By the end of this chapter you should be able to:
- Say what a weblog is.
- Explain what kind of weblogs, sections and styles could be used.
- Illustrate advantages and disadvantages of using a single-author weblog and a multi-authors weblog.
- Analyse the main situations in which different kind of weblogs should be used and when they may be useful and appropriate.
- Set up a weblog.
- Write a weblog.
WHAT IS A WEBLOG?
A weblog is usually a personal website where individuals can publish whatever they want to share with others. Weblogs are commonly known as blogs. “To blog” can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.
Blogs are essentially self-contained and, rather like a diary, reflect the opinions, thoughts and ideas of the people who write them. Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject. Others function as more personal online diaries. Sometimes they are related to academic sites or subjects, in order to develop in depth discussions about specific fields. Blogs are an increasingly important communication tool in social, work and academic contexts.
Most blogs are text based but often combine the text with images and links to websites and other blogs and media related to its topic. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse chronological order. The structure and layout of a blog will reflect an individual user’s approach to gathering and arranging information.
A blogs can be a two-way tool that allows interaction between the writer and the reader with facilities for people to comment or offer feedback on what the blogger has written.
Micro-blogging is another type of blogging that consists of blogs with very short posts. They are often used to share web links or other kind of fast information. For example, Twitter is a micro blogging application that is based on your reply to the question “what are you doing?” (cf. tweets). It is used to update other people in your network frequently and quickly on where you are, who you are talking to, what you are working on and so on.
STEP-BY-STEP: GETTING STARTED WITH WEBLOGS
The blogosphere is constantly increasing and so is the number of weblog applications. The following “blog ware” is probably the most common:
Which one you use is a matter of taste. We use WordPress – it is open source (free) and this is the example that is used on the training course.
Signing up for a blog
Before you can start blogging, you need to have the software in place. There are two ways of doing this; either you can have a version where the software is actually held on the software company’s own site and you access it on line from your computer or you can download the software onto your computer and run it off your own web server.
Using blog software on a web site
This is the easier way for beginners. Just Google one of the blog software sites and register for an account by clicking on the “Sign Up Now” button. Then just follow the instructions. The main advantage is that it’s free and you don’t have to take care of the setup, upgrades, backup, etc. However, you won’t be able to change the software, for example, by uploading plug-ins or changing the code.
Using blog software on your own computer
The other possibility is to go to one of the blog software sites and download the blog tool to your computer from a download link on the site then upload it to a web server. This is only recommended for experienced users who are used to uploading using FTP (File Transfer Protocols) because you have to take care of the setup yourself and you need a web server. The advantages are that you can upload themes and plug-ins and you can change the code. If you are a teaching in a school that has its own server and intranet, then this is probably the best way for you. Go and see the IT technicians and they will almost certainly sort it out for you.
If you have your own server and you want the advantages of being able to upload plug-ins. but are not confident about setting it up, then some software sites (such as WordPress) have a free service that will upload and set up a blog on your web server for you. You have to provide your login. If you are planning to do this, check first with your IT technicians as they may have set up ‘firewalls’ to prevent you doing this.
Writing a post
The important thing about weblogs is the content. To make an entry, the only thing you have to do is to click “Write” in the administration menu and then start writing. After you have written a post, you need to tag it so that other people can find it easily.
If you want to customise your blog and give it an individual design you can change the ‘theme’. There are already lots of themes available, but you can also create your own (only recommended for advanced users). If you want to choose between available themes, just click ‘Design’ and browse until you find one you like. You can also search for themes by colour, columns, width and so on.
ELEMENTS OF A WEBLOG
Blogs usually have certain elements in common. These are some of the most important.
The author is the owner of the blog and the person who writes on it. The author’s name is shown at the end of every blog entry they make. The author can update or change the content they added and can also comment on their own entries or other people’s posts.
A ‘post’ is a contribution to the blog. Typically it is a short text paragraph where the author can write whatever they want. However, blog entries can run into many pages if that is what the author wants. Every weblog entry is also marked by an entry date and has a title to describe the content and to make it easier to find at a later date. The titles are showed in the index.
The index is the complete list of all the posts on the blog and enables the blogger and the readers to find particular entries by their title and date. It is like the contents page of a book. Sometimes these are displayed alphabetically, sometimes chronologically, sometimes hierarchically by topic.
The index page is the ‘home’ page of the blog. On the index page you will typically find out what the purpose of the weblog is, what topics it will cover and the style of writing might give you an insight into the author’s personality. It will also have the most recent post and access to all the other elements, for example, a profile of the author, the index of items and a ‘blog roll’.
A blog roll is a list of links to other blogs or websites that the author recommends or considers important or where the reader could find additional information. We suggest you create your personal blog roll.
