Tuesday, March 23, 2010

To Blog or to Not Blog

By Jacob Gutnicki

“Last year Creed asked me how to set up a blog. Wanting to protect the world from being exposed to Creed's brain, I opened up a Word document on his computer and put an address at the top. I've read some of it. Even for the intranet, it's... pretty shocking.” (The Office, Season 3, Episode 23)

Many administrators fret about students and teachers creating blogs for this very reason. After all, in this age of accountability it only takes one incident to end a principal’s career. So what does the principal do? No one wants student work containing poor grammar to get posted. Likewise, no one wants to create a controversy through a student blog. Subsequently, many schools do not encourage the use of blogs and in some cases even discourage/ban its use.

This is a shame as the power of publishing is a motivator that should not be underestimated. Since the dawn of the Internet cutting edge schools have been creating web sites centered on a variety of themes and have found time after time that it helped drastically improve student-writing skills and proved to be a powerful motivator. The students were excited to see their work displayed on a web site as it gave them a voice that can be seen by millions of people. However, in those days web publishing required that the user code in HTML or use a GUI Web Editor and a FTP application such as DreamWeaver and/or Fetch.

Thanks to the advent of Web 2.0 tools, web based publishing is as easy as using Microsoft Word. No longer does one need a FTP account or knowledge of how to use a web editor, code in HTML, or use a FTP client. This in turn has lead to a publishing revolution and explosion of information as never seen before.

Yet there are still many holdouts that fear the worst. Are these fears rational? Will students and teachers post something terrible? To be truthful these are tough questions. How many times have we seen an inappropriate ranting posted on the Internet? Additionally, posted work with poor grammar may lead to a false impression about the academic rigor of a given school.

However, one must ask the following question; “If not now, when?” Simply put, shouldn’t schools teach children how to write? If not, who is preparing students to interact and compete in a world powered by web based tools? If we choose to avoid using Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, we are leaving students to their own devices in which they are far more likely to blog without any regard to netiquette and proper use of grammar. Therefore, I implore administrators to adopt the use of technology tools, which promote writing. Naturally, schools should create a review process and protocols that help students write more thoughtfully and effectively. In fact, the blog can be a great learning opportunity in which we teach students about netiquette and writing mechanics. Who knows? With a little innovation and caution we might just produce the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.

Related posts

Why I started a blog and why maybe you should too,
Is Blogging Worth The Risk? For Most Teachers, No
Is Blogging Worth The Risk? - Yes!


  1. Very well put! I'm not sure when education will embrace the powerful tech tools that are available. Maybe this will help!

  2. Jacob, while once upon a time I liked the idea of students having blogs, after working in schools where students did this (often poorly) and after launching my own blog, I realized that having every student start a blog often was not authentic publishing nor was it strong pedagogy. One reason why (there are others) is this. In general you can’t just say, “start a blog,” and poof you have students producing compelling writing on topics worth blogging about. The beauty of a blog is that authors are writing in areas of passion and expertise. Often in school they are writing to a prompt or assignment. This defeats the purpose of a blog and it does not inspire an authentic audience and ultimately, it’s the conversation a blog engenders that is so important, but this is not present in such blogs.

    What I now recommend is this…

    Teachers support students in finding their passions and then others who write about those passions. Help students comment in smart ways on these blogs (Co-comment can be a tool to track this). This promotes authentic publishing to a real audience and has the added and amazing bonus of helping students begin building a personal learning network (a life-long skill) and really developing expertise in an area of interest. Once the students become more experienced in commenting, the teacher can support them in writing a guest post for a real online outlet. Not only is this fantastic for the online outlet (blog, magazine, etc) to capture student voice, but it also connects students with mentor authors.

  3. Thanks Jacob, for pushing for change. I think The Innovative Educator hit the nail on the head - student blogs have to be about something they're passionate about (and that's not something you can force). They're also not supposed to be uniformly structured. Everyone has their own voice, so everyone's writing style will be different (and it'll change as they develop). I think it'd be great to follow her advice and then offer to post any student's blog to the class website, so all can easily access it.

  4. I think blogging make you a better writer because you have to consider a multitude of perspectives from which the post will be read. I don't worry about the tone and professionalism of the comments because they reveal a lot more about the people who post them than about the original post. On the internet you can't hide!

  5. Right?! This is the writing that students are doing, and they're writing more than ever before. Yet, we persist with endless essays and leave out the real-world writing opportunities that exist for our students. We need to capitalize on this movement, I feel, and be leaders in this exciting new(ish) platform!

  6. Thank You for sharing your feedback. All of the comments are very insightful. I agree that we need to nurture a student blogosphere that is free of the shackles of too many procedures and constraints of uniformity. Having said that, I hope this post will help wary administrators take baby blog steps or a giant leap towards fostering student innovation.

  7. Again, I have to cringe when I read of educators (and most importantly, adults) relinquishing necessary control over how students follow a course of development regarding fundamental skills. Proper form is necessary. The real world won't tolerate random and formless blather so common to most student level communications on the internet. I've mentioned elsewhere how so much twitter communication is inconsequential drivel. "Constraints of uniformity?" Am I reading this from an adult source? That thinking works only at the emerging writer age at the K-3 level, but at the middle school and high school level, the standard for conventions must be raised considerably.

    I sense a considerable attempt by many current teachers to dumb themselves down to student levels. That's my observation and I'm sticking to it.

    An educator's job is to constantly model the proper conventions of expression that stretch beyond the student level. Student can't be led to believe that they can go through life expressing themselves in that banal netspeak patois. They have to learn to stand up before others and not rely on technology to express their thoughts and knowledge. Essentially, they have to stop being coddled like many of their parents have for the last few decades. The so-called "millenials" have not impressed me so far.

  8. Mark, it is indeed a tricky balance. Writing in proper form is very important and often seems to be a lost art. At the same time, we do not want to hamper student creativity.

  9. Good writing skills will allow more students to go further in life than nurturing creative skills, while important for some students, are not for all. We have to remember that we are also teaching the next generation of skilled blue collar laborers, the folks who will repair our cars, build our homes, schools, and office buildings, etc. I consider them the core of the American work force. Whenever I hear people like Sir Ken Robinson go on and on about creativity, he's not addressing the widest swath of kids. Not every kid needs to be a Picasso or a Stravinsky. Not every kid has it in them to be really creative, just as every kid doesn't have it in them to be a math or science wizard. As my old world European elder once told me long ago "the world needs ditch diggers, too." I'm trying very hard to keep kernels of common sense wisdom from the past alive and relevant, because they will always be applicable somehow.