Purposeful Blogging…

I have been doing a lot of thinking around the area of ‘purposeful blogging’ lately, that is, blogging that has a purpose. The importance of purpose really strikes me here. Purpose is vital for success in any venture, blogging included. Blogging (in the context of ed. blogging or blogging fo r an audience) should not be undertaken without first determining the purpose it will serve.

When I consider the blogs that I read, I notice that each is designed with a specific purpose in mind: education and social justice are just two examples of blog topics that I regularly focus on. I have been wondering for some time if I should be limiting the focus of my own blog, and, to be honest, I have been resistant to the idea of limiting my genre, but I am increasingly seeing the need for a purpose that is clear, refined, and specific. The topics of the majority of my posts also reflect an inherent push towards a purposed blog, as they are largely focussed on education and using social software in the classroom.

When I peruse blogs that I am considering investing my time in, I pretty much immediately leave blogs that digress into personal matters. When I see someone blogging, for example, about what they watched on tv last night, I leave immediately. Frankly, I don’t have the time. The sheer volume of blogs also suggests that there is probably a more purposeful blog out there for me to discover. I will rarely read a ‘personal’ blog entry, that is, a blog entry that is really just a diary in disguise. You pretty much have to be a family member or close friend to get me to read something of this nature, and even then, it is a hard sell. With that said, I have found some fresh and honest writing emerging from personal blogs. To write off all personal blogging as irrelevant would be to shut the door on emerging voices that are frank and brutal in their honesty. I have recently enjoyed reading posts from students and former students. Perhaps it is the abandon with which they post. I find this abandon to be refreshingly blunt and without pretense.

When I look at the categories in my own blog, I see that there is some variety, but by no means do they represent a complete listing of my interests and passions. I am interested and passionate about photography and the outdoors, for example, but I don’t blog about it. My bloglines account mirrors this focus on similar topics ( I do, however, follow Kris Krug’s blog , and am stunned by his photography.

In thinking about blogging I also want to mention that when we introduce blogging into the classroom setting it should be very purposed in its’ its introduction and delivery. Students should know exactly what is expected of them when it comes to blogs and the topics they blog about. I find this is a hard topic to nail down, especially due to my own personal blog angst over genre limiting. On the one had hand, I just want to see students writing about what is important to them. On the other hand, curriculum rarely allows for this in some courses. Students don’t need another assignment or ‘to-do’ item just because the instructor thinks it is an interesting endeavour. What they need is a real learning experience, one they can get credit for (read: not one that is added on top of assigned work). The idea of expecting students to spend, no invest , time blogging meaningful messages without offering credit for that investment is, in my opinion, unrealistic. I do, however, agree with the idea of fostering learning that is independent of the assignment, or that happens outside of the assignment. This is a tough one, as it suggests a need to get away from assignments and more into ‘learning because I want to/what I want to.’ I would love for assignments to be done on a ‘pass/fail’ basis, but as long as there is a report card and governemment exams (not to mention admission requirements for post-secondary intsitutions), the number grade will exist, and I am not saying I am against that (but that is another subject for exploration).

Apparently such schools exist, and I would be interested to check one out some time, but the system I work within requires certain outcomes be addressed and met within the year. Perhaps in more ‘open-ended’ courses this format could be followed. I am considering, for example, using more user centred blog topics in my English 12 class in the upcoming term, but even then, I will be requesting that students focus their explorations. One idea that I have gleaned from ‘the curriculum’ (BC Gr.12 English IRP) is that of having students design technical manuals. This idea allows for user-centred blogging while also addressing requirements of the curriculum and providing students with realistic opportunities to conduct meaningful research.

The danger of purposeful blogging, then, becomes when we become over-purposed to the point of pigeon holing our own creative outlets… Alternative topics also need to be given an outlet, whether it be on the blog platform or not.

This exploration is by no means exhaustive. I would love to hear your comments on this one. Should ed-blogging be an open or closed ended system?


12 thoughts on “Purposeful Blogging…

  1. Enjoyed reading your post once again. The topic is one I am grappling with as well. It started with an “oh no do we have to blog again? comment a student made. That initiated a discussion on what they thought I should do to make blogging more interesting to them. My classes are a mix of grade nine through twelve students so the direction the conversation went in was quite interesting. Fundamentally, however, they wanted a more open system as opposed to the closed ended system I currently have in place.

    Your post has made me think about what I like in the Blogs I read. I enjoy reading ones, such as yours, is where the author is having a conversation that includes thoughts and links to other related conversations. Each of these examining a topic from a slightly different perspective taking the reader in multiple directions. This is the type of blogging I would like to see the students engage in, the purposeful blogging, you talk about in your post.

