Making Student Blogs More than Digital Diaries

Classroom and student blogs are quickly becoming common place. With a number of platforms to choose from, teachers and students are taking their writing from the composition book to the computer. The reasons for blogging are many. Unfortunately, so too are the reasons for quitting. Nevertheless, in a networked world where Internet access is stored in our pockets and the ability to communicate effectively with it is a must, teaching students how to utilize blogging is the 21st century equivalent of teaching them how to deliver a speech. How, then, can you make sure that your students’ blogs are more than just digital diaries?

Encourage reflective writing. Oftentimes, teachers prompt students to write about whatever they want. While this has its place, using student blogs as a repository for new learning can lead to what George Couros refers to as “an open archive of learning.” In 5 Reasons Your Students Should Blog, he shares how he utilizes his blog to build on what he has learned, saying, “At any point, I can go back to the beginning of my blog and see where I have learned . . . I can see how I have grown and what my thought process has become.” For students, reflecting on new experiences not only leads to construction of meaning, it also leads to a legacy of intellectual and emotional growth.

Embed multiple forms of media. Whoever said that blogging must always be linguistic? Research by Marzano shows that “Learners acquire and store knowledge in two primary ways: linguistic (by reading or hearing lectures), and nonlinguistic (through visual imagery, kinesthetic or whole-body modes, and so forth). The more students use both systems of representing knowledge, the better they are able to think about and recall what they have learned.” Most blogs are designed with features that allow you to embed images, videos, and music. Utilizing embed codes along with encouraging students to express their thoughts, ideas, and demonstrations of learning across multiple forms of media is a fantastic way to promote deeper thinking and better understanding in the learning process.

Establish a digital footprint. Put simply, a digital footprint is what your students would see if they Googled themselves. And whether or not they know it, each of them has a footprint online. A digital footprint is made up of both passive information about Internet use and actively volunteered content. Maintaining a student blog can play a major role in shaping the trails that students leave behind. In Helping Students Create Positive Digital Footprints, Steve Johnson, a technology skills teacher, parent, and author made the point clear that “Schools are missing an opportunity when they avoid encouraging or teaching students how to post online.” Johnson elaborates on this issue by communicating that students are exploring and experimenting with posting online content outside of school when they should really be starting their digital lives in the classroom. Establishing a positive digital footprint involves more than educating our students about what they should choose to keep offline. We should also be teaching them what to publish to improve their digital image.

Engage in conversations. Characteristic of blogs is their utility for sharing and building upon ideas. Rather than serving as a soapbox, effective uses of student blogs engage others in meaningful conversations. The bulk of this type of interaction takes place in the comments section of an author’s blog posts. Teaching students how to participate in asynchronous online discussions will not only improve their ability to provide relevant feedback after reading, it will also aid in pushing them toward higher levels of thinking when writing themselves. In Content Area Conversations we read that, “[conversations are] the representation of thinking. As such, it seems reasonable to suggest that classrooms should be filled with talk, given that we want them filled with thinking!” Whereas a classroom discussion is valuable yet fleeting, continual talk on a student’s blog is meaningful and present, something that can be archived and revisited as that student’s understanding of the conversational topic continues to grow.

How you choose to utilize student blogs is up to you. Nevertheless, choosing to integrate blogging into your classroom to support existing curriculum is fundamental to a new millenium approach to education. While engaging students in blogging requires that you give them autonomy over content, a sound approach to blogging for teaching and learning insists that those same student blogs move beyond being mere digital diaries. Instead, quality classroom blogging should transcend the classroom altogether, bridging the gap between school, home, and the world our students live in.

Dave Guymon

Dave Guymon is a public online middle school teacher, edtech blogger, and the author of If You Can’t Fail, It Doesn’t Count.

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Janet Avery

Dave, you make some great points about student blogging in your post. I already understood the idea of an "open archive of learning." Students, through reflective writing, can see their own growth as a learner. Although it isn't quantifiable, it is probably more powerful to see than and numerical graph of growth. What I hadn't considered was the use of a blog for multiple forms of media. We absolutely know that student learning becomes deeper/richer while learning through multiple expressions (video, picture, audio, music, etc). I just hadn't made the connection to utilize the blogs to archive THAT demonstration of learning as well. I also appreciate how you bring home digital citizenship through blogging with the creation of a POSITIVE digital footprint. The idea of teaching digital citizenship is one that all schools are struggling with - because it feels as if it is just "one more thing." Blogging can make that (digital citizenship) a seamless part of the culture. Oh - and I also like the analogy of the "blog" as the 21st century "speech." I am just continually inspired, and humbled, by the thorough academic thought that goes into each of your posts. I know I don't always comment - but learn so much from each one!

Linda Yollis

Thanks for a wonderful post about the value of blogging! I've had a classroom blog since 2008 and a class 365 blog for three years. These blogs have become online learning communities where students, their parents, and other classes come together to share and learn.
As you mentioned, the comment section is a great place to have a conversation and extend learning. I couldn't agree more. The comment section is where our blogs come to life. My students will often interact with one another in the comment sections from home! (As my students are only in third grade, they must have parent supervision to contribute a comment.) Here is an example from our 365 post. Students challenged each other by making up *reasonable estimate* word problem to solve:
I've been a classroom teacher for 27 years, and I've never seen a project with more potential than classroom blogging!
Thanks again,
Linda Yollis

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