What is it?
Blogs serve as a communication tools and discussion venues between teacher and parent, teacher and students, and students with students. Blogs encourage active involvement in sharing ideas and information and appeal to diverse kinds of learners.
In the classroom, blogging is as valuable with directed assignments such as responses to document based questions (DBQs) as in ESL classes or informal conversations promoting writing skills.
A number of free blogging platforms are available that come with clear directions for setting up and using blogs. A few are listed below.
Edublogs, powered by WordPress, offers free blogging sites to educators, directions for setting up, and tips for teaching with the blog. Managing Users is particularly pertinent for educators establishing a classroom blog. Instructions include important information about Creating Student Accounts Using One Gmail Address for students who do not have email. Free Edublogs are public; an advertisement-free, private blog with additional features is a subscriber option for about $4 a month.
Gmail offers the free blogging platform, Blogger, which includes team blogging and privacy features. Blogger's own blog, Blogger Buzz, offers examples of Blogger-in-action and answers to technical questions and featured updates.
WordPress is perhaps the most comprehensive online publishing tool. It is also more technologically challenging than Edublog and Blogger. An introduction to WordPress gives an outline of the possibilities of the system, and the site offers extensive question and answer sections and technical support, starting at WordPress for Beginners.
Teachers from elementary school through higher education are finding that blogging engages students in curriculum-centered conversations and that blogging encourages students who might otherwise be quiet to participate in discussions.
Then Journal, a peer-reviewed publication on technology, humanities, education, and narrative, published "Classroom blogging in the service of student-centered pedagogy: Two high school teachers' use of blogs" (September 2008). A mathematics and a science teacher identify six distinct classroom blogging practices: sharing resources; responding to teacher prompts; recording lesson highlights; posting learning challenges; reflecting on what was learned; and engaging in online conversations. Equally applicable to history and other humanities courses, the teachers stress that success with blogs depends on how the blog is structured and used.
In the Classroom, Web Logs Are the New Bulletin Boards from the New York Times of August 19, 2004, demonstrates the use of blogs with second-graders in a Maryland school district. Teachers and administrators highlight why blogging is an effective classroom tool.
Educational Blogging, by Stephen Downes, looks at blogging in an elementary school in Quebec, Canada. He discusses what blogs are and aren't; points to blog hosting sites; and explores the effect of blogs on teaching and learning. Stressing the value of blogs in fostering participation in communities of learners, he writes, "Blogging isn’t really about writing at all; that's just the end point of the process, the outcome that occurs more or less naturally if everything else has been done right. Blogging is about, first, reading. But more important, it is about reading what is of interest to you: your culture, your community, your ideas. And it is about engaging with the content and with the authors of what you have read—reflecting, criticizing, questioning, reacting."
In Digital Discussion: Take Your Class to the Internet, author Helena Echlin explains, "For some, a blog is an electronic notebook—one students can't lose (or claim the dog ate). For others, it's a forum where a class discussion can unfold 24/7. Either way, blogging can be a powerful educational tool." She includes suggestions for setting up a classroom blog and a sample eighth grade lesson plan that leads students to identify characteristics of good blogging.
Avoiding the 5 Most Common Mistakes in Using Blogs with Students, by Ruth Reynard on the blog Campus Technology, points to the importance of clarifying the role of the blog in the learning process: ". . . there must be concepts for students to think through, various resources and content segments to process, or ideas to construct." While the higher education community is the primary audience for this article, the concepts extend to all grade levels.