    I think I need to modify my blogging assignments by adding multiple blogging topics for student to choose from and allow them the freedom to find a topic of their own. I also have to provide the students with enough experiences so as they progress with this writing tool they will pick up the skills needed to be a purposeful writer. So perhaps starting out a bit closed but as the students gain experience and skills begin opening things up. At least I think that is the plan I will use next semester. I found a post by Aaron Cambell Approaches to Classroom Blogging useful as I started researching possible shifts in my class blogging structure.

    I visited your class blog and the writing your students are doing and found the structure interesting. I went in a slightly different direction keeping my class information and my student blog in the same blog. Last year I set up multiple blogs for each of the students and aggregrated the posts to one master blog. Not sure what the best setup is and I never thought of setting it up the way you have but I did enjoy reading the student posts. These posts will give me another example to show the English teachers on staff who are concerned about the AP assessment which can only be done via pencil that a conversation initiated through a Blog might be another tool in helping students think and write.


  2. Hi Gary,

    Thank you for your comments, and also for the heads up on the Campbell post. I just read it and found it very interesting. I am finding comfort in your comments, as I have been encountering some strange resistance to the whole blogging thing in my lit. class. My experience seems echoed in your post:
    “It started with an “oh no do we have to blog again? comment a student made.?
    I had a similar experience in walking into a classroom and hearing students talking about how they hated blogging. It was a strange and demoralising experience. My reaction to student apathy over blogging was originally one of frustration. I took it personally, although I did not vocalise a response, but, after having some time to reflect on the issue, here are my thoughts:
    1. Some students will complain about anything course related. Essays, for example. I rarely hear a lot of ‘I can’t wait!’ comments when it comes to writing essays. It doesn’t mean I abandon teaching the writing process or making essays a crucial part of my courses. Where there are assignments, there will always be a certain amount of dissonance in classrooms.
    2. Students may be ‘digital natives,’ outside of the classroom, but when you appropriate technology and begin using it as a tool, student confidence seems to evaporate. There is no pressure on students to create when they are using myspace or instant messaging for fun. They are free to use without risk or demand of accuracy and assessment. As soon as you bring tech. into the classroom, students become responsible for their output. Enter angst… One of my students recently expressed this idea very articulately in discussing blog angst amongst the class: “the younger people [referring to himself and his peers] use it more, but they don’t understand it.? -Ben (gr12 student). Casual use does not demand a working understanding, but use in the classroom does. Perhaps this is a reason for blog angst in the classroom.
    3. Freedom is a new concept for many students:

    After twelve years of being exposed to authoritative methods of heavy testing, rote memorisation, and deference to superiors, it is virtually impossible for most of my students to view the act of blogging as being anything other than part of the only kind of schooling they have ever come to know. ( Campbell, Aaron. “Classroom Blogging: two fundamental approaches? Accessed Dec 12/05)

    On the one hand, students beg for more independence and autonomy in their work, but on the other, I find a real insecurity or unwillingness on the part of many students to actually take hold of that autonomy and direct their learning. This is not their fault, but, as Campbell suggests in the quote above, a response to their conditioning.
    4. When I tickle my son, there comes a time when I have to stop, otherwise the tickling becomes painful. I remember experiencing this when I was younger. The fun quickly becomes painful over stimulation as you gasp for breath. Perhaps this is true of blogging as well. I am trying myself to find the line where blogging becomes monotony.
    I agree with your desire to see student writing via blogs evolving into a genuine conversation, one that is fluid and is evidence of dialogue between different voices and different perspectives. My hopes for blogging in future courses echo yours: “I think I need to modify my blogging assignments by adding multiple blogging topics for student to choose from and allow them the freedom to find a topic of their own. “ I am hoping to integrate more open-ended assignments in upcoming courses. You also mention the need for a balance between open-endedness and the closed system: “I also have to provide the students with enough experiences so as they progress with this writing tool they will pick up the skills needed to be a purposeful write? I couldn’t agree with you more on this one. We need to provide an open system to encourage and foster student investment, but we also need to provide a ‘framework’ of experience and knowledge of how to to hone their writing skills and develop their voice. This is a tough one…it sounds a little ‘zen’–> both a holding on and a letting go.
    Thank you for your comments, they have me thinking… I am going to check out how you have wielded the blog platform, as it sounds intriguing. Aggregating to one ‘mothership’ blog…was this a hard setup, or an easy one? It sounds very efficient…

  3. The class blog is at hc.acs.sch.ae/wordpress and I occasionally blog at gbbert.com. I changed my format from multiple individual blogs aggregated to a class blog to the current setup of one blog so I could have more control of the moderation of posts and comments. I also wanted a totally self contained teaching area with lessons for students, blog, my lesson plans and a photogallery. If I can’t figure out a better way of displaying the students posts in my current setup I think I will move it to a setup similar to yours. Our art teacher is doing a collaborative critique blog with another school in town at hs.acs.sch.ae/art.

