In this post I will attempt to break down the myths about blogging, compare/contrast blogs with traditional web sites, and give some tips for getting started with blogs if you are interested in doing so…I’m certainly not an expert in this area, but I hope this serves as a useful guide if you’re considering a blog…
What is a blog??
Blogging really seems to be the craze of the Internet of late. It seems like just about everyone is blogging these days…from Marines stationed in Iraq, mountaineers in the Himilaya, the over 100 million registered myspace.com users, to Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks. What is all this hulaboo about? Some people blog to keep in touch with their families, others blog due to a special interest, and some blog because they are simply outstanding writers who are looking for a venue to share their thoughts. A blog is basically a web page that has features that allow for more interaction between the blog author/editor and the visitors to the blog. Typically speaking, the blog editor (aka-“blogger”) will leave a post on a certain topic. A reader of the blog has the option of leaving a comment or spurring off in another direction relating to the blogger’s original post. A blog can provide a forum for individuals with like interests to express themselves and exchange thoughts and ideas. Myspace, blogger.com, elgg.net, typepad, and Windows live spaces, are all examples of web logs, or “Blogs.” By the way, the term “Blog,” is a contraction of two words: the “B” from the word “web” and the “log” from the word log (just like MODEM is a contraction of modulator/demodulator). Unlike traditional websites, blogs require no specialized software, are easy to update, and can be updated from any Internet connected computer on the face of the earth (unless you happen to be in China or any other country whose government applies heavy censorship on thought).
Aren’t blogs bad and dangerous?
Yes and no. Some blogs, like many different pages on the Internet, are full of content that is highly offensive, objectionable, scary, etc. If used inappropriately, a blog certainly has the potential to create a dangerous or embarrassing situation for a young person and/or family. Just search the news at google for myspace and you’ll get countless stories dealing with incredibly dangerous or embarrassing situations that young people have put themselves in. However, many blogs are extremely entertaining, informative, and enjoyable to read. From first hand accounts of an aid worker in Africa to the musings of an owner of a professional sports team, blogs have the promise to be an excellent forum for individuals interested in discussing their interests, the news of the day, sports topics, etc. Some people blog as a form of entertainment…it is really a hobby to some. Blogging definitely isn’t for everyone—some people view blogs as very boring and uninteresting (and many are incredibly dull). It is important that any blogger fully understands how to control their blog via software settings prior to creating blog posts.
Controlling the blog experience:
A host of settings for the blog allow the user to customize and control the experience to his/her liking. It is essential that an individual who is interested in blogging become knowledgeable about these settings prior to going live with the blog. For example, will you allow anyone in the world to leave a comment relating to your posts? Or, will you allow just the “members” that you invite to join your blog to leave comments? Some blog services even allow the blogger to control whether or not the blog is set to public (so anyone can read it) or private, which limits readership to the members of the blog. Student and family bloggers really need to become educated about the settings used to manage the content that will be visible/invisible to the world. My recommendation for student and family bloggers is to only use blogging services that allow a blog to be set to private, which means it is only visible to individuals that the blogger chooses. And just because a blog is set to private doesn’t mean it is totally secure. With that said, the student/family blogger should think carefully about the kind of content (pictures and text) that will be shared via the blog.
Choosing a user name for a student/family blogger when registering with the blogging service is critical. Even though it is fun to do so, the user name should not reveal any identifying traits, characteristics, hobbies, special interests, age/sex/location, etc.
Students, prior to blogging make sure you do the following:
- Talk to your parents and let them know what you would like to do with a blog—make sure they fully understand what you intend to do with your blog and make certain you have their permission to continue on.
- Read some blogs by others to see the types of things that folks blog about…this will help you develop a framework for what you would like to blog about.
- Determine with your parents the kind of material that your family is comfortable sharing in a blog format. Set rules and expectations for your blog. Read the safety tips at myspace.com for more ideas and follow the links at the bottom of the myspace's safety page for more ideas on blog safety.
- Become extremely comfortable with the privacy settings and controls of the blogging service prior to posting. Again, I strongly recommend that families and young people restrict their blogs to only being visible by selected individuals that they know in the real world.
- Do not use your blog as a bashboard, bullying tool, or as a forum to spew foul language. Think of your blog as a resume of sorts—one that will set you apart from your peers in a few years when you apply for the college of your dreams or the job of your dreams. Good writers and good thinkers with character are in high demand in any university, corporation or organization. Make your blog something that you are proud of.
- Choose a non-descript user name—your user name should not reveal any info about you’re A/S/L. Your blog password should be made up of random numbers, letters and characters and should never, ever be given away to someone else. Password length should be 6-8 characters or so.
- Do not fill out any profile information (eg-questions relating to age, sex, location, special interests, etc. And although it might seem fun to do so, do not fill out surveys-they typically reveal information that should not be shared in a public forum). Profiles are typically public even if the blog and blog posts are set to private—this means that others can search and read your profile, even if your blog is private.
- Remember, the Internet is a very public place. Even when totally restricting your blog, there is still a chance that information could get out to people who aren’t members of your blog. Because your blog isn’t totally secure, you should never reveal private information in your blog posts. There are always risks involved with setting up a blog, even if you do everything the “right way.”
- Be discerning about the kinds of pictures you reveal. Pictures of you or your friends in comprimising situations and positions could come back to haunt you some day.
- Share your blog with your parents, family members, friends and teachers. Your mom and dad should be regular readers of your blog.
- Also, some blogging tools have a feature that prevents automated spamming computer systems from leaving comments on your blog. Some blogging services call this feature “word verification,” and I recommend turning this on. Word verification requires that a user completes a word verification step prior to creating a post or comment. This makes your blog less susceptible to unwanted comments from these spam systems.
- Take an oath that you won’t use your blog as a substitute for an old school journal where you write down your thoughts and feelings. Using a blog as a replacement for a personal journal has the potential to make you feel extremely embarrassed at some point in the future—and doing so could put you in an incredibly dangerous situation as well. Keeping a personal journal is a wonderful idea—just do so with a pen and notebook and place it under your bed where nobody else but you can read it.
Many of the above tips are applicable to teacher bloggers as well. Plan your blog carefully and consider the privacy settings thoroughly prior to proceeding. Below you will find some additional tips:
- If creating an online community via a blog with your students, you should inform the parents of your intentions. Let parents know the reason for blogging with your students—explain the educational value. You might even have the parents sign a short permission slip for their student.
- Consider using a blogging tool with your students that sets the blog to private. And then only grant access to reading, creating, and commenting on posts to the students in your class.
- Depending on the blogging service, students will need to create an account prior to beginning. See the above recommendations for having students create user names and passwords. Students should not add any information to their profile-a user name and password typically are the only two things required to get going on this.
What might a teacher use a blog for?
The possibilities are absolutely endless and are only limited by the scope of one’s imagination…
A few ideas for your blog:
- Reflections on the world of teaching…
- Share ideas with other teachers about best practices….what worked well for you in that lesson? Or what totally tanked? Share some clever classroom management techniques that you’ve acquired through the years…have others leave comments and share their own suggestions.
- Use your blog as an extension or replacement for your current static website. You could use it to give homework assignments out and make general announcements.
- As a means to conduct peer review and editing sessions with students-have students post their writing samples as a blog entry and then encourage others to post comments.
- Continue your class discussions outside of the four walls of your classroom…what about the quiet, yet thoughtful kid who doesn’t feel comfortable talking in front of the class. Or don’t you hate it when you are in the middle of a great discussion and the bell rings? Blogs have the potential to address these situations in very meaningful ways.
- Book clubs/discussion with other colleagues, friends and/or students.