Blogging has been my companion on this journey into web tools. Some weeks it has been with me in a Lamborghini, some weeks in a 4X4 and other weeks in an armored tank. Whatever the topic, frustration or smooth sailing, blogging has been there to listen to me and help me sort out my feelings and thoughts. Best of all it has been there to hear my hopes for the future.
According to Davies and Merchant (2009), a blog is a website whose entries are frequently updated and in reverse chronological order. Blogs are written for a wide variety of topics and purposes. Blogs can be created by anyone anywhere using free software. Huffaker (2005) says that 50% of blogs are published by people between the ages of 13 and 19. Statistics like these indicate the importance of harnessing this trend and using it to engage students in learning.
Before I began this course I had not knowingly read a blog and definitely never written a blog post. I began the first week of class by setting up my blog and writing my first introductory post. Setting up the blog was very easy but the thought of blogging was intimidating. You were putting yourself “out there” and for a type A personality like myself, that was nerve wracking. As I learned about the web tools I embedded them into my blog making it appear more techy every week. I embedded photos and screen shots into my blog posts, as well as, added many widgets like photos, video, word cloud, feeds, followers, links, etc. Some of these widgets were very simple to add and others were frustrating. The frustration was always brought on by a steeper learning curve. Like anything, once I had that aha!! moment it was all good and I wondered what the difficulty was. Adding gadgets to my blog helped to create more of an online presence and hopefully showed more of my individual personality. My blog looks very different now from the first week of class and I look forward to adding even more gadgets as my independent journey continues.
Will Richardson (2009) in his book Blogs, Wikis and Podcasts describes “real blogging” as the process of read/write/link/rewrite. My journey began never having written a blog post before. This course forced me to take the plunge. Blogging each week required me to research a topic, play with the knowledge I had gained and then analyze and synthesize the information into a blog post containing specific criteria. The process of reading, analyzing and writing compelled me to examine the subject in its entirety and synthesize this information into a post that appealed to my audience. Part of this appeal is making myself appear trustworthy and credible. Van House (2004) explains that credibility is built through divulging pieces of personal information about yourself. Allowing people to get to know you makes them feel comfortable with you, and makes people believe that you are trustworthy. Your credibility is built once people feel that you are trustworthy. This credibility draws people into the blog and then you can use their attraction to your blog to present them with your point of view. After reading your blog the reader is prompted to leave a comment about your blog. The feedback encourages reflection and prompts the blogger to refine his/her thinking which may lead to a new post. Throughout the course I experimented with blogging. I researched the web tools we were learning about, read from the texts and online materials about their use in school settings, synthesized this information into assignment form and posted it in my blog. I always tried to find a hook to engage the readers and felt that my posts became more animated as my “voice” became more engaging. I am intrigued with this form of literacy and enthusiastic about sharing it with my students and staff. I believe the possibilities are phenomenal and only restricted by the creativity of blog users (Huffaker, 2005).
RSS (Real Simple Syndication) Feeds allow you to subscribe to a particular site or gather information of a particular type and have this data sent to an aggregator where it is sorted and organized (Richardson, 2009). In the first week I signed up to use Google Reader as my aggregator. Aggregators are pull technology (D’Souza, 2006) that seek out feeds and deposit the sites into your repository. The aggregator automatically follows the items that you assign to it and whenever there is a new post to that website it automatically links that information to your space on the aggregator. This process makes it easy for you to access the many sites that you want to follow. The key to the aggregator is to make checking it part of your daily routine. If you leave it for more than a couple of days the number of new articles in the aggregator is overwhelming (I know from experience). If you check your aggregator daily then it takes only a few minutes to scan the articles, find the ones that interest you and read them at your leisure. If you do not have the time to read the article right then, or wish to have them for later reference, you can star them. Starred items can be recalled later. You can also unsubscribe from a site that later on does not interest you or proves to be non-beneficial. According to Dr. D’Souza (2006) RSS Feeds not only collect data from anywhere you set up a feed but can also quickly format and republish data to your website, find information about a search ,as well as, publish only the requested data from the site (not all of the extra advertising and spam found on the site). RSS Feeds are powerful communication tools (D’Souza, 2006) that can provide access to your subscriptions anytime anywhere.
In the first week of class I used Google Reader to subscribe to follow the 10 people assigned and some other sites I thought might be useful to me. (As the course has progressed I have added sites like Wheelchair Kamakhazee, The Globe and Mail and Alec Couras.) I am finding that Google Reader is helping to keep my online world organized. It is extremely beneficial to have as much as you can accessible in one place. This need for organization will increase as I become more involved in a PLN where others are sharing sites with me. The sheer volume of articles coming in will need to be organized in order to make the new information manageable.