    The students I teach use the tools of the digital natives. Cell phones, Ipods, MSN, using bittorrent to get the latest television show from North America. From an educational perspective, however,the issue is exactly what Ben and you are both saying “ casual use does not demand a working understanding, but use in the classroom does?. Casual use is one of my main reasons for starting classroom blogging. Much of the use I have seen revolves around a diary based exposition of a students day to day life. Students that either don’t worry, or are oblivious, to the fact that what they write is in the public domain. Through the tech topics I cover and the blogging that they are required to do I hope they begin to get a better idea of the digital world they are part of. Non casual blogging requires analysis, research and a lot of thought so I don’t get surprised when students give me the “oh no not again”.

    During the discussion I had with the students on blogging I mentioned that I found writing and publishing to a blog difficult. I always have that moment of panic prior to pressing the publish button. A number of them shared that they had similar fears. As both you and Aaron Campbell mention these fears are in part due to a disconnect between their past classroom experience and this current one. It is fundamentally different that what they are used to. All their educational lives writing has been a one-to few process. Blogging is a one to many process and a number of students found the fact that anyone can read what they write overwhelming.

    I guess the biggest thing I have to do is to be reflective and examine my fundamental lesson design…..back to Education 101. My rush to implement the blog near the end of last year and the start of this one lead to a lack in the depth of my preparation. My initial work was all on the tech side. How do I setup WordPress? How do I modify the look of the blog. The famous five minute install they talk about now takes me five minutes but back then took me a lot longer. However I need to spend more time on, my curricular objectives and my essential questions. The scaffolds I provide that would allow the students to begin as a casual user and end up as a more purposeful user need to be more clearly considered. A lot to think about…….after the holidays!!

  4. Pingback: Teacher in Development :: Purposeful blogging and the Grade :: December :: 2005

  5. Gary,

    Thanks once again for your comments. I have read them previous to this comment, but wanted to revisit them before commenting…
    I am rethinking my blog setup as well right now. Currently I have a three-layered approach, which seems to be too much in the way of layers…I am liking yours as it is the full package it seems all in one layer (although it sounds as if students have their own blogs as well, so perhaps there are two layers?)
    My initial thoughts in setting up blogs for my literature class were to 1) set up a homepage blog, which is working quite well.
    2) set up a team blog, which is slowly gaining some speed. very slowly…
    3) in the process of setting up students for the team blog, they all created their own personal blog. It is the only way I could use http://www.learnerblogs.org/ and add students to the team blog. So…they each have a personal blog.
    My intent was that they would begin using it, but I have not made it a requirement.
    Feedback from students is that they get frustrated over having to constantly sign in and out of computers and then blogs…although they have no quams about checking their email…
    I am wondering about adding their names to the category list on the team blog, so when they post, they just click their name as a category as well as any other appropriate categories to which they belong. They can then track their posts (as can I) by just clicking on their name in the category. That is my brainwave for now, and would take the place of having students use their own blogs…
    I am really wondering about this, if it will reduce strain and a layer of logging in, but I also hesitate to dissuade students from setting up and using their own blogs…..Ideas?
    I am relieved to hear that your ‘digital native’ students give you grief over ed-blogging assignments. I was beginning to think I had squashed the whole thing, and, on my last assignment, ended up backing out of it being a blog assignment and allowing students the option to either post to a blog or keep a written log. The result is that students seemed to relax a bit, and it seems that several have decided to post their log to the team blog , which has lifted my spirits somewhat.
    I like your verbage on blogging being a ‘one to many process’ and how that changes the expectations that have been ingrained in students…I agree, this is a huge shift in what students are used to and the feeling of ‘safety’ is eroded in a way.
    My experience is also similar in the ‘rush to implement blogs’, although I feel as if I did not rush, but spent a lot of time digging and investigating. I think where I lacked in this case was in the actual ‘nuts and bolts’ of blogging in a literature classroom…what would it look like? what would I expect of students as far as content goes? I also feel as if I didn’t spend enough time teaching blogging to students, but just got them to jump in and get going on it. For example: I haven’t gone over linking to other blogs…we are still on a single post, single comment kind of style, which is quite one-dimensional.
    I am hoping at some point to get students into the multi-layered approach of linking within their blogs to other knowledge….
    I am not sure if this will happen in the context of my lit. class, but I will be starting an English 12 class at the end of Jan. which I hope will be a smoother intro. to the world of blogging.

    Looking back, I feel there is a lot I could’ve done better, but not without the knowledge of just getting in there and trying things out. What seemed to be seemless to me became problematic, and vice-a-versa.

    However I need to spend more time on, my curricular objectives and my essential questions. The scaffolds I provide that would allow the students to begin as a casual user and end up as a more purposeful user need to be more clearly considered.

