A blog gets its name from a Web Log, Blog. They come in all different shapes and sizes. Some consist of small posts sharing images of what three year olds have wrecked, others consist of great complexity and offer commentary or opinion toward the latest polices to impact our climate. One thing is certain, you do not need a degree in English or a career in Journalism to maintain a blog, it’s something we all can do with access to a computer and the World Wide Web.
There’s a few studies out there that offer insight as to why people spend hours and hours blogging, but I like to think its because we all have a voice and want to speak. I’m writing this article because I believe all students should be encouraged to maintain a blog. I consider it a productive tool in extending learning beyond the classroom and challenging students to take ownership of their own learning. As students share original content they effectively dig deeper into the topics addressed in class and participate in an online community of practice. It’s a home run when a student takes a critical perspective on a topic, offering a concise and reasoned argument. Also, and perhaps just as important, learning to write for the Web is an ‘in-demand’ skill for our digital world. Students must recognize that a blog is different than a research paper and doesn’t always have to primarily feature paragraphs of written text. Blogs can include controversial opinions, emotions, and personality, they might also be on occasion bias, and so referencing credible sources is helpful when trying to put forward a reasoned argument. Students should make every attempt to avoid plagiarism in their articles, especially because copying and pasting is so easy, but they should also feel free to recite information they’ve obtained independently if they feel it strengthens their position and on occasion ‘reblog’ so long as it’s clear that’s what they’re doing.
Perhaps one of the greatest appeals to student blogging is the concept of a self-journey that documents the learning that takes place throughout a semester, year, or even entire program. A student blog that is regularly maintained will mature and be shaped over time, communicating skills, interests, and career goals. A theme will likely emerge, and it will quickly become a demonstration of knowledge or interest in a particular area of concentration that can be enjoyed by future employers and shared within an online community of practice.
I believe a blog has the potential to be so much more than just a reflective journal. It’s a personal experience that tests storytelling skills, while offering opinion or commentary in a student’s own words. It’s an opportunity to take ownership in the knowledge they master, and the change to establish a credible digital identify. Blogs should be unedited where possible, but also good writing should be encouraged, and inaccurate information discouraged. Feedback on style should be limited, and the focus should be on the voice within the words, rather than spelling and grammar.
The following two articles, ‘Why I Blog’ by Andrew Sullivan, and ‘My 10 years of blogging’, by Om Malik, offer great advice for newbies, including suggestions on word count and writing style. These two articles were suggested by Tom Scheinfeldt, a blogger at FoundHistory.org and colleague at the University of Connecticut. Thanks Tom! Below is some tips with selected advice from Om Malik and Andrew Sullivan.
Tips for Blogging in Class
- Remember it’s a journey. A student must own their blog. Offer guidance, but avoid anything that can be misconstrued as control.
- Require students to read their peers work. Establish discussion groups or simply demand that students comment on at least three other blog posts by students in their class. Include this as part of class participation.
- Encourage students to support their articles with links to ‘credible’ sources of information. Ideally this would be an article that a student has stumbled across outside of class.
- Avoid a specific word count unless writing is a significant part of the course objective. Om Malik averaged 215 words over his 10 years of blogger, so I encourage you to avoid ramping it up too high. (This article above is approximately 500 words)
- Welcome a variety of media within a post. It doesn’t have to be all text. The goal is to express opinion and share information, not to write the perfect novel.
- Blackboard and Moodle (both have blogging as an activity)