Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Blogs in the Classroom

Finding information on blogs in the classroom is particularly difficult. I would imagine this mostly has to do with how recently they've been applied to instruction. A simple EBSCO search brings up very little on the topic, so I was left with what is normally considered a poor resource, the internet. I did, however, find a few articles through EBSCO that turned out to be very helpful, and I have a few articles from other places that I hope to delve into here for the benefit of learning more about the topic.

The first article (found first through EBSCO and later through this link) provides all sorts of great information on practical use of blogs in the classroom. He cites the major advantages as:
  • Interactivity between teachers and students (i.e. Teacher poses a question, students comment and respond on the blog)
  • Interactivity between students (students can read and post on other students' blogs)
  • Continued class discussion after school is over
  • Students can view homework assignments from the blog
  • Students can ask questions and receive feedback
  • Parents (given the possibilities for logging in) can see what's going on in the classroom and even contribute their ideas and knowledge
These are awesome advantages for both the students and the teacher, especially if they're familiar with blogging.

There are some worries that come along with this. "Safety provisions are essential," Risinger writes. Blogs, by nature, are meant to be read by more than just the writer. For safety reasons (as with anything on the internet these days), it's not a good idea for students to have that kind of a wide audience. Moving student blogs away from places like Blogger.com (no matter how much I like it here) and on to a school district's server can help eliminate this security problem. If your district doesn't have blogging software, one article I read suggested using the free, open-source program Movable Type as an option to get started. In one of the previous posts here, a commenter mentioned that having the blogs hosted this way helps "assure parents ... that the public was not permitted to read student posts."

There are quite a few websites dedicated to offering the same kinds of services to educators. The one that stands at the forefront is called Edublogs.
The introductory video found at their website.
This site was founded by the Australian former-educator, James Farmer. His purpose was to not only give teachers a place for their students to blog, but also to give them the resources to do so effectively. What I like most about this particular site is that everything is completely free unlike some websites (an important issue for many teachers). The only downside I can find is the fact that its hosted on the other side of the planet, so load times can be a little longer than what I'd prefer. Other than that, it looks promising.

There are quite a few reasons you should look into blogging for your classroom. I read a rather revealing article on student motivation published in the NCTE journal, Voices from the Middle. In it, Sylvia Read demonstrates how blogs fulfill certain needs that students have while accomplishing school work at the same time. She refers to certain relatedness needs that all humans have (see: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for details) that can be fulfilled through blogging. She states, "Bloggers can meet their relatedness needs because they can receive feedback on their posts through commenting. They can also connect with others by reading their blogs and learning how their lives are both similar to and different from their own." One of the bloggers, Katie, that she corresponded with during the writing of her article stated, "It's my own little energy release I guess ... I like writing even if nobody reads it." From my own experience with blogs when I was a teenager (and even later in life), I can agree with her. Sometimes, you just want to put your feelings out in a place where they can be read, even if they won't be.

Later in the article, Read brings up the examples from a study by Janet Emig showing that students "spent much more time planning, drafting, and revising their self-sponsored writing than they did with their school-assigned writing." She also brings up the power of peer responses on blogs over teacher grading. This brings up a huge point. There are many students (myself included) who hate "writing for the teacher." It drives me nuts! Having to sacrifice certain aspects of your own writing style so that a teacher doesn't get offended can be more than aggravating. Blogs give the opportunity to teachers to seem less like authority figures and more like educated peers, especially when combined with the comments of other students. Rather than feeling validation through grades, a student is able to find validation through peer acknowledgement of their published works, which is truly a longer lasting satisfaction.

Here are some additional advantages Read mentions to blogging (some of which can be incorporated into in-class writing):
  • Blog topics are [generally] self chosen.
  • Blog posts are short and of rough-draft quality.
  • Blog posts often involve frequent changes of fonts, backgrounds, and other design features, which adds an element of "fun."
  • Due to the lessened pressure for "correctness," blog posts help enhance writing fluency.
These are just some of the things I've found on the advantages (and precautions) of blogging in the classroom. There is more on the topic, I'm sure. As an example, there are a few articles and websites I looked at, but didn't mention in particular here. If you're interested, they are here below for your own perusal.

WRITING SOFTWARE AND WEBWARE IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL COMPUTING. By: Doe, Charles, MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 15464636, Jul/Aug2007, Vol. 14, Issue 4 (Click here if you have access to BYU's HBLL Resources)

From the English Journal:
Using Weblogs in the Classroom by Greg Weiler
Vol. 92, No. 5, May 2003
Students' New Links to Literacy: Student Writers Travel the Infinite Page by Maureen Sara
Vol. 90, No. 2, November 2000
A Semester of Action Research: Reinventing My English Teaching through Technology by Nancy Traubitz
Vol. 87, No. 1, January 1998

Friday, February 22, 2008

Some people just cannot predict the future.

