A few of my colleagues have asked me, “What’s the one thing that has had the biggest impact on your personal learning?” I am personally and professionally reborn as a result of becoming a connected educator. Social networks, and in particular, my PLN (personal learning network) have taught me more about schools, teaching, education, technology, learning, and most importantly, myself during the past two years than my previous 25 plus years spent as a professional educator and student. The single activity that has had the biggest impact on my personal and professional learning is blogging.
Creating a blog requires no technical or coding skills. You do not have to be a great writer to have an effective blog. Blogs provide a web presence with simplicity and versatility. Blogging has been around for some time. John Barger, when describing his site called Robot Wisdom, first coined the term “weblog” in 1997. Two years later, Peter Merholz shortened this term to “blog”. Evan Williams, a co-founder of Pyra Labs (later Blogger), was the first to use the term “blog” as a verb. In less than twenty years, almost seven million people are now blogging. More than ½ of these bloggers are between the ages of 21 and 35, with a majority of them being women. The Internet is currently home to more than one hundred sixty million blogs. Five hundred million people are reading more than fifteen billion blog pages each month. More than 80% of Fortune 500 companies suggest that blogs are essential to their company’s earnings. 75% of all Internet users read blogs. Blogging is big business!
I wrote my first blog post in Nocking the Arrow, on March 10, 2012. 130 posts, and 160,000 page-views later, blogging is the one thing that feeds my personal and professional learning more than anything else. I tell my wife, Natalie, that writing helps me sleep. While there is some truth in this, writing and posting to my blogs deepens my understanding of issues that I have questions about. Reflecting on my educational experiences helps to crystallize my learning. I have been told, if you really want to understand something, teach it. Blogging, in many instances, is teaching what you have learned to an authentic, and potentially world-wide, audience. Posts become conversations when comments are enabled. These conversations help to broaden perspective, and they can also ignite meaningful learning relationships.
Anyone who can create an electronic document, such as a Google Doc, can create a blog post. The first step is to identify a concept and a purpose for the blog. As with digital portfolios built with other tools, blogs can be process (conversation) focused, product (presentation) focused, or a hybrid design that incorporates both of these systems. I use the hybrid model for my personal / professional learning blog. The main feed, or body, of the blog contains a chronological stream containing conversations and reflective thoughts. Subsequent pages contain demonstrated competencies, artifacts of learning, and research supporting professional growth.
A helpful feature of blogs is posts can be tagged or labeled with keywords making them easy to sort and search, while pages are excellent repositories for categorized subjects or themes. Taking time and putting thought into creating the title and description for your blog is a creative and essential initial step. The title will go a long way in attracting the type of readers that will benefit from, and actively engage, with your blog. Use of social media and search engines to find interesting blogs to read and follow is a good place to start. Teach-100 provides a ranking of some of the world’s more popular education blogs. Subscribe to your favorites and start taking note of the features, designs, and content that appeal to your purpose and concept.
There are several popular blogging platforms to choose from. These include; WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and Weebly. Knowing one’s own skill level and the comparable features of these blogging products will help to make an educated choice for your blog platform. Blogger makes sense for me because of it’s ease of use, and because nearly all of my cloud-based material resides in my Google Drive. Blogger also allows me to create and publish posts from any web-connected device.
After choosing the blog platform, the next steps would include creating an account, establishing a user profile, and then starting to write. Be sure to take time to become familiar with the user preferences, or site settings associated with the blogging platform. For instance, saving is different than publishing to the web. Typically, I will keep a working tab and a preview tab open simultaneously. Even though Blogger, like Google Docs, will auto-save every several seconds, I frequently save my work, and then refresh my preview screen to see how the finished product will look once I publish. More than 75% of Internet users access their favorite information from a mobile device. This is why immediately after I publish a post, I will review it on my smartphone and tablet to see that the layout and spacing is appropriate for a mobile device.
Will your posts be public, or restricted to a smaller, specified audience? Although I am believer in the benefits of total transparency in learning and communication, this practice of open sharing to a worldwide audience is an intimidating leap for some people. Most blogging products allow the publisher to expand or restrict both viewers and collaborators. In formal educational settings a consideration is the age of the contributing students. If you are considering creating a classroom blog with younger students, extra care should be taken to protect their personal identities. With ease of set up, and built in securities for students, Edublogs is an excellent platform for classroom blogs. Popular blogger, Richard Byrne, shares many terrific samples in this post, 40+ Examples of School & Classroom Blogs, published in Free Technology for Teachers.
Blog comments have the power to turn digital reading experiences into collaborative learning experiences with the added potential for unique global perspectives. However, not everyone has the same moral compass, or digital responsibility as you. If you allow comments, which I recommend, then I also recommend moderating them for more control over what appears on your blog site. In short, start simply and controlled, and you can open things up and take more creative and collaborative risk as your confidence with blogging grows.
As you become more comfortable with the blogging tools, page templates can be customized to taste. Modifications can include changes to colors, page layout, and type fonts. Incorporating other types of media can help break up blocks of text while also adding visual appeal, and enriching information to your posts. Most blogging platforms allow the user to embed photos, video, and graphics into the blog post. Widgets can also be incorporated into the blog. Calendars, social media buttons, search windows, and maps are examples of widgets that can make the blog more engaging and interactive for the reader. (Designing A Beautiful Blog - Dan Leeman) If generating page traffic and personal branding are important to you, then you should consider purchasing a domain name for your blog. This will make the blog easier to identify in search engines, and more easily associated with you or your brand. Yes, it is possible to earn money through your blog. Direct advertising and indirect marketing of other products such as books, courses, or learning materials are two ways bloggers can earn income. If this is a consideration for you, be sure to thoroughly research the content ownership details for your chosen blogging platform.
Blogging is fun, personally enriching, and supportive of learning communities. Some ask, “Is blogging worth the time and effort?” Yes, you will get back ten-fold what you put into your blog. The biggest challenge I face with blogging is coming up with stuff to write about. Most of the time, I write about the things that I see, or hear, around school every day. As George Couros, one of my favorite bloggers says, “What seems ordinary to you, can be amazing to someone else.” Share your learning because you never know who it will impact. Being a connected educator has profoundly enhanced my personal and professional learning. Blogging is the process that I use to document and share this. Blogging is one of the best ways to personalize and publish one's learning.
Related Reading & Resources
Blogging, Who Should and Why - My Island View, Tom Whitby
Chart - A Comparison of Educational Blogging Platforms - Richard Byrne
Chart - A Comparison of Educational Blogging Platforms - Richard Byrne
Start Your Teaching Blog; Resources, Advice & Examples - Edutopia, Matt Davis
Blogs and Labels Are About Information Literacy - Langwitches Blog, Silvia Tolisano
Blogging Resources for Teachers - Center for Teaching Quality, Bill Ferriter
The State of Educational Blogging 2014 - The Edublogger, Sue Waters