A blog is usually open to readers’ comments. Every author can decide if he wants to let his readers comment on his posts. Most people allow this because they find the feedback and discussion useful.
The author can also create other pages apart from the index page. You can use these pages to go into more detail about some of the topics covered in your posts or you could create a specific page for your profile or an explanation of your project or your research.
A tag is simply a keyword attached to a bit of data (such as a blog post, a bookmark, a file, a picture, a video) that de- scribes the item so that it can be found again. The person who creates the item in the first place can choose whatever tag they want or other people using the material can tag.
So far we have only talked about single author blogs. You can also have a blog set up so that it can be shared be- tween many users. Typically, each author will have their own page and can add their own content around a particular theme. This will have been decided in advance by the group or by the teacher.
Single user blog, multi author blog or wiki?
Obviously the advantages of a single user blog is that not only can you write whatever you like but you can also create a personal relationship with readers, you can choose whether you will allow your readers to comment, choose whether to publish their comments and choose whether or not to respond.
If you want a more open discussion, for example with other teachers or with your class, a multi-user blog or wiki is probably better. Both use more or less the same technology and there is not a great of difference. Blogs are easier to use as they require very little in the way of IT skills whereas a wiki needs authors to use a simple mark up language. Multi author blogs usually have pages for each user that can only be edited by that user whereas wikis typically have pages for different content areas, which can be edited by anyone with permission.
If you want individual pupils to express their own thoughts and ideas on a particular activity or keep a diary of their work or research and which you want them to share with other pupils, a multi author blog is probably best. If you want them to work collaboratively on the same project or the same documents, then chose a wiki.
STYLES OF BLOGGING
When you start a blog you have to choose what kind of interaction you want to create with your readers. So, for ex- ample, you could create a blog where an entire class can develop a discussion around a topic. This could be a project carried on in groups, where every group uses the blog to update the rest of the class about their work. It could be a ‘thought-exchange’ platform around a current affairs issue where the teacher wants students to express their individual thoughts and also comment on the opinions of others. Or it could be that students use the blog as a personal diary related to, for example, their work experiences.
Students could also keep a blog with pages for each subject area on which they could keep a record of their interests, their research, books they have read or web pages they have visited. It can also be somewhere where they can post their homework, assignments, reports or essays.
You could share a blog with other teachers to give your students useful news and information about particular courses or set up your own personal blog around your own research interest. It is also a useful way of sharing teaching resources or material with colleagues.
SEARCHING FOR BLOGS
If you just type ‘blog’ into Google, you’ll get more than 5 million links! To make it easier to find a particular blog, Google has developed a tool for searching blogs – www.google.com/blogsearch
- Search for different kind of blogs (single-author and multi-author, personal and professional) and try to understand why each of them is useful in different situations.
- Make a comment on someone else’s blog.
- Start your own blog and familiarise yourself with posts, pages, blog roll, links, comments etc.
- Try to use a blog with your student to discuss the subject of a specific lesson. For example write a post and let your student make comments about it.
Resources and reference material
Instructional Technology Center at the University of Houston: http://awd.cl.uh.edu/blog
A short video introduction to blogs – how they work and why they matter:
Commoncraft (2007) ‘Blogs in Plain English’ (WWW). YouTube, LLC: www.youtube.com/watch?v=0klgLsSxGsU&eurl=http://www.commoncraft.com/rss_plain_english (10.03.2009)
Resources on using blogs in education:
EDTECHPOST (s.d.) ‘Resources and Examples of the Use Blogs in Education’ (WWW). Typepad: www.edtechpost.ca/blogtalk_archive/default.htm (23.06.08)
Example of a learning blog:
CARVIN, A. (s.d.) ‘Learning Now’ (WWW). Public Broadcasting Service: www.pbs.org/teachers/learning.now (23.06.09)
Google Blog-Search: www.google.com/blogsearch
Installing WordPress for Free: http://install4free.wordpress.net/
Twenty Usability Tips for your Blog:
JOHNSON, T. (2007) ‘Twenty Usability Tips for your Blog’ (WWW). Wpal: http://blog.web2.com.ua/wp-content/uploads/twenty-usability-tips-for-your-blog.pdf (pdf-rapport) (10.03.2009)
WIKIPEDIA (22.05.09) ‘Blog‘ (WWW). Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog (23.06.08)
List of blogging terms:
WIKIPEDIA (08.05.09) ‘Glossary of blogging‘ (WWW).Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog (23.06.08)
WIKIPEDIA (08.05.09) ‘Micro blogging‘ (WWW). Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micro_blogging (23.06.08)
WIKIPEDIA (08.05.09) ‘Online diary‘ (WWW). Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_Diary (23.06.08)