Sorry! I know I said I would get to Edublogs next, but I was reading a chapter in a book while I was waiting for my wife to get off work yesterday. The book is (briefly) called Language Study in Middle School, High School, and Beyond. The pertinent chapter of said book is titled "The Future of the Written Word." Pretty interesting, right? That's what I thought. Now before I go into a tirade, I must preface this with one fact: it was written 10 years ago. Doesn't seem like much, does it? We'll often pull research from sources older than 10 years without question. Technology is different. Computer manufacturer HP discontinues its current line of laptops every three months and replaces them with newer models (I happen to know this because of my current place of work). Ten years is a long time. I recognize, then, that my point of view on this chapter is tainted by hindsight better than Baines' foresight. And with that, on to the book!

Baines begins the chapter saying, "The written word is receding as our communications device of choice. That is the verdict of luminaries ... and others who have noted that much of the technological innovation that has occurred since 1950 represents a move toward image-based and electronically mediated messages and a move away from words and books." He continues, "Although these literacies [writing, reading, speaking, listening, and thinking] demand linguistic competence, the electronic media, which captures the attention of most students, is image based; words (such as dialogue in a film, or text in a World Wide Web site) often only supplement visual messages." The name of the section following these statements is "The Retreat of the Written Word." The apocalyptic message that follows is a bit tough to swallow, but the problem for me started here at these statements.

In the last ten years, there has been a slight retreat of the written word, but only in the way that there has been a retreat since the 1400's when Johann Gutenberg shook the writing world up. Honestly, I see a change of the written word, rather than a retreat. Written words have changed from engravings, to pen and ink, to typeset, to an image displayed on a computer screen, but its worth hasn't diminished. Baines says that words will soon be used only to supplement images and video. This hasn't happened and I don't think it will. True, images have become a more important part of writing. Newspapers taught us that and I see nothing different between most websites these days and newspapers and advertisements of yore (except we're a little better at it now that we used to be). In a way, we're now able to use media to better supplement our words. Does this kill the use of imagery in writing? I don't think so. When I read my news online, I don't feel like a picture or a video kills the mental picture of the writing. In a way, I prefer reading the articles to the images or the videos because I'm able to catch more details from the nuances of the writer's work. Maybe that's just me. Maybe I just like to read too much.

Still, when an author claims that books being made into movies are further proof of this retreat, I can't help but think that he's grasping at straws. Publishers love it when books get made into movies. They sell more books. I often buy books because a movie brings the book to my attention (I did it with Harry Potter, Bridge to Terabithia, and the Golden Compass recently). I just can't buy it that this is an example of how a "newer technology can obliterate an older one."

Another complaint I have with his argument is that newer media types are somehow worse because they "use fewer polysyllabic words, have less complex sentence structures, have less lexical diversity, and reduce the complexity of dialogue, plot, character, and theme." Look, you're going to find bad writing no matter what Age you live in. Aside from that, to me complexity and good vocabulary doesn't necessarily make good writing. If that were the case, we'd all be reading scientific technical reports in our leisure time. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that his words don't hold some truth, but at least have some moderation. You can overdo it sometimes. Students really need to learn when to use complexity or simplicity in their writing to achieve the desired effect. Too much of either in the wrong circumstance will bring ruin to a potentially good work.

Ultimately, past all of his doom-saying, that's the point he gets down to. In the end he advocates the use of technology in the classroom. Hard to believe, I know, but he gives us the same caution.

At this point it might seem paradoxical to suggest that the most effective way a teacher can keep the printed word alive in the classroom is to utilize a multimedia, multi-sensory approach to language study ... Although technology could be a powerful ally in teaching, too often the "bells and whistles" drive the curriculum, not the teacher. If the written word is to survive, it will not be because a group of teachers have chosen to stop using their computers or televisions, but because they have managed to weld language to the electronic media.

Amen, brother! Seriously, this is the meat of it. Technology has a great power to enhance the classroom, but it also has a great power to ruin (as any tool, strategy, or model held too rigidly does). The bottom line is that teachers must be adaptable, especially to include things as world-changing as the internet and technology. The students will be using it, so why not take the in and teach them using something their familiar with?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

LiveJournal, Facebook, and Other Social Media

I like to think of myself as an internet veteran. I think it's safe to say that, even though I'm 25, I've been around the block and can give a brief history on this subject. When I was about 10 years old, my family got a computer with a modem in it. A friend of ours introduced us to the world of BBSes or Bulletin Board Systems. These were the beginnings of social media. Their sole purpose was sharing information to anyone who was able to dial in. They allowed us to play games, chat, and share files all in a text-only environment. I remember my sibs and I would occasionally get together with other folks we had met through our communications for parties put on by the BBS administrators, something that people wouldn't dream of doing now. Times were simpler then, I suppose. Still, I was able to make some connections that I wouldn't have otherwise, and some of those friends I still keep in contact with to this very day.

