Using Digital Activities in the Classroom – Part 2 of 5: Blogs

In this somewhat delayed continuation of my opening post for this series, I would like to turn the spotlight on one of my personal favorite tools for bringing digital writing into the high school classroom: blogs! Blogs are an effective and relevant way to ask students to build their digital literacy skills and incorporate multimodal material into their learning.

Before we get too deep into the HOW part of this post, I’d like to take a quick moment to cover exactly what a blog is. The concept behind blogging is fairly straightforward. The word blog actually comes from the term “web log,” where an online site would function as a log or journal, chronicling a particular subject or movement. This idea of a web log eventually came to be known as a weblog which was further simplified into the word “blog,” which the Oxford English dictionary currently defines as “a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.” So a blog is any webpage that is monitored and composed over time by an author or group of authors in order to address or explore some topic of interest. This can include cooking blogs, like this one, where the author regularly posts new recipes and accompanying images. Other individuals run lifestyle blogs, like this one, where the author shares her family stories, adventures, and photos. This post that you are currently reading is part of my education blog. As the Oxford dictionary entry states, these blogs tend to employ an informal, casual tone while informing you on a subject from the perspective of the author or authors. Simple enough!

The beauty of blogs however is that, despite the seeming simplicity behind the idea of blogging, the ways in which blogs can be and are used are incredibly diverse. The unique affordances that blogging allows for can be adjusted and modified to suit a wide array of rhetorical purposes. It is this extreme flexibility that makes blogs so useful as well as prevalent.

With this understanding of blogging in mind, my goal for this post is to explore how blogs can be used in the high school classroom, basing much of my discussion on my own personal experience as well as current research. It is my belief that the ways blogs can be utilized in the classroom can be boiled down into two separate categories.

  1. Authored and maintained primarily by the teacher
  2. Authored and maintained primarily by the students

Which one of these categories a teacher chooses to employ in her classroom depends heavily on each class’ needs and exactly which 21st century literacy skills that teacher is working to develop in her students.

      1. Blogs Authored and Maintained Primarily by Teachers:
        This kind of blog is generally used to keep students organized, give them practice accessing, navigating, and evaluating digital documents and texts, and potentially afford them the opportunity to contribute to an ongoing digital conversation. Students, and sometimes parents, have total access to this blog and can use it to engage with the material in ways that are meaningful to them. Teachers construct and maintain these blogs, but can also choose to host student conversations or comments on these blogs in order to give students some buy-in.I have incorporated blogs in this manner when teaching Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World to CP Seniors; I’ve included a few screenshots of these blogs below. As the teacher of this course, I had complete control over the authorship and maintenance of these blogs. I posted the links to content and orchestrated any group chats; however, students were very active on the blogs, engaging in serious digital reading and often posting in response to multimedia material or ongoing discussions.

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        This page of the blog houses an informal syllabus that I updated regularly, giving students the ability to plan for upcoming assignments or look up missed classwork.

         

        download (1).png

        Here is an example of using the blog to integrate related multimedia content into the coursework. This post was shared with all students and included a link to the song itself. Students were able to comment and discuss the song, and several students chose to reference this work in their later papers.

        Blogs that are authored and maintained by the teacher can give students valuable experience with conducting research online using a variety of digital resources, interacting and collaborating in digital spaces, and integrating multimedia content into their work.

      2. Blogs Authored and Maintained Primarily by Students
        This kind of blog affords students a much greater degree of authority and ownership over their work, which can be both intimidating and extremely generative. A blog that has been created and maintained by a student can be a powerful forum for student interaction and publication, widening the audience for a student’s writing. Giving a student ownership over their blog allows them to assert their opinions and interpretations on a subject or issue into a real life scenario that takes place outside of the classroom. This level of control also allows students to experiment with the design of their blogs, which affords them priceless experience in strategically choosing a layout, considering their audiences, and composing with color, font, and graphics.I had the opportunity to see student-authored blogs in action while co-teaching a unit on Shakespeare’s Macbeth with Megan Grandmont of A Classroom With a View. Throughout this unit, which developed students’ ability to write from the point of view of a literary character, students selected a character from the play, designed a blog as that character, and then blogged from that character’s perspective for the duration of the unit. Each student created, designed, and maintained their own blog, exploring blog genre norms, digital composition, and the complexities of publishing original work on the internet. I have included screenshots from sample student blogs below; all work is used with student and parent permission.

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        This student blog, written from the perspective of Lady Macbeth, capitalized on aesthetics and design, creating meaning and point of view through the use of color, image, font, layout, and text.

         

        download (3)

        This student used his blog’s About page to make inferences about Macbeth, taking advantage of blog norms to explore his understanding of the character’s point of view.

        These blogs, which were incredible across the board, were created independently by the students; I did not have control over the content posted on each blog. As previously mentioned, this created the potential for immense student ownership and creativity. It also, however, resulted in opportunities for larger complications and ethical issues. When employing blogs authored and maintained by students in the classroom, it becomes necessary to address some of the very real concerns that accompany internet publication, some of which include:

    • cyberbullying
    • appropriate language and content
    • an understanding of the permanency of your internet footprint
    • ethical source use (which is something I have addressed at length in a prior series)
    • privacy and protection of personal information
       
      We addressed these issues in our classes by drawing up a Blog Use Contract, which committed students to a certain code of behavior when blogging as part of this classwork. Something like the one we used can be seen here. By drawing up a contract and taking the time to have some serious, honest discussion about the importance of online conduct, many of these ethical concerns can be avoided. In fact, the process of considering these concerns, discussing them, and signing the contract together as a class can be an important piece of a student’s digital literacy skills, as it helps them to understand the impact of their online writing and how their behavior on the internet can impact the world around them.

Depending on your unique goals and needs as a teacher, blogs in the classroom can be modified and employed to suit a multitude of different strategies geared to accomplish diverse rhetorical goals. Blogs as a digital writing genre are also extremely prevalent, which means that, whichever type of blog you decide to use in your classroom, there will be plenty of relevant samples out there for your students to perform a genre analysis on, which will only serve to further their sophistication and skill when working in digital realms.

As is the case with most attempts to integrate technology into the classroom, teachers can start small with blogs. If the idea of student-authored blogs seems overwhelming, teachers can create and maintain their own, self-authored blog for a particular unit within a particular class and use this as a way to gather information about what does or does not work for them and their classes. The important thing is for students to begin gaining a level of comfort and confidence when experimenting, playing, and working with digital tools. Blogs can be an effective and achievable place to start!

To that end, a few of the better-known and commonly used blogging platforms out there are as follows:

  • WordPress: it’s free, the templates are visually engaging and varied, and it has a pretty big array of privacy settings that you can decide on for use with your class. All of the blogs shown in this post were completed on WordPress.
  • Edublogs: this platform is designed specifically with classroom use in mind. The basic access account is free; however, based on what I have read, it sounds as though that account is not worth having. The annual, paid account is reviewed as much more useful.
  • Blogger: this platform is free, but has some limitations in terms of templates. It doesn’t have the array of options that WordPress offers, but it’s been around for a long time and some users find that the limited options make it more approachable and easy to navigate.

Happy blogging!

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