Blogging as an essential literacy for contemporary learning

This text was originally published in the May 2015 edition of the Australian Educational Leader and has been modified to suit this post.

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Educational blogging in the 21st Century has quickly become an essential fluency and skill for both teachers and students.

Through an ever increasingly complex and connected world, the concept of literacy has changed, and whether educators realise it or not, it is no longer sufficient to teach students how to read, write and think via paper mediums only. If this is what students are faced with in their educational settings, then sadly, it will fall short in preparing them for their 21st Century lives. Notwithstanding the need for students to be fluent in understanding and producing paper and print mediums, our students also need the opportunities to explore, analyse and create contemporary mediums, including digital platforms, tools and media.

Through blogging, educators can teach both traditional methods of communicating as well as engaging students in modern 21st century skills.

When creating a blog, a new space with a myriad of benefits is opened for social interaction. By involving students in blogging, they are able to improve their writing skills and are encouraged to share and collaborate about topics. Teachers often post websites, resources or activities which students can access in class or at home. Students can also ask questions about varied topics. If the teacher doesn’t respond, another student or parent might! Blogging is also an efficient way to communicate with parents to keep them in the loop as to what is happening with their child’s education.

This article describes three different types of blogs that are visible in education today.

 

School blogs

A school blog can be defined as a space where an individual class, year level, or entire school community can blog about the happenings within their educational setting. These blogs are set to be viewable by the school, wider community, or the whole world, and often invite viewers to leave comments and to interact with the community group.

Teachers often use class blogs to post assignments, create class newsletters, or post articles for discussion about special school events or units of learning. Photos and videos which enhance the experience for the viewer can be included in posts. Through blogging, opinions and ideas can easily be collected from viewers without having them physically present inside the classroom.

Blogging within the school community is a great way to engage in partnership with students because they enjoy electron-ic mediums and social interaction with their peers. They enjoy seeing their work published on the web and are therefore more likely to engage in reflective classroom topics during class or at home. The comment and interaction aspects of blogs make it easier to facilitate feedback and constructive dialogue amongst students, parents and teachers.

Some teachers use their blogs to link to other schools and communities who are also blogging. In this mode, teachers are able to provide a much more well-rounded view of the world, and open up a new perspective for students. Learning partner-ships can be fostered, allowing multiple school communities from any corner of the globe to come together and collaborate or learn from each other on a particular area of interest. Students love to read and receive comments from other people their age who are outside of their immediate school community, and are fascinated to learn about other people of the world (akin to the idea of pen-pals).

The opportunity for students to interact and publish for an expanded audience via this electronic medium can be highly motivating, and provides a viewership that is real and authentic. Writing to communicate in the traditional sense can be encumbered by physical limitations, and also limited to the pen and pa-per. traditionally, students write their understandings in exercise books, which are often only read by themselves, the teacher, and at times, possibly parents. A blog opens up a whole new community of people who can offer ongoing encouragement, feedback, and dialogue.

One of the most important opportunities that comes via blogging with students is the tangent of facilitating the ethical use of technology. Rather than paying lip-service to the idea of respectful technology use, engaging in cyber safe activities, or minding one’s digital footprint and identity, teachers can integrate these vital messages in meaningful ways through blogging. It is much easier to explicitly show students or to let them experience how to protect one’s privacy, or the conventions of respectful and effective digital communication, if you have a tool such as a blog as a way of making this meaningful.

Moreover, blogging is a way of modelling to students to appropriately use digital technologies for learning. The ‘digital native’ argument, where today’s generation are born with the innate ability to become fluent with technologies, is one that I don’t hold much value in. In my experience, young people today have little fear in using digital technologies, but often don’t demonstrate how to appropriately use digital tools. Through blogging, educators can model how to write for a purpose and audience using electronic mediums.