I have not tried creating a blog, blogging or using RSS with my students or staff. I agree with Will Richardson (2009), who at the beginning of his book Blogs, Wikis and Podcasts, said that we need to try out a tool and become very familiar with it before we try to use it in the classroom. Blogs and RSS are two tools that I now look forward to trying with my students and staff.
I will definitely continue to read blogs for information and entertainment now that I have been exposed to the blogosphere. I will continue to use my aggregator to be my personal online search engine for articles that appeal to my interests and needs as well as keep my personal online world organized. It is an efficient way to keep all resources close at hand. The ability to access my RSS Feeds anywhere, anytime is fabulous. For example I have just now set up a feed for a google news search. I have MS and I am very interested in the new research by Dr. Paolo Zamboni. This google news search will allow me to keep up with this potentially life altering research without having to search out new information on my own. Google.News will do the work for me saving hours of online searching. It is great to have personal servants without the complaining. The aggregator is also constantly on the look for new ideas for my art classes, recipes, travel ideas and inspiration for my scrapbooking. My RSS Feeds will help to provide me with fresh ideas in a one stop shopping format.
Blogging will also definitely be a part of my new online life. I believe that a blog starts out as a personal need to share, analyze and reflect on a topic. Then if the writer is successful the blog flourishes and creates an audience who perpetuates the inspiration of the author. I can see many areas of my personal life where I could blog. I could set up blogs to document travel destinations, as well as, seek others opinions of destinations near and far. Maybe if I marketed myself right I could get free holidays to experience a resort and then write about the resort in my post. I can see using a blog to encourage experimentation and the sharing of knowledge about scrapbooking techniques,. Again maybe the blog could work into product testing and marketing. I can see using a blog to facilitate the sharing of literature. A blog could be set up to discuss various genres of literature and stimulate discussion about books. This could be between people that are friends already but would hopefully generate a following that would encompass many people who share a passion for reading. I could use a blog format to chronicle the life of my granddaughter Kaydee. My daughter has posted pictures and updates of Kaydee on Facebook but the archiving ability of a blog solely devoted to Kaydee’s life is appealing. It will allow all of the posts from her life to be kept in one central location for easy access. We could create a monthly update of her life complete with pictures and podcasts of her new found voice for great grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. This could later turn into a page that she fills with songs, pictures of artwork, voicethreads, videos, etc. This would allow her to not only share her life but also act as a memoir. This would not be considered true blogging as defined by Will Richardson(2009) but could later turn into true blogging as others (aunties with words of wisdom) comment on her posts and provide her with questions to reflect upon during the trials and tribulations of her life.
Blogs can also have social implications. I could see a blog being used to discuss the opportunities for volunteerism in a community. It would hopefully inspire people to join together with existing agencies to increase volunteerism and provide information as to volunteerism opportunities. Blogs could be used by committees at a local level to generate support for an initiative, discuss pros and cons of the initiative, and provide information as the initiative unfolds. The idea of having political candidates accessed through a blog is appealing. It would give constituents the opportunity to read the politician’s platform and be able to comment on issues that arise from their points of view. A person would feel like they have a voice in the political field at the time.
RSS feeds can also be used for social initiatives. RSS Feeds could be used to keep an eye on changes to funding structures, changes in government policy, grants to be accessed and breaking news.
Once again blogs and RSS Feeds are great companions in the Lamborghini.
There are many pieces of academic research and lay person blog posts that espouse the positive impact blogs and blogging have on learning. We know that blogs have the power to promote traditional literacy, digital literacy, the application of 21st century skills in a safe monitored environment (Witte, 2007), showcase student’s work and promote the exchange of ideas (Huffaker). As well, blogs can be used to increase collaboration, self-expression and creativity (Hufflaker). Blogs are a venue for students or teachers to be authors with free anywhere, anytime access to online publishing. Blogs can be used by individual teachers, classes, schools, districts or PLN’s.
Blogs have many uses in the classroom. The uses will vary depending on the age of the students. At some time all students will have read blogs to seek information or examples, use blogs to clarify their thinking or find blogs to cite to justify their opinion. Students can also comment on blogs to create new knowledge, provide feedback, challenge the blogger’s opinion or to refine their own thinking.
All students can create blogs to share their knowledge, skills or expertise. Blogs can be simple or complex. The level of blogging would be determined by the age, skill level, motivation and experience of the students. According to Will Richardson (2009) the blogging process demands that bloggers read/write/link/rewrite. This process of blogging causes students to be engaged in higher order thinking. Bull and Kajder (2002) say that the power of blogs is their economy of words, potential for feedback, immediacy of publishing, hyperlinks to multimedia, active participation required and power of archiving posts so that they can be easily accessed later for refinement allowing more opportunities for meta learning. Blogs can be used in one discipline or in cross-disciplines. The bottom line is blogs are extremely versatile and can be used for several purposes with several positive outcomes.
