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Image Creative Commons licensed by Flickr user hgjohn

Stephanie Hedge is a graduate student in the Department of English at Ball State University. You can follow her on twitter at @slhedge.

This is the third post in what is rapidly becoming a series on Teaching with Technology. Check out Hedge's previous posts, Teaching with Twitter and Teaching with Tablets.

Back when I was a nervous, first-time instructor, my colleagues and I decided to include a multi-class blog in our First Year Comp classrooms. We figured this would be a good way to keep tabs on each other: all of our students would write in the same place, and with three of us running it, there was no way we could screw it up. Six years later, I am still having my students blog every semester—it has become an important part of my teaching style. Introducing blogging into the classroom has been a way for me to support the kinds of classroom practices I am already engaged in (like student collaboration and writing), while introducing ways to expand those practices (students collaborating outside of class, exploring visual rhetorics and external audiences).

Below are some hacks for introducing blogging into your own classroom. I teach courses with an emphasis on writing, but I believe that blogging can be adapted into any kind of classroom.

Why blog?

Blogs promote community. There are two main ways to use a blog in your class: to build a single blog that all students contribute to, and to have students create their own blogs. Each has unique advantages and disadvantages, but the end results are the same: students are writing and interacting with each other in digital spaces beyond the boundaries of the classroom. I have found that students form connections with each other very quickly when they are writing with each other every week.

Blogs allow students to show their personality. Particularly when each student creates their own blog, students are writing with their own voices in spaces of their own creation. Students can control color, font, and other features of their blog, allowing them to take a personal stake in their writing. I get to know students much faster when they are blogging.

Blogs support low stakes writing. One of the reasons that I love blogging is that it allows students to explore content in their own voice, on their own terms, in a space that is relatively low stakes. Students can think through ideas in writing before they write a more formal paper, and they are writing in a collaborative, public space, sharing ideas with their peers and others. This sharing often leads to new and more complex ideas.

There are diverse platforms to support many different kinds of writing work. “Blogging” is kind of a catch-all term for all kinds of digital writing work, and there are a number of different platforms to explore. Here are just a few:

  • Blogger and WordPress. These are two of the oldest “blogging” sites, where users create public writing journals, and are what people usually think of when we say “blog.” Both are relatively easy to use, although there is a slight learning curve for both. These sites are massively customizable, and can create great looking spaces. These are great for creating individual blogs.
  • Posterous. Posterous is a great site for creating a class blog where everyone posts in one place. It is easy to use, supports blogging from emails, and allows a number of people access to a single blog with the click of a button.
  • Weebly. Weebly is a super easy drag-and-drop website creator which allows you to make great looking websites in no time. They have a blogging feature as well, and this site is perfect for students creating portfolios, personal websites, and research sites, as well as supporting blogs.
  • LiveJournal and Xanga. These sites are great for diary and personal blogging. Often, these sites are less “public” than other blogs, and are great for long-form writing work. These sites also support the creation of “groups”, where your class can gather together: you can have individual and group blogs at the same time here.
  • Tumblr. Tumblr is great for posting multi-media blogs, and is geared towards sharing images.
  • Twitter. A “micro-blogging” site, Twitter is great for rapidly sharing quick ideas, links, and joining in larger conversations via hashtag.

These are only a few of the most popular blogging options. Regardless of your needs, you can find a blogging site that supports what you want to do in your classroom.

Blogging technologies are easy to explore as a class. As the instructor, you don’t need to have a firm grasp on the technology. If you are unfamiliar with how to do some things on a blog, have a class session where you explore as a group how to post, how to upload images, how to comment. Ask students what they know, and give them a chance to teach you. Giving students the skills to figure out new technology on their own is more valuable than giving them a list of instructions to follow, in the long run.

Blogs provide a real audience and expand discussion beyond the classroom. Blogging is inherently public, although many spaces allow you to control how public this writing is. This is a great way to introduce students to a real audience for their writing, and to push the discussion beyond the classroom. Blogs are a step towards answering the question “why does any of this content matter?”

Blogs are inherently multimodal. Blogging asks students to think about things like images, video, fonts, colors, hyperlinks, and other multimodal tools. In many classrooms, where students don’t engage in multimodal writing, blogging is a great way to expand their skill sets and to encourage them to think through content ideas in complex, multifaceted ways.

Now what?

Now that you are excited about introducing blogging into your own classroom, here are some ways you can incorporate blogging into your lesson plans and assignments.

Create a research log. Have students record their research process in their blog. Ask them to reflect on their sources and where they found them, create research memos, ask questions, and share exciting results. Writing a log in a public place means that they can share their research challenges and successes with fellow students and readers beyond the classroom, situating their research in a broader network. Blogger or Wordpress are great sites for this kind of work!

Create an image blog. Have students create a blog where all they post are images. What arguments can they make solely through images? What emotions can they convey? Ask students to think about the relationship between images and content—what can they learn about history, or biology, or advertising, through images? Try using Tumblr for this kind of blog!

Create a question blog. Have students post questions to the readings or their research. You could assign one student per week to look up answers and present them to the class, or bring up the questions in class. You could out-source the question to academics beyond the classroom, or partner with another section of your class and have one group ask questions and another group answer. This is a great way to expand the discussion beyond your classroom, and is supported by microblogging sites like Twitter.

Create a class blog run by students. Have students create a single blog that all of them contribute to. This can be related to class content, where students post and respond to questions about the readings, or it can be a place where students practice principles and ideas they have learned throughout the semester as a group. Posterous is a great site for having students all write together!

Create a blog assessment memo. Have students take screen shots of their blog throughout the semester, and ask them to reflect on what they learned at the end. What kinds of writing did they do? How did it help them engage course content? What did they like? What didn’t they like? How often did they connect with other students? With people outside the classroom? Ask students to think meta-cognitively about the work they have done throughout the semester, with a written record that supports their evolution of thought. Weebly is a place for students to create a static report alongside their ongoing blog!

Have fun and be creative. There are pretty much no limits to the kinds of work that you can have students doing in these digital writing spaces.

Do you use blogs in the classroom? What are some platforms or assignments you incorporate? Sound off in the comments below!

Image Creative Commons licensed by Flickr user hgjohn

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