. Reflect on your own blogging practices in your academic and professional career. Research what blogging platforms are common with your students. Examine areas where blogging would benefit the students. Consider doing some action research to see if blogging could enhance writing with your ESL classroom
Deliver. Decide what students will do before, during, and after the blogging activity. Before blogging, students might preview vocabulary with a word search puzzle, read an article, or watch a film. While blogging, students can follow prompts for writing. After they write their blogs, students can share their posts with others for discussion. The blogging activity should be authentic, active, and applied.
Browse the Internet or app store for blogging software. Examine the various tool sets available through your school; for example, we can use the discussion forums in a learning management system (LMS). Consider potential social media blogs like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress or WordPress EduBlog, or Google Blogger as well as virtual pinning sites like Pinterest to feature blogging activities. With Facebook, students can post comments on their wall, upload photos and videos, find friends, chat, send email, and create an events page with a discussion forum; on Twitter, students can tweet a 140-character message under a hash tag feed, create a discussion forum, chat, or retweet; at Tumblr, students can customize their home page and add text, photos, videos, music, and links.
BBC News. (2009, June 16). Force disciplines police blogger. BBC News. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/8103731.stm
Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (2012). Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/index.html
Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of mind: the theory of multiple intelligences (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.
Kirkup, G. (2010). Academic blogging: Academic practice and academic integrity. London Review of Education 8(1), p.75-84.
Shea, V. (2004). Netiquette. Retrieved from http://www.albion.com/netiquette/book/index.html
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Zawilinski, L. (2009). HOT blogging: A framework for blogging to promote higher order thinking. Reading Teacher, 62(8), p.650-661.
Flame War. A tirade of angry or rude posts between participants.
Troll. To write angry or sarcastic posts to purposefully instigate flame wars - a tirade of angry or rude posts.