In praise of the blog

Lifestyle

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Dennis Relojo-Howell tells you everything you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask, about the art of blogging

It is easy to underestimate how much the humble blog has woven its way into our lives and collective consciousness. Just google a recipe for vegan chicken wings or paint colours for a small living room: most of the search results will be from blogs. 

Aside from being a full-time PhD researcher, I’m a full-time blogger (and vlogger). My blogging experience convinced me of the unique importance of people expressing themselves in these new environments. Blogging can be anonymous or public; it can be no-holds-barred, or it can be tentative. In a world where people are impatient to get to the end of a tweet, writing an online journal may seem counter-intuitive. But what you may lose in the number of interactions, you gain in quality of engagement. 

I have used blogs to deal with my own mental health difficulties over the years, and I am so glad I have had that route into self-expression. Reading other people’s online journals is also very reassuring, whether they use their real name or are anonymous. When you enter the world of blogging you join a conversation – not just with the rest of the world, but also with yourself.

The internet is changing the way students learn. From fashion to faith, politics to  parenting, de-stressing to DIY, there are currently over 500 million active blogs online. They have been firm fixtures of internet life for well over a decade. Although it has taken some time for educators to recognise the unique value that blogs can bring to a learning environment, more and more teachers are now bringing blogs into the classroom, and discovering a new world of possibilities. 

We know that students of all ages and levels enjoy being online in just about any form.

Starting a classroom blog, or individual blogs for each learner, can harness people’s natural enthusiasm for the internet and motivate students to take a more active role in their learning.

The functionality of a blog lends itself well to class writing projects, journaling exercises, and collaborative projects. Blogs have even been shown to be useful in helping teachers keep track of assignments. The nature of the technology also offers many avenues for creative expression beyond the written word. Images and video are often key parts of a blogpost; learning about coding can help students customise their sites and the judicious use of social media platforms has the potential to connect your classroom to the world for myriad learning opportunities.

Blogging can also boost engagement, literacy, and other skills.

Creativity is key when it comes to figuring out how blogs can work in an educational setting but however you decide to use them certain benefits are guaranteed. 

Once an expectation has been established that students will contribute to a class blog, or even publish on their own page, the blog writing can be integrated into the literacy curriculum. ‘New literacies’ such as good digital citizenship, critical evaluation, and cultural awareness become natural areas of focus.

The variety in tone and register among blogs, and between blogs, and other forms of writing is a fantastic topic to investigate in literature classes. Further, as blogging is generally a more informal type of writing, it can remove some of the pressure on students who feel too self-conscious about their written English to share their good ideas. This does not mean that blogs cannot also be used to publish assignments and essays.

Classroom blogs are, of course, largely about writing – and writing is part of every school subject. Literacy, clear communication, appropriate argumentation, and critical reflection can be part of maths, science, or language lessons. With all the uses for blogs, you can transform your classroom into an educational playground.

If each individual in a class has their own personal blog, it can act as a repository for all their own content.

As other platforms may change in nature or simply be shut down, a personal blog is a relatively secure way to hold and showcase your own work, and work that has inspired you.

It can act as a coursework store; a scrapbook of images, videos, and useful links; and can shape a positive digital footprint. 

In order to start a blog, a blogging platform is required, which takes care of formatting the content in the form of text and images; and provides a framework for getting onto a website. The blogging platform also makes it easier for a search engine to index blog posts, and be able to take advantage of marketing and advertising opportunities. 

There are a number of blogging platforms available. They are secure sites and are free: 

  • WordPress. This is a handy platform for education professionals looking to create a blog for their class. Through WordPress, teachers can create a virtual classroom.
  • Edublog. Since 2005, Edublog has grown into one of the largest educational blogging platforms in the world. Edublog believes that blogging transforms the educational experience of students, and has seen first-hand how blogging increases ownership of learning.
  • Kidblog. This platform provides teachers with tools to safely publish student writing. Teachers can monitor all activity within a community of authors. Blogposts can even be public, but nothing goes live until a teacher approves it. 

There are so many ways that blogs can be used in education:

  • Teachers can use blogs to publish assignments, resources, and keep students (and parents) up-to-date on class events, due dates, and lessons being covered.
  • Students can  work around blogs to publish their writing and educate others on a particular topic.
  • Just like those ‘how-tos’ you find on Pinterest, teachers can have students make their own ‘how-to’ science projects using the structure of the scientific method. Teachers can let them post pictures and videos to demonstrate their procedures.
  • Teachers can let each student be in charge of their own blog and connect them to a ‘blog pal’ from another country. This is a good way to share blogging tips, and also learn from other cultures.

Blogging can help teachers get an insight into what their students are doing. It also lets students open up and share their opinion on important matters. 

You can see these fantastic ideas implemented into action on some of the best educational blogs: 

I contributed a chapter about how to incorporate blogs into teaching, to a book of research around the application of Web 2.0 technologies in universities and businesses. I explain how to set up and effectively use a classroom blog; I explore the role that blog psychology can play in teaching and I also outline further advantages to classroom blogging including how students can articulate their views more accurately and how blogging can increase extroverts’ satisfaction in the classroom.

Despite the low barrier to entry into the world of classroom blogging, many teachers may still be reluctant to explore these tools. I would say that the pace of change, of teaching and society in general, is only going to increase. So, in order to meet the evolving needs of today’s young people, we need to evolve too. Staying on top of the latest innovations is not just keeping up with gimmicks: it means always having the best toolkit with which to motivate and understand your students.

Teachers should not expect to suddenly know everything about the world of blogging. We should all take our time to familiarise ourselves with the platforms and the conventions instead of just diving in with a WordPress account and just hoping for the best. Perhaps a class research project on the subject of blogging could serve as an introduction to the area for both you and your students.

However you approach it, spending time integrating blogging into your teaching and learning is sure to reap rewards. There are issues to bear in mind to ensure the effective execution of your strategy, not least a set of safety and privacy concerns, but embracing new forms of communication in a thoughtful way can only make education more relevant, more engaging, and maybe even more fun. 

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