Initially the students would need to be taught how to set up a blog and the basics of creating a blog post. However, the product should not be the focus of creating a blog. The focus should be the process of blogging. If the product is the focus, then the potential of blogs is wasted in merely honoring a compliance activity, not truly engaging students in the potential of the tool. Once the blog is set up the students would practice creating posts that engage the reader. Blogging is a great way to have students engaged in critical thinking. In “real” blogging as defined by Will Richardson (2009) students would choose a topic that they are interested in exploring. Students would then research the topic, synthesize their new knowledge into a post and send it to their classmates or the rest of the world. These posts would then be commented on forcing the students to reflect on, defend and refine their knowledge. This process of read, write and rewrite would encourage higher level thinking skills and engage students in pursuing knowledge that they were personally invested in. Blogs have the potential for bloggers to create authentic published expression for real audiences (Huffaker, 2005) further engaging the students in learning outcomes. Students would become true authors of their own learning.
Through the act of blogging students would learn to inject “voice” into their writing. “Voice” increases credibility and draws an audience to the blog. Credibility can also be attained through providing links (VanHouse, 2004) to sites that verify the bloggers opinions. “Voice” is a skill that takes time to hone and would come with practice.
Teachers who use blogs effectively need to operate from a constructivist perspective (Wikipedia, 2009) and be skilled in using an inquiry based (Wikipedia, 2009) approach to learning. The teacher needs to be skilled at designing lessons that prompt students to explore a particular area. The greatest learning will take place when the inquiry questions are very general allowing the students to work with the topic in a way that engages them. This inquiry allows the student to engage in the process of reading, writing and rewriting. It doesn’t focus on the simple acquisition of knowledge but rather focuses on the process of learning and through answering the question students will be led, not directed toward a set of findings.
Blogs can also be used for Professional Development. Teachers can read blogs to access resources, learn new pedagogy and build an online community for support, guidance and mentoring. There are many blogs already being written that teachers can access to further their learning journeys. Educators can read these posts to clarify their own thinking and by creating comments engage in professional conversations. Teachers can also begin blogs to create PLN’s of their own. Huffaker (2005) talks about the vast potential of creating a dynamic interwoven PLN to further a teacher’s personal learning journey and I agree that the benefits of creating blogs for furthering Professional Development are only as vast as the imaginations of the educators.
RSS Feeds can be used in the classroom as well as by teachers for Professional Development. An aggregator is very beneficial to organize a person’s online world. It teaches educators to be organized and frees up time going to individual sources that you know you want to follow. RSS Feeds can be used to track specific sites, find resources, track people, track student’s blogs, set up a feature to read student’s blogs before they are posted, quickly provide feedback to one or all students, use as q and a forum, view class discussions that are taking place, share feed lists, resources and photos, update information and assignments, track your email, and so much more it makes your head swim with ideas (D’Souza, 2006). After reading all of the suggestions that Dr. D’Souza (2006) has, I think RSS Feeds can do everything except clean my house.
There are some disadvantages to using blogs. One is the issue of protecting privacy or authorship. This can easily be overcome by using pseudonyms and password protection. The other is access to technology. Unfortunately this is going to be an issue as long as we have the government funding formulas that we have in education today. However, these disadvantages are miniscule as compared to the huge potential offered by blogs, blogging and RSS Feeds.
I believe that blogs are one of the web tools that will be used the most as teachers begin the journey into the world of Web tools in this 21st century. Hopefully, with the push for the integration of technology into the classrooms this journey will be in a Lamborghini well at least a BMW.
D’Souza, Quentin. (2006). RSS Ideas for Educators. As retrieved Nov. 25, 2009 from http://fc.yarmouth.k12.me.us/~alice_barr/YHSSummer06/Docs/RSS%20Ideas%20for%20Educators11.pdf
Davies, Julia. Merchant, Guy. (2009). Web 2.0 for Schools: Learning and Social Participation. New York, NY: Peter Lang
Huffaker, David. (2005) The Educated Blogger: Using Weblogs to Promote Literacy in the Classroom. As retrieved on Nov. 25, 2009 from http://www.editlib.org/INDEX.CFM?fuseaction=Reader.ViewFullText&paper_id=5680
Kajder, Sara and Bull, Glen. (2002). Scaffolding for Struggling Students: Reading and Writing with Blogs. As retrieved Nov. 25, 2009 from
Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. (2nd ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press
VanHouse, Nancy. (2004). Weblogs:Credibility and Collaboration in an Online World. As retrieved on Nov. 21, 2009 from p://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.126.6034&rep=rep1&type=pdf.
Wikipedia (2009) As retrieved Nov. 27, 2009 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
Witte, Shelbie. (2007). That's Online Writing, Not Boring School Writing”: Writing With Blogs and the Talkback Project. As retrieved Nov. 25, 2009 from