“Personal log, Stardate 3620.7. Have I the right to jeopardize my crew, my ship for a feeling I can’t even put into words? No man achieves Starfleet Command without relying on intuition, but have I made a rational decision? Am I letting the horrors of the past distort my judgment of the present?”
– James T. Kirk (Personal log, James_T._Kirk, n.d.)
“Captain’s Log, Stardate 1329.2. On board the USS Enterprise, a ship’s hearing has been convened against the transport vessel’s captain. I’m becoming concerned about the almost hypnotic effect produced by the women.”
– James T. Kirk from (Captain’s_log,_USS_Enterprise_(NCC-1701),_2266, n.d.)
Ah, the dramatics of William Shatner as Captain Kirk.
That and Kirk’s penchant for women.
I don’t think we’ll ever forget this Star Trek character, whose “voice” (as in writing voice, although technically in his logs he’s audio-recording his thoughts) is legendary.
Why did Captain Kirk record such logs anyway?
So that others could learn from his experiences, so he could reflect on his professional practice and prove himself as in a portfolio, so he could look back on his personal thoughts and feelings and share these stories with his family, and so that if anything went wrong on board, those cleaning up the mess later might have such logs as clues to solve the mystery surrounding a disaster.
Blogging in our current reality has many similarities to Captain Kirk’s practice. Mind you, I don’t think that many bloggers blog in case of potential disaster, although I’m pretty sure police have looked through blogs in criminal investigations, and the tinfoil hat types may feel it necessary (no offense to the tinfoil hat types or anything) in case the Feds get ‘em. Otherwise though, all Kirk’s other reasons for his logs seem so very now, so very blog.
Yet I think we’ve one-upped Kirk and his ilk: I don’t think these Captain’s logs, or personal logs, as found in the Star Trek universe, were especially collaborative, whereas most blogging is about collaboration (even if just via comments) and continuous communication. I don’t know whether or not his log postings included links or some other method for connecting to other information and multi-media, like blogging in our time does. And did Kirk have a way of easily accessing other officer’s official logs? I know he did after the fact (yes, when determining what disaster befell another star ship), but perhaps he was able to keep his personal logs private.
I realize that Star Trek is not part of my usual schtick – my mainstay is Star Wars, although I rarely stick solely to that. Also, I am stepping on the toes a bit of my classmate, the Web Wanderer, who has her own special and hilarious voice that effectively uses a Star Trek theme throughout her reflections. I couldn’t resist however, as the association between Captain’s logging and blogging as we know it was my most immediate sci fi connection.
Reflections on the process of learning about the tool
While I’d already set up my e-portfolio on WordPress.com some months back, as required by my masters program, I was still not very proficient with it until I started my current course on the Web 2.0. For the purposes of this blog post, I continued to focus on WordPress as there was a lot to learn, but there are numerous other blogging platforms, several of which are discussed here.
Signing up for a WordPress.com (as opposed to WordPress.org, which is a self-hosted version of WordPress that allows for more flexibility and control) is quick and easy. The challenge starts once you get to the dashboard, which is essentially your control centre: everything that you want your blog to do and contain is here.
I recommend fiddling with it. Your first fun task is choosing a theme. There are plenty of options to suit every purpose and personality. Originally, I chose “Emire” because I really do enjoy the sophistication and elegance of a simple, dark theme, but then searched the Internet for opinions on preferred background colours and found, in various places, a general preference for darker on text on a lighter background for vision reasons. So I decided recently to try a new, and professional, theme (“Structure”), which I actually quite like despite it not really being me. The current theme does have the advantage of having more customizable options, such as the header image and featured images, but because there is a learning curve involved with all that I wouldn’t recommend it for a newbie. I am still trying to figure out whether to leave the background a stark, clean (but potentially blinding?) white, or have it be e.g. off-white-ish. If anyone has any opinions on this, I’d be happy to hear it.
This September, I was assigned weekly blog posts. I had to figure out a hook, and settled initially on Star Wars, and then science fiction in general, as a hook and running theme. This then led me to my blog title, “TLkirsten’s (my handle/username around the ‘net) Learning Chrysalid”, which was inspired by the sci fi book The Chrysalids, and my understanding of my continuing metamorphoses as a developing teacher-librarian.
I looked into the meaning of developing voice in a variety of places, such as here and here, and it is clear that the development of voice is key to a successful blog. At the same time, I’m have to control my temptation to over think this concept as it applies to my writing lest it paralyse me.
I figured out how to use widgets to make my blog more user-friendly. There are more items I could add, but I think there is a danger of cluttering up one’s page with too many such widgets.
Another challenge with blogging in WordPress is the formatting of text, which can require some tweaking. Fortunately, it’s possible to type out an entire article in e.g. a Word document, and then cut and paste said article into a Word “translator” (for lack of a better term during my current brain fart) so that most formatting is retained. Ideally, one would format all links (an important part of blogging) so that they open up in a new tab, but this is a very time-consuming process if you are writing a long article, such as this.