    I think your words above echo where I find myself…as you say, back to Education 101!

    thanks, gary

    by the way, your class blog looks deep!

  6. Last day of exams today as we run on an Islamic Saturday-Wednesday schedule and I am off on holidays this evening! Thought I would mention a few things about the tech end and think a lot more about purposeful blogging.

    My first attempt with classroom blogging was two tier, a team blog and individual student blogs. I set up WordPress for each student and used a WordPress plugin to aggregate all of the student posts into the team blog. Currently, however, I just have one blog with all of my students set up as users of the blog.

    you mention the following…

    I am wondering about adding their names to the category list on the team blog, so when they post, they just click their name as a category as well as any other appropriate categories to which they belong. They can then track their posts (as can I) by just clicking on their name in the category. That is my brainwave for now, and would take the place of having students use their own blogs…

    This plan of making each student a category then having the students post to topic category as well as their name category is the set up of the Art Blog my daughter’s class is using. You can see this at the Artists Block Blog .

    When you mentioned ” They can then track their posts (as can I) by just clicking on their name” my mind clicked on aggregating posts by student. I mean in your case you could aggregate by students and by topics. Never thought about doing that myself but when you mentioned it the light clicked! I have read online that this possible using WordPress so I think I will use your suggestion and try to set this up in the New Year, with my second semester group.

    Have a good break!


  7. Gary,

    Thank you for the input and the information…and thanks for the ‘artist’s blog’ addy again. I had checked it out earlier, but when you mentioned it used student names as categories, I went to it again. It is interesting to see something working in the way you were thinking to use…seems to work ok.

    I was wondering about your last thought of “aggregating by students and by topics” … I am wondering if this is possible using a free hosting service such as http://www.learnerblogs.org/ or if what you are talking about would only be possible if you hosted wordpress on your own server or webspace? I am using blogs that are hosted by learnerblogs, which uses wordpress.

    thanks for the info…more thinking for the break…

    Merry Christmas, I look forward to seeing your evolving blogs…
    by the way, I haven’t been able to access your class blog lately…is it offline now, or is the address wrong?

  8. James, Hopefully you had a good break as well. One nice thing about this year was that the Eid holiday was incorporated into our break so we had a much longer winter break. Your comment about aggregating by student is something I am going to be putting in place this semester. I have a new group of students so I get to start all over with this whole blogging experiment and hopefully will be able to do a better job of putting everything together.
    At times with all the conversations on the net regarding “purposeful blogging” this feels like a group of people should get together and use a wiki to create a publication that examines the process that students might need to go through to become more purposeful bloggers.

    Your service uses WordPress and from my readings on the WordPress Support Site you are able to aggregate by students. I went to your student site and tried it out adding the following URL to my aggregator http://herot.learnerblogs.org/tag/elbow/feed. With this I was able to aggregate everything that Elbow had written, including Elbow’s editing issues!


  9. Gary,

    Glad you enjoyed an extended break!
    I am enjoying the idea of using categories with student names, as it works great!
    I, too, will be starting Febuary with a new class of students to try the blog experiment with.
    I am intrigued by your comment about aggregating to student names. Did you use bloglines to aggregate? Thanks for trying it out. I will give it a shot, as this could be a helpful tool for students to use. I am not sure if it is the coffee or what, but I am feeling very confused about this idea and its applicability.
    What are your ideas regarding this? Will you use an aggregator like bloglines to keep files with each student name? Are you looking to archive student posts, or just keep up to date on their work, or is this something that students would use to track and archive their own work?

    Sorry for all the questions. I think I am just a little off track here.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    The wiki sounds interesting. I must admit I have never been involved in wikis before.

  10. I thought of using this primarily to keep track of where students are going. I am planning on getting all of my classes, Intro Tech, MultiMedia and Programming involved and think this might be a better way of keeping on top of things. In addition, I do teach the Intro Tech students how to use Bloglines so I will also expect them to use Bloglines to aggregrate their own work.

    I have, for a number of years, required that the students create an electronic portfolio using Golive, instead of a final exam. Some of your the recent Eportfolio posts and comments make me wonder if a wordpress blog might be another way of creating this and making their personal archives part of the portfolio.

    I am using NetNewsWire to bring it all together, but Bloglines would work as well, and am not entirely sure how it will all come together.

    I had to laugh at your Tandy Coco computer you mentioned in your last post. I won’t mention my age but when I started teaching Tech many years ago that was the computer I had in my lab….complete with ten cassette recorders.

    A long time ago I posted about how circular everything was begining to feel. Coding by hand then to Claris Home Page-Cyberstudio-Golive then back to the current world recalling what meant! But as you mentioned these tools flatten the world (just finished the World is Flat) so I can read a post from The Island in our place here in Abu Dhabi on another Island. By the way we are playing with podcasts as well!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s