Some teachers use their blogs to link to other schools and communities who are also blogging. In this mode, teachers are able to provide a much more well-rounded view of the world, and open up a new perspective for students

 

Examples of school blogs can be seen at:

 

  • Mrs Yollis’ Classroom Blog (yollisclassblog.blogspot.com) – Mrs Yollis and her third graders in California, USA connect frequently with other global learning communities.
  • A Room with a View (aroomwithaview.edublogs.org) – A group of Year 5 and 6 students blog from North Yorkshire, En-gland from a classroom window with a stunning view of a castle which once belonged to King Richard the Third!

 

Personal student blogs

A personal student blog can be defined as a space where students are able to curate, reflect upon, and showcase their development of learning. Often these blogs are facilitated by the teachers of the class, in partnership with parents, as a means of maintaining an electronic portfolio.

Through blogging, a teacher can transform expectations of their students. Students no longer create for themselves, but potentially for their peers, and their school community. Personal student blogs open the possibilities for a diverse audience in new ways, so that when they are writing or authoring for a purpose, they are considering how it will impact on their viewers, and in turn, drive their intrinsic motivation to publish with quality.

A public blog, open to the world, is a great way to encourage students to have a positive impact on their online digital identity. They also love the potential of receiving comments from other nations. Students can showcase examples of their projects which are curated over a period of time, and can then be demonstrated year after year and beyond their school years.

 

Examples of personal student blogs can be seen at:

  • Alyssa’s blog (alyw.weebly.com) – Alyssa (Year 5) attends Junction Public School in Newcastle, Australia and provides her readers with wise words: “don’t focus on the future, don’t focus on the past, just focus on the present cause it might be worth a laugh”.
  • Christina Online (christinaonline.edublogs.org) – Christina (Year 6) lives in Canada and has been recently blogging about her science project.

 

Personal educator blogs

An educator blog can be defined as a space where teachers or those interested in education curate resources, thoughts and ideas for their own professional development. The blog is often used to articulate their own understanding of the complexities of teaching and learning, to share success stories and resources, or as a means of expanding their own Professional Learning Network (PLN).

Blogging about professional experiences can be a worthwhile experience for teachers if done correctly. One of the most difficult parts about blogging is finding something meaningful to write about. Some teachers start strong and aim to write a post weekly or fortnightly but sometimes run out of steam. Engaging in reflective blogging and communicating with a wider network of peers is a habit that definitely pays off. One of the reasons why teachers are reluctant to blog, or don’t blog as frequently as they should is because they don’t think that what they have to say is important; but someone else might think so!

Social networking and micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter can be integrated to expand the audience and interaction of educator blogs, making it easier to connect globally with other educators. Through this experience, I have personally met (virtu-ally or otherwise) many other amazing educators.

I have been able to find blogs which provide great resources for myself and for others who I can share with, both in my immediate school community and my (now) global profession-al network. I have read posts that have affirmed, challenged, or changed the way I think about a particular topic. Blogging is as much about sharing with one another as it is about finding one’s own voice.

 

Examples of personal educator blogs can be seen at:

  • What Ed Said (whatedsaid.wordpress.com) – Edna Sackson, Teaching and Learning Co-ordinator from Melbourne, Australia runs a fortnightly discussion on Twitter for teachers interested in the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (#pypchat).
  • The Principal of Change (georgecouros.ca) – George Couros, Principal from Alberta, Canada shares fascinating and inspiring stories of learning and leading, as well as presentations and re-sources from his global speaking appointments.

 

Conclusion

In a traditional sense, education in the past has been separated from learning communities across location, language and culture. With technology at our fingertips and at the disposal of our students, these obstacles are no longer present as barriers; blogging is a great way of expanding the immediate classroom community.

Moreover, teachers are able to incidentally include the development of keyboard / typing skills, teach about copyright and Creative Commons, allow students to develop their navigation and research skills, and foster the smart, safe and respectful methods of electronic communication; thus giving the students the potential to become more literate with technology.

 

Further reading

Henderson, M., Snyder, I., & Beale, D. (2013). Social media for collaborative learning: A review of school literature. Australian Educational Computing, 28 (2), pp. 1-15. Available at:
http://journal.acce.edu.au/index.php/AEC/article/view/18

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