A joy of blogging is the ability to include multimedia such as videos, slideshows, and other such presentations. WordPress does require payment for the hosting of videos and some other presentations however, so if you wish to keep your WordPress blog free, you will need to take advantage of a hosting service such as VodPod, which will reconfigure your embed code so that your multimedia works within your blog post.
Fortunately too, posts can be listed as drafts for private view only, so the world does not have to your latest work until you are good and ready to make it public.
So when you are ready for the world to view your work, how do you get the word out?
If you have a following. If not, then it helps to have a tweet associate who does have a following to get the message out on your behalf, as a colleague of mine did for me. Either way, it does make a difference. WordPress’ fun statistics feature bore that one out for me.
I also decided to kill two birds with one stone by e-mailing my colleagues at work with my posts, as I felt what I wrote was informative enough to be of interest to at least of them who were exploring technology applications for education. And, I know at least some of them did read my blog because I got some good-natured ribbing about my singing stint as Princess Leia.
One other technique that seemed to work for one of my classmates here was to say something a tad controversial. I don’t think it was her intention to get attention in this way, but it worked!
To realize, however, the potential of blogging, it is also important to read other blogs. In fact that is my main use of blogs. There is a lot of very good information out there written by various educators such as those listed as the best of 2009 here. Fortunately, the use of an RSS reader (Common Craft explanation here) will make keeping track of such blogs a cinch. Readers allow users to subscribe to blogs. Instead of having to visit the individual blog sites, all new blog posts from all of your blog subscriptions come directly to your reader, and these blogs can be organized into folders according to subject or whatever other categorization theme tickles your fancy. Once a blog is assigned a folder, all future posts from this blog will automatically go directly into that folder.
Think of an RSS reader this way. Everyone else (blogs) in the Galaxy Far Far Away eventually has to report back to the planet Coruscant (you, the reader user). An RSS reader is like communication conduit by which this process occurs.
I have found the web-based Google Reader to be highly useful. Either click on a blog’s RSS button, which will take you one or two simple steps, or input the URL into Google Reader’s search form, and voila, you’re ready to roll.
Finally, as part of my learning about the tool, I reflected on where I was in Richardson’s (2010) blogging spectrum. I think this course ultimately required that I get to level 8 (Complex blogging), which is described as “extended analysis and synthesis over a longer period of time that builds on previous posts, links, and comments” (Richardson, 2010, p. 31). For the purposes of this course, and because of the way this course was designed, I was able to fulfill most of these requirements to some degree, but my major shortfall here is I don’t have enough of a readership to build on previous comments.
Discussion of the tool in terms of my own personal life and learning
“I find too that my blog is important not as a place to say things to others but as a place for me to realize what I want to say…”
– @mbjorgensen during an #edchat Twitter session
The reflective process is an important way for me to consolidate, synthesize, and retain my learning as an educator. And because I have an audience, I work that much harder to ensure the accuracy of my statements before I put them out in public to be picked apart, thereby learning that much more. That said, it is generally healthy, if difficult, when people do pick apart your reflections somewhat so as to improve your teaching. This is also a place to reflect on specific lessons taught, in order to help you figure out how to improve the activity next time around (and have a record of this so you remember what needed to change). Hopefully readers will provide some feedback and ideas on these reflections.
Other ways blogs might be used for personal and professional reasons:
- Find like-minded bloggers on any subject close to your heart: it’s nice to know that you aren’t alone in your concerns, and it can be a great way to find more resources and information on hobbies and other personal interests. It can help to organize your reader so that you have personal and professional folders, or do as I do and have separate Google accounts, so that you can use your work account as an exemplar for students and staff when running workshops or teaching a lesson).
- Find bloggers that take an opposite stance about a topic on which you might be ruminating: develop some perspective.
- Set up a family blog so far-flung (and just plain busy) relatives and friends can check in on your life. Include photos and video too, and tweak the privacy settings to allow only invited guests to view or post if there are any concerns about privacy.
- Develop a professional space for staff to share reflections, materials, and exemplars.
- Create your own online professional portfolio.
- Increase your comfort level with technology, taking advantage of the ability to post multimedia on most blog applications, so that you will be able to guide students through the process.
- Have a spot to park your experiments with teaching, etc. as this colleague of mine does here, so that if you forget how you did something in the past, you can just check your blog.
Discussion of the tool in terms of teaching and learning
“When teachers use digital tools to support students in researching, evaluating, organizing, transforming, writing, and publishing what they learn for a wider audience, they are encouraging students to write with a purpose, an authentic voice, and to create a meaningful representation of their learning.”
– Frye, Trathen, & Koppenhaver (2010, p. 52)
Excitingly, young people who blog are being heard and taken seriously. One example of this is the blog post by a 14 year old that Richardson (2010, pp. 28-29) quotes in his book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Another example is this blog post here by a 17 year old that I found I was looking for information on website background colours.
