(This posting is a companion to my essay on “Blogging for Your Students” in the May 2007 issue of the AHA Perspectives.)
SETTING UP A BLOG
If you would like to set up a blog, there are many blogging services to choose from. Ex Post Facto, for instance, runs on WordPress, a free, open-source, and very flexible blogging software package. While you can run WordPress on your own server, you can also use it on a number free webhosts, including WordPress.com and edublog. (One additional advantage of WordPress is that it allows you to have as many static pages, outside of the blog structure, as you desire, and there are scores of free plugins to add extra functions. One such plugin, called ScholarPress Courseware, allows you to use a blog to manage a course. For example, see Jeremy Boggs’s U.S. History Survey at GMU.) Blogger (or Blogspot), which is run by Google, is one of the most popular free blog hosts. Although it is less flexible than WordPress, Blogger has several education-friendly features, including support for multiple authors and privacy control, and it is quite easy to configure and maintain. For a sample Blogspot educational blog, visit Cyborg Culture, which my colleague Clif Ganyard created as an interactive space for his students. See also Russell Olwell’s “Taking History Personally: How Blogs Connect Students Outside the Classroom,” from the Jan. 2008 issue of Perspectives on History.
USING A BLOG AS A TEACHING AND LEARNING TOOL
If you lack familiarity with blogs and RSS feeds, you should probably start with a good old fashioned book. I recommend Will Richardson’s Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classroom (Corwin Press, 2006).
James Farmer (of Melbourne, Australia) has written provocatively about the use of blogs in education. He is the founder of edublogs, a hosting service for educational blogs. See the “blogging for education” section of Blogsavvy and his blog, incorporated subversion. See also Anne Bartlett-Bragg and James Farmer, “Blogs @ Anywhere: High Fidelity Online Communication,” from July 2005. This scholarly paper analyzes the communication dynamic of blogs, compared to email and bulletin boards, with an emphasis on the potential applications of RSS feed technology. It also includes a bibliography. Farmer has condensed the conclusions of “Blogs @ Anywhere” in “How NOT to Use Blogs in Education” and “How You SHOULD Use Blogs in Education.” He has also written a highly suggestive piece on virtual personal learning environments, and he has produced a related screencast.
Bud Gibson, whose “Community Engine” site includes a bevy of posts on education, wrote a pair of articles called “A Learning Blogosphere” (Part 1) (Part 2). He describes and evaluates his experience using student blogs as a key course component.
I have found it especially useful to solicit comments from authors my students are reading. (See, for example, the comment #10 posted here and comment #13 posted here.) I have also found it very fruitful to interview an author for my class. (For instance, I interviewed Curtis White via email before my students discussed The Spirit of Disobedience.) I have also found it useful to comment on my students’ comments with a summative “final comment” as we wrap up each topic. (Here’s an example.)
Finally, for links to some very thought-provoking reflections on the “read-write” web, see Reflections on the Web 2.0.