When Albert Einstien wrote up his theory of relativity on the blackboard, it wasn’t the blackboard that made the magic; when Frank Darabont created The Shawshank Redemption from the Stephen King novella, the cinematography, and acting were brilliant, but it was the story that won us over, just as it did with Schindler’s List. When children excitedly buy their first copy of Harry Potter, they are not buying the words on the page, they are buying the story.
In all of these cases the story itself is the most magic part, not the medium which carries the story. As one great story teller (Muriel Rukeyser) wrote “The Universe is made of stories, not atoms”. Jonathan Gottschall, the author of ‘The Story Telling Animal’ remarked “Human beings live their lives inside a storm of stories”. This ‘storm of Stories’ has been wildly brewing since the development of the World Wide Web to become an overwhelming hurricane of stories, in the vortex of which, everyone is a story teller, and everyone is a hungry consumer of ‘news’.
This new ‘carriage of cognizance’ allows anyone a voice, and it has given a voice to many great young minds such as Tavi Genivson, Gloson Teh, Stephen Yellin , Sher Bano, andJulie Zeilinger. The world has been tuning in to the stories of these ‘kids’ since most of them were age 17 or less, and there are many more like these who are right now sharing their stories in an attempt to be heard. But with so many kids itching to tell their stories to each other online, why then is this story chatter so quite in our schools? – so deathly silent that you can hear the crickets chirping. Are there students in our schools who have a strong active voice in their communities, but who have muffled voices within their school? If so, why is this happening, and how can we change it? If it is so easy for kids like Tavi Genivson and Julie Zellinger to raise their voices outside of their schools, then why are they not able to sing their beautiful song within the school’s walls? Have we caged our songbirds, so that they do not wish to sing? Freedom is the ink in the pen of the expression of ideas, but have our schools have restricted that ink, so that it no longer flows?
Our students have become expert bloggers and micro-bloggers; they are writing and expressing ideas more than any previous generation and yet our schools choose to remain oblivious to this, and in many cases they even seek to crush the tools of expression. The practices and conventions within the real world should be reflected within our schools, however, in many if not most schools, this is not the case. If we give our students an opportunity to air their voice within their classes and school community then this will better shape their practices for when they begin to do this in the real world, helping them to become better global contributors of knowledge.
In search of a tool that would best represent ‘human voice’ for the purpose of online storytelling, you couldn’t ask for anything better than the medium of video, however, not everyone is happy to be a video star, and besides, producing good quality video can be difficult, time consuming, and the process can sometimes convolute the message. If we look to how the real world is presently telling its stories we see that most of our news (International, local, and social) is being told using a humble ‘web-log’ – a ‘blog’.
Blogs or ‘Weblogs’ are not new technology. Blogs evolved from personal online diary accounts in the 1990s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog#History. The humble early days of blogging soon gave way to a steep rise of popularity once people realised the blog’s potential to convey up-to-date news.
These days there is probably not a website worth visiting that does not contain a blog, however, in spite of a wealth of evidence which suggests that blogs improve learning outcomes, adoption of this technology in education has been slow and sporadic – Only some teachers and fewer students are using them.
So if blogs are used so extensively to convey news and information in the real world then why has the education sector been so slow to adopt this technology for learning? Perhaps whilst everybody in education is looking for the eLearning ‘next big thing’, they are forgetting that simple technology can often be the most effective; or perhaps the education sector is stuck in the paradigm of needing to place the learning into neat quiet little boxes.
One thing is certain: The world now sources the majority of its information via blogs and micro blog news feeds, so in education the question should not be “Why a blog?” The question should be “Why not?”
Below are some reasons why a blog is one of my favourite elearning tools:
I blog therefore I am– Formation of the self
The who’s who of the world (Bill Gates is a big blogger) all blog, and most of them micro-blog (Twitter and Facebook) about things that they have written in their blog, so I guess that means they are blogging their blog, or that they are blog bloggers. Many writers have come to find their voice via their online blog posts; some of these people were famous to begin, whereas some became known to the world through the ideas which they shared. Most of our online news now comes via blog posts: News.comhttp://www.news.com.au/ The ABC http://www.abc.net.au/news/ etc. The big education sites such as NASA http://www.nasa.gov/ are now composed in blog format. Students obtain a lot of their home hobby learning information from online blogs such as MineCraft http://www.minecraftforum.net/ and IGN (International Gaming Network)http://au.ign.com/articles, and use blogs and micro blogs for information related to their social networks such as Tumbler https://www.tumblr.com/ and online magazines such as Rookie http://www.rookiemag.com/. Most students, teachers, people, interact with blogs almost every day without realising it, because blogs are so common on the web that they have become intrinsic to the web browsing experience. What is noticed however, is the timeous nature of the information presented and the appeal of the story which the blog accommodates.