Like me, student are also likely to better prepare their arguments if they know the public could a) benefit from the post and b) potentially pick the post apart. Of course, for the less confident types, it will be necessary to limit the audience so that commentary by random strangers doesn’t become too hurtful, stopping students before they get going.
Ways to use blogs in the classroom:
- Help students find blogs related to topics in class work as well as personal passions.
- Use the Design Cycle to teach students to build an effectively designed blog.
- Use blogs to teach elements of writing, such as voice, to increase competency in Core Subjects (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009) such as language arts.
- Teach appropriate and professional Communication and Collaboration practices through the use of blogs to enhance Life and Career Skills (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009). Initially, this learning can be private except for those close to students, and then public as students develop communication skills.
- Have students develop an e-portfolio. This portfolio can be set up too so that a student’s progress is easily noted. Hopefully, a student’s newer posts will show more proficiency with a skill or topic than the older posts.
- Note too that it is much harder for students (or teachers) to lose their own work if it’s posted on a blog.
- Teachers can post announcements and homework on a blog.
- Teach students to challenge and debate with one another appropriately and with support using the commenting feature.
- Also teach students to support their arguments and provide context by including links in their posts and commentary.
- Use the ability to post multimedia in blogs as a way to introduce copyright issues and concepts, and to find ways of using other people’s materials in an ethical way to increase Information, Media and Technology Skills (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009).
- Encourage students who are too shy to talk in class to communicate via blogging and comments, because, as student Tom says when referring to virtual literature circles, “I don’t always have good thoughts when I’m in class, or a way to say it. So when I’m at the computer, I can think about exactly what I want to say, without having to worry about people moving on to a new topic.” (Kitsis, 2010, p. 53)
- Here is a novel study blog that a colleague of mine ran with his grade 10 students here, as an idea.
- Increase students’ Global Awareness (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009) with an understanding of global events and issues as written by “citizen journalists” from around the world at Global Voices, noting that many of these bloggers put themselves as considerable personal and professional risk to get the word out.
- Connect students with experts, either by developing a blog for this purpose, such as is done here, or by having students comment and ask questions on expert blogs.
- Students can also be taught to develop Information Literacy (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009) as they work to determine the validity of blogs they visit and wish to use in their research (Frye et al., 2010)
- Encourage writing skills and literacy by having students follow (and comment upon) the blogs of authors, such as Lois Lowry’s blog. Lists of author blogs can be found here and here. JacketFlap provides a list of blogs about children and young adult books here, and provides information about authors here, which often includes a feed of an author’s blog, such as Neil Gaiman’s.
More resources on blogging and how to use blogging in education:
- Build effective blogging habits
- Get your blog to go viral on Twitter
- Develop a blogging scope and sequence
- More ideas for using blogs in education
- A huge list of links about all things blogs in education
- Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms
- The Socially Networked Classroom
Of course, blogging with students can be tricky. Fortunately, Kist (2010) provides resources in his book The Socially Networked Classroom such as examples of blogging guidelines, lesson plans, and rubrics, etc. to smooth the running of classroom blogging.
I realized as I read a few more blogs recently that many bloggers pose questions of their audience in order to encourage engagement with the text, and commentary. Thus, I will ask a couple of questions from Kist (2010, p. 75) of my (admittedly limited) readership:
1. What are the advantages of being part of the blogosphere rather than blogging in a more protected environment? What are the pitfalls of being part of the blogosphere?
2. If you made a comment on someone’s blog…, what motivated you to choose that blog entry to comment on? Did you have the feeling that you were part of that blog’s community, or did you still feel mainly like just a reader of that blog? Did anyone respond to your comment?
Of course, I invite readers to comment on any other element of blogging here too.
Captain’s log, USS Enterprise (NCC-1701), 2266. (n.d.). Memory alpha [Star Trek wiki]. Retrieved November 27, 2010, from http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/Captain’s_log,_USS_Enterprise_(NCC-1701),_2266
Frye, E., Trathen, W., & Koppenhaver, D. (2010). Internet Workshop and Blog Publishing: Meeting Student (and Teacher) Learning Needs to Achieve Best Practice in the Twenty-First-Century Social Studies Classroom. Social Studies, 101(2), 46-53. doi:10.1080/00377990903284070.
Kist, W. (2010). The socially networked classroom: Teaching in the new media age. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Kitsis, S. (2010). The Virtual Circle. Educational Leadership, 68(1), 50. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
mbjorgensen. (2010, November 9). Re: do class blogs, student, or even teacher blogs have a place in our education? [Web log comment]. Retrieved from
Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2009, December). Framework for 21st century learning. Retrieved Nov 6, 2010, from http://www.p21.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=254&Itemid=120
Personal log, James T. Kirk. (n.d.). Memory alpha [Star Trek wiki]. Retrieved November 27, 2010, from http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/Personal_log,_James_T._Kirk
Richardson, Will (2010). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.