One of my great frustrations lately as a teacher is that I am not having more success teaching blogging, as in blogging the verb Will Richardson, to my students. The value of blogging, as I’ve come to learn, is in the way that it requires that I interact with source material, either another blogger or any other text that I can find to quote and think about. That interaction with sources is what I think is so, so, so essential in the education of students. If we are to teach students to teach themselves, we must focus our efforts on areas of basic communication and areas of interacting with other information. I know that statement is probably preaching to the choir, but maybe not.
Lots of the "successful" uses of blogs out there are those that aren’t really about interacting with sources. Posting homework online, unless the homework is source-specific, isn’t blogging, although it is a step in the right direction.
I’ve had some small successes here and there, but I’m finding it funny and sad that I am unable to successfully share the one best learning tool in my personal arsenal with the students that I work with.
I could bemoan that the problem isn’t with me, or with my methods, it’s with the community/school/students/parents/etc. But what good does that do? Such excuses would make me feel better, but they wouldn’t be me teaching — they’d be me giving up. As I step back from day to day writing instruction while my very able student teacher steps up, I’m thinking again about how to teach blogging rather than writing with blogs.
For two different quarters in two different school years, I have been attempting to better incorporate blogging into my speech course, English 10B, a standard course for students in the tenth grade in my district. I figured then, and still think now, that using a blog as both a research log as well as a tool for reflection while preparing for a speech was a good idea. To that end, I encouraged students to write three kinds of posts. I’ll admit that we all got a little stuck as we learned how to navigate between our own blogs and the blogs of our classmates. We used Bloglines as our aggregator and Blogger as our blogging tool. Too much software. Elgg has mostly solved that problem, as it serves as both blog and aggregator. Too cool.
While I was pleased that my students began to tentatively share their ideas with the world, I felt that my instruction was not as thorough as it might have been. I understood that one of the powers of blogging is the ability to connect to the writing of others in some pretty tangible ways. But I don’t know that I communicated that to my students as successfully as I would have liked.
This isn’t a post about tools. It’s a post about content. But the tools and the content are beginning to, or have always been, running together and affecting the other. My students, or me, or you, or anyone can’t learn how to without first learning how to make those connections. I’m not an expert, but I think it makes sense to try to articulate the different types of links that are possible in a blog post. I recognize that such a list is limiting, but I need to wrap my brain around these ideas a little bit. (Here’s a wiki version of my list, which is by no means complete. Feel free to make it better.) I see several different types of linking that I should be explicitly teaching:
1. Connecting to locations. The simplest of links. When we write, we might write about specific places, people or events. Often, those events or places have websites. A very basic form of connective writing, then, would include creating links to those places. (Ex. I like the Denver Broncos; Bob Ross was a great artist.)
2. Connecting to ideas. This is a basic citation. Alan Levine calls it a linktribution. One of my pet peeves about teaching blogging and hyperlinking is that so often, people will link to the parent page of a website rather than the page where they got their specific information. The best part about linking to specific information is that it’s very transparent. I can trust you as a writer right away if I can see that your links are accurate and that the quotes that you use are reproduced accurately.
3. Connecting to self. Sometimes the best ideas that we can find are ones that we had in the past. The advantage to keeping and archiving a blog is that you can almost literally travel back in time to visit with the old you. One way to connect with the old you is to quote yourself and respond.
4. Connecting for attention. When students are writing for specific audiences, they sometimes need to get the attention of the folks that they are writing for. One way to do so in an online environment is to include a link to a site or blog or wiki or something that their intended audience might be keeping an eye on. When the audience searches for references to the link the writer uses, then that writer will discover the piece of writing. Most bloggers that I know are aware of this, and they maintain an RSS feed (or several) of searches for specific links or terms that relate to them. For example, I use Technorati to provide me with an RSS feed of any reference to the URL of this blog. When someone writes about, and links back to, something that’s been posted on my blog, I find out about it and can go check it out.
This is certainly first draft thinking; please keep that in mind. How are you teaching your students to link? What have I missed? Is there a better list out there? Again, here’s the link to the wiki version of this list — help me improve it. I’m eager for some feedback, as well as conversation, about how to teach blogging and not writing with blogs.