Having worked with blogs across the schooling spectrum, 18 months to 18 years ... I'm a great believer in blogging!!
Blogging is a democratic process, it removes publishing controls and gateways and 'levels the playing field', enabling all students to share information, insights, learning and reflections.
Blogging also enables a range of new learning relationships, including students teaching each other, or students teaching teachers. Within this medium, students and teachers can learn together and they can voice their passions, challenges, opinions and ideas.
I can hear you thinking, but what about e-safety? How do we protect our students from the internet, cyberbullying and unwanted attention? We will blog about this soon, but think about this... many of our current policies lock away access to the social media and blogging platforms that many of our students freely use out of school hours. How are we contributing to their education, their skills for critical review and savvy consumption when we wrap them in cotton wool and lock down our systems. I think we need to position young people as powerful agents and active, critical consumers, and work to facilitate this. Blogs can be carefully scaffolded and access managed, but ultimately we have to support students' development as digital citizens, and we can best do this with authentic use of the medium.
Let's talk about the advantages:
1. Authentic audience
One of the main advantages of blogging is that it provides students with an authentic audience. Whatever the age of students that you're working with, blogs are a terrific way to share information with others.
Just recently, we saw teachers blogging about the learning of children as young as 18 months of age. The early years team worked closely with parents and after each 5 weekly learning review, new learning goals were established. These goals were tracked and photographic and video evidence of children engaging with and achieving the target skills was posted to each child's blog. Despite there being a tightly managed audience of 'only family members', it didn't take long for young children to understand that photos and video of their time at school could be viewed at home with parents or discussed with relatives across the globe; on the phone or via Skype. Within months of beginning, young children were asking to put photos on their blog themselves, and Easy Blogger was introduced to support the staff in this process.
2. Peer-to-peer platform
When beginning, and in the early/primary years, blog security settings can be set to enable class mates and, if you want, family members, to read and comment on each others' posts. There are opportunities to safely engage students within the school and across districts in reading and responding to students' posts provide a range of authentic opportunities. Exciting global opportunities for collaboration and communication can be provided in synchronistic and asynchronistic (to support time zone differences) modes. One such opportunity is Quadblogging, where 4 classes are matched up (Quadded), based on age and interests, and can work together in a 'closed' environment. Another is to join the Edublogs Teacher Challenge and work step by step through creating your own blog, student blogs and connecting up with others, starting in March and September to step through skill building.
3. Write more
Purposeful writing, along with invitations to provide feedback, to comment or to respond stimulates writers to write more. The key, of course, is purposeful! Accessing students' interests and passions, engaging in inquiry/project based learning in areas that students choose and care about will mean that there is a purpose that will enable students to share their ideas, opinions and care.
Our experience, blogging with students, has seen most respond to an audience with more enthusiasm for writing than one usually sees in non-digital modes. Output through blog posts, comments and responses often increases exponentially when there are real people providing input to blog posts. Conversations broaden, debate and discussion about the learning happening in your classroom will grow, and access to new ideas increases.
4. Skills develop
Starting with writing skills, we've seen great improvement when it is important to share a purposeful message with an interested audience. There is suddenly a reason to pay attention to the vocabulary choice, spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Blogging can also impact on students' engagement with the learning at hand. Curating ideas and information, creating new content and communicating requires organisation and will add to research skills.
Once the door is open and others are contributing to their blogs, your students will have great opportunities to further develop their critical thinking, reflection and assessment skills. Understanding how others form their opinions, deciding if one agrees, formulating counter arguments ... all great critical thinking and reflection skills. Opening blog posts to self and peer assessment as detailed in our Formative Assessment into Action course will also refine and develop these skills.
5. Bringing in parents
Blogging can offer parents a more transparent view of their child's learning, but they will need to be supported and scaffolded to respond appropriately. Many parents are not familiar with the Blog genre, and most need support with appropriate responses, especially if you want supportive but rigorous feedback.
In our experience, classrooms where this partnership has been built are positive and supportive places, making the work of teacher even more rewarding.
6. Building a digital footprint
Another absolute winning advantage of blogging is that blogs are a form of permanent storage, a place where teacher/s and family can watch learning unfold, post by post. Blogs are also a wonderful place to archive learning. They can replace e-Portfolios and are rich sources for assessing students' writing and learning growth over time.
Especially for our older students, we should be cognizant of the need to support young people to pro-actively build a positive digital footprint, one that potential employers will find impressive and engaging.
7. Showcase space
As we introduce our students to more apps, multimedia and widgets, and as we use more photos and video to document learning and reflection on learning; blogs provide an ideal repository for the products of this usage. Blogging increases students' communication options, and provides a platform for storing and sharing written, image and video information.
8. Digital Citizenship
Perhaps most important, are the opportunities to engage in digital citizenship skill development in a real context. Students will feel free to point to concerns and identify risks with you when the process and platform are part of their schooling experience. Contrast this with the divide, between school and home access to technology, that occurs for most students. If Facebook or blogs are banned from school, how likely is it that a student will ask for advice about a persistent reader asking for personal information when they access these platforms at home? Will they check in with you about problems between classmates on-line?
Introducing blogs to your class, provides great impetus and context for learning about digital citizenship. Keeping our students safe on-line is an important responsibility.
9. Go global
We can also support student to create a positive digital footprint, one that really makes a difference, by sharing information, skills and learning experiences globally.
My favourite advantage of blogging is the opportunities it creates for deeper thinking about, and reflection on, lthe problems and challenges that face our planet and how they can make a difference.
We've seen some amazing MAD (Making a Difference) projects and creative expression.
One terrific example comes from the work of Jarrod Lamshed at Woodend Primary School here is South Australia. His class are working on the #WeStandTall campaign.
The process of blogging provides a platform for students to influence change and for them to experience pride in their work, receive feedback and share their passions, creativity, critical thinking and learning. You'll find more ideas in my Tips for School Blogging post. So what's holding you back?