This type of internet was pretty small, but it showed a beginning of larger patterns to come. People want to know people, and they want to be known by people. Communication on BBSes was important, and on the internet it is huge! Out of this desire for communication grew things like instant messengers, online journal websites, and the new and hip social media. Even video games have taken on a worldwide approach. There is a great sense of community found on the internet that the world has never experienced before. Comment and collaboration have become such an every day part of internet use, one of my previous professors remarked on the utter lack of privacy in the world. That's an issue for another day.

In addition to this new community comes a new culture. No, I'm not just talking the generation gap, because my own generation doesn't get some of the internet culture that's out there.

Intstead, there comes a whole new set of vocabulary and language structure, often based on acronyms, mispellings, and incorrect grammar (see lolcat above). This culture gives way to the statement by Talmy Givón: "Today's morphology is yesterday's syntax." What seems incorrect grammatically will become accepted in the future.

What does all of this mean for teachers who strive to integrate these new types of social media into their classrooms? Firstly, I think it's important to just be aware of what you're up against. In many ways, it's nothing you haven't seen before. Teens have always had their jargon and sought ways (both good and bad) to integrate it into their writing. What should be taken out of this post is the idea of communication and community that the internet can provide. One of the Intended Learning Outcomes for all Secondary students in Utah states that students will be able to "use language arts skills and strategies to think critically, communicate with others, and understand our culture and common heritage."

Honestly, in my opinion, there is no better way to achieve this than through the use of the internet. Social media sites, especially blogs/journals, encourage this thoroughly. It provides an outlet for self-expression that invites others to join in and collaborate. Let them use something that they're familiar with and they're sure to start producing better work.

Well, that's enough of my opinion for one post. Now that we understand a little background information, we're going to get down to some cold hard facts as we delve into the world of Edublogs in the next post.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I started this project with something completely different in mind. That's right, you've come in media res. The beginning of this project started with a question: What, if any, are the advantages of hand-writing over computer-writing? After some discussion with my professor, she explained to me that this topic is too narrow for the amount of research. This led to discussions of how I could possibly widen my topic to something along the lines of "Technology in Writing." She later gave me some chapters from a few books to get me going. That should be easy enough, I thought. Then, technology changed my writing.

The problem with the internet these days is that it's too vast, too all-encompassing. After poring through the English Journal and CQ Researcher for articles related to my topic, I noticed a slight trend. A lot of teachers who were looking to integrate technology into classrooms started looking at blogs as a source. In fact, social media seems to be taking over the way young kids read and write these days. Here are a couple of statistics I remember reading from some articles I recently used in a research paper:
  • In 2005, 51% of teenagers say that they use the internet on a daily basis. 87% say that they use the internet.
  • 76% of teens get their news online.
  • 55% of online teens (we'll assume that means the 87% from the above statistic) have created an online personal profile. 55% have used sites like Facebook or MySpace.
  • 48% visit social networking sites daily, 22% of those visit them multiple times a day
And this doesn't even count other social media sites like YouTube. In July of 2006, YouTube reported that it served 100 million videos a day. That was a year and a half ago. BEFORE Google bought them out. Who knows what they're up to now?

Looking at all of this, I couldn't ignore it. So I didn't. I have a blog, I thought to myself. What if I created another one for exploring ways to integrate this into a classroom setting? And thus, the Metablog was born.

In all actuality, the purposes of this blog are many-fold. First, as denoted by the title, my main goal is to see if this project will actually work (if done right) as an assignment in an educational setting. If it does, then I hope to use it as a model for future classes. I like to think of this project as something similar to metafiction--the feeling that the work is self-conscious of itself being a work and that's what drives the plot (if you will) along.

There are a lot of things that I hope to capture here for the benefit of those that read it (myself included!). I'm really curious about the use of blogs (naturally) in the classroom. I've seen a couple of articles surrounding the matter and it looks interesting. I'm also interested in the impact of technology on things like the writing process, audience and rhetoric, and product. I still might look into hand-writing vs. computer-writing, because that's what started all of this. I also hope to explore the idea that writing will be going completely digital, much the same way that music, movies, and other media are. What about places like Wikipedia and Digg? How does anonymity change the way people publish and post? Lots of stuff, as you can see.

Keep checking back as I'll be making a lot of updates over the next week or so. Who knows? Maybe I'll keep this thing going after I turn it in.