Smooth as Silk– Perfectly simple
Sometimes the simplest tools are the best. The humble blog does not have the bells and whistles of the ‘latest thing’, but it is very efficient and reliable. Most of the contemporary blogging platforms allow you to input your information in a ‘Word’ style editor, and some even let you blog straight from word or email posts from Outlook. Many of these modern blog platforms such as SharePoint 2013 on the Office 365 allow you to embed video and other code to provide a rich and engaging experience for the reader. This is a perfect situation for those who have grown up using MS Word and are therefore reluctant to move away from it, because the tools are the same with the Office 365 blog (SharePoint) because it is built on the same technology. The ability of the blog to blend both familiar technology and embedded code means that you can produce highly engaging posts that easily connect your readers to the resources they need. Here is a very simple blog that shows how easy it can be to get your message across using a mixture of different media:https://www.howtocookthat.net/public_html/temper-chocolate/ (everyone loves chocolate).
Location, location, location – Easy to find, again, and again, and again
They say that location is everything in real-estate, and this is also true as far as the real-estate of information. If your audience can’t find your story, then your story will go untold, so it pays to put your story in a place where you know that it will be easily found. This is one of the things that a blog does best, and it is one of the reasons why blogs are used by news companies. Once you have established your blog’s location with your audience you don’t need to worry about redirecting them to your new information, because the blog facilitates a continual flow of new information within the same ‘piece of real-estate’, meaning that your ‘stuff’ might change, but your students will know exactly where it is.
[X] is the new black – always up to date
Because the blog developed from a ‘diary’ format, each post on a blog is date/time stamped, allowing the reader to know exactly when each post was written, and therefore whether or not it is ‘yesterday’s news’. This feature is very handy when searching for information on the web, because it lets you establish if the information is current or old. Within a learning context it allows students who have missed classes to know exactly which posts are relevant to the days they have missed – meaning that you ‘the teacher’ don’t have to explain the lesson over and over.
The Great Re-Animator – easy re-blogging
Blogs are constructed to allow you to choose how the information is presented on the ‘Wall’ or ‘Homepage’. Most people choose to have their posts present in order of ‘newest to the top’ which makes more sense, as you want the newest news at the top, not the oldest news. In the world of news you wouldn’t have many occasions where you would want to retell a news story (although some have done the rounds for years), however, in education teachers are often reusing content over and over for subject lessons in subsequent years. A blog can come in very handy in this situation because posts on a blog can be easily re-edited and then re-posted at a new date, meaning that you can give your old lesson a good ‘cut and polish’ and then move it to the top of the line. If there is one reason which tempts you to get into blogging it should be this, because this is a big time saver.
Once Upon a Time – Want to win your audience? – Tell them a good story!
As mentioned in ‘Part One‘ of this blog post, the ‘story’ is fundamentally important in learning, and the blog is a perfect tool to support this story. The format of the modern blog allows the author to include just about any form of media that they need to make their story engaging to their audience; and the proof of this lies in the ‘hurricane’ of stories that have been consumed from blogs within the Weblog’s short history. In the case of the class blog, your story is formed in part by the ‘learning intention’, so the better this is presented the higher your students’ chance of success. Here is a good example of how a blog can be used to tell a story in both words and pictures:http://www.timetravelturtle.com/2015/04/volubilis-ruins-morocco/
Paragon of the Paragraph – Promotion of reading, writing, and teacher modelled writing
Because the blog’s main content is in ‘written’ format, it is the perfect tool to help support student writing and it provides a stage for the teacher to demonstrate good writing within their subject area. We should not assume that our students automatically know how to write within the genres for each subject area, and we should not assume that this writing will be taught by the English teachers. It is the responsibility of every teacher to teach the writing for their subject area, and role modelling of this writing by the teacher forms a big part of this instruction.
The blog is the perfect tool to support writing improvement using the following strategies:
QuickWriting is a very efficient and effective way to get students into the habit of writing. QuickWrites are short, specific pieces of writing in which the focus is the recording of ideas rather than spelling or grammar. When the teacher QuickWrites with the students it provides the opportunity for the teacher to share how he/she constructs word combinations, sentences and paragraphs to communicate ideas. The sharing and deconstruction of these QuickWrites can be a powerful tool in the learning of writing structures.
Write-to-share is where the teacher writes as a writer and shares their writing with the community. This may be in the form of a blog, article, review, or book. This form of writing lets the students see the role of writing, and see who writes. It provides a greater context for the purpose of writing and can encourage students to see themselves as writers. This form of writing also provides the opportunity for the teacher to share his/her thoughts and the challenges encountered over the whole writing process, and can also allow a chance for the teacher to deconstruct his/her writing with the students and discuss language structures.
These ideas were sourced from: Welcome to Writer’s Workshop – Steve Pehahttp://www.ttms.org/PDFs/05%20Writers%20Workshop%20v001%20(Full).pdf
The Real Deal – Authentic audience
Most of the exchanges of student writing and work which take place within a school are exchanges between student and teacher, followed by feedback from teacher to student. Rarely is this work seen by the other students in the class, or by anyone else in the school community, except in the case where exemplary work has been selected for the specific purpose of showcasing. Education experts such as Regie Routman argue that a student needs to write for an authentic audience in order to build robust writing skills, and that the act of writing to an authentic audience enriches the experience for the writer and therefore inspires and encourages this writer to further their writing.
It is fairly obvious to see that the act of writing to an audience of your peers prompts you to spend more time on the ‘polish’ and encourages you to be more careful when writing your ideas. In a controlled and safe environment, students feel safe to write and share their ideas with others in their class, and they feel free to express their opinions and embrace mistakes as part of the process. A blog platform such as the blog in the Office 365 SharePoint sites allows the teacher to set up a safe and controlled environment where the students can practise their writing of ideas to a real audience in an interactive setting, and they can receive feedback from their peers. The blog available on the Office 365 (SharePoint) is a perfect training platform for the real world because here the teacher can have full control over exactly who can ‘post’ and who can ‘comment’. This environment allows for the gradual building of student responsibly and the discussion of what it means to be a ‘Global Digital Citizen’.
Strut Your Stuff – Student portfolios
The media rich format of the blog accommodates the presentation of multifaceted information, which is perfect for the presentation of learning portfolios. The student might have as part of their learning portfolio some written pieces in blog posts or document libraries, some video recordings, some images, and maybe even sound recordings. These can all be presented from the one blog post by way of links and embedded content, meaning that the student needs only to present the one post to showcase their entire learning portfolio.
Because Individuals Have Individual Needs – differentiation
Category tags on a blog allow you to tag each post with specific tags which relate to the content of the blog post, allowing your audience to find what they need. This feature enables easy and efficient filtering of the information within your blog, however, this feature can also be tweaked to allow you to personalise and ‘target’ individual students or groups within your class. Rather than creating subject specific tags for your blog’s categories, you could instead use the names of each student or student groups in your class, thus allowing you to tag specific students as the ‘category’ for specific posts. In this way you can tailor and deliver information to the right target groups within your classes to ensure learning differentiation.
Through Others We Become Ourselves – Social collaborative learning
If you have recently learnt something new you will have no doubt sourced some of this learning from an online community resource. One of the greatest things that the World Wide Web has done for us is provide a platform where we can all share our knowledge to create a World Wide Knowledge Bank. Our knowledge about ourselves and the world is broadened by our interaction with the ideas of others, and it is this same process of learning that we should see established in our schools, however, our schools have been reluctant to let go of their traditional ‘19th century model of learning‘ which has severely impeded progress in this area.
A quote from one of my previous blog posts should best sum this up:
“I don’t want to get bogged down in theory here but I will say that we should have moved a long way forward, driven by the ideas of Vygotski (1978) and Bandura (1977) to a place where the social side of learning is firmly embedded in every classroom learning experience, and yet we still have the situation where documents are passed from teacher to student, and then back from student to teacher. At best in this situation the student receives written or verbal feedback and in rare cases exemplary work is made visible to the class. In this case the social learning experience is restricted to an exchange between the teacher and student, meaning that the rest of the class has missed out on the opportunity to contribute and learn from the success or mistakes of others.
With our eLearning management we must not fall into the trap of using a 21st century tool to deliver 19th century learning and teaching methods. The education sector has a habit of adopting new technologies to deliver ‘the same old thing’ (Spector 2006). If we want to encourage our students to engage in sharing and discussion about their work then we will have to look at established conventions that may prevent this; conventions that we might have set up.”
A class blog that is utilised by both the teacher and the students can help resolve the issue mentioned above by making the learning visible to all participants in the learning, and therefore the learning outcomes are shaped by the collective knowledge of all of these participants rather than from only the perspective of the teacher and individual student.
If you want your story to be heard – Make it engaging, make it clear, make it accessible, make it relivable – Think about putting it in a blog!
Another blog post about blogging – http://weblogs.about.com/od/partsofablog/tp/The-Fundamental-Parts-Of-A-Blog.htm
Welcome to Writer’s Workshop – Steve Pehahttp://www.ttms.org/PDFs/05%20Writers%20Workshop%20v001%20(Full).pdf
Vygotsky, L.S. – “Mind in Society”- Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press – 1978
Bandura, AlBert – “Social Learning Theory” – Stanford University – 1977
Routman, Regie – 2014 Read, Write, Lead: Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Literacy Success. Assn For Supervision & Curriculum.