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Virginia Journal of Education


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Introduction to The 'Read-Write Web': Using Blogs in School


by Glen Bull, Hillary Ritt and Feng Wang

Web logs (blogs) are transforming the Internet. The first blogging software appeared around the turn of the new century. The number of blogs has quickly grown to more than 70 million, with 120,000 new blogs created each day. Consequently, educators are asking themselves how this technology can be employed for classroom use.

Many school divisions are now providing blogging systems for classroom use, but you can also create your own blog and host it on educational websites such as Edublogs (http://edublogs.org ) and 21 Classes (www.21classes.com ). These blogging services offer privacy features that are valuable for students participating in online environments. 21 Classes allows users to register without an e-mail address, which may be necessary for younger users.

Once you have established a blog for your class, you can begin to communicate with students, parents and other educators. A blog can provide an online location that allows parents to access class information (upcoming tests, special events, etc.) at their convenience. It also allows them to ask questions in response to your posts. As you answer one parent's question on your blog, this information will be available for every other parent accessing the blog, facilitating communication across the community of users. Many teachers also use blogs to post supplementary materials and resources for students and to organize information for clubs or sports teams.

Although blogs are useful for disseminating information, the aspect that sets them apart from e-mail or print resources is their ability to facilitate two-way conversations. A class blog can be used to facilitate online discussions with students outside of class. The transformation initiated by widespread use of blogs has been termed the "Read-Write Web." A website, www.ReadWriteWeb.com , has been established to catalog emerging applications that are being developed to encourage this type of two-way interaction. Blogs are still a good starting point for exploring classroom possibilities.

Many teachers are even asking students to maintain personal blogs, using the class blog as a portal to link them all. This creates a means of reflection and an opportunity for students to share their progress on independent projects. Adding comments to blogs also provides students a means to comment on each other's work, encouraging collaboration within the learning community. In the current era of experimentation with this new medium, it is important to ensure that classroom uses of blogs have intrinsic connections to the content and instructional strategies employed.

While blogs can be used within a class to facilitate interactions with students and parents, they can also be used to increase communication with other teachers. Sharing blogs with other teachers in the same grade level or subject area makes it possible to trade ideas and lesson plans with colleagues in your division or around the world. You may also opt to follow one of the many national educational blogs for information and comments. The Online Education Database (OEDB) has posted their "Top 100" list of educational blogs here: http://oedb.org/library/features/top-100-education-blogs .

There is no limit to the number of blogs you can create, read or participate in. So, if you have a blog for each class or section you teach, blogs for extracurricular activities you sponsor, a blog for your department, and a couple of other ones you enjoy, how can you keep up with them all? Rather than going to each site individually to read the posts on each blog, teachers and administrators can access blogs through a news reader, or aggregator.

A news reader allows the user to subscribe to multiple blogs and read them all in one location through a protocol known as RSS ("Really Simple Syndication"). Lee and Sachi LeFever created an informative two-minute video clip, RSS in Plain English, that explains the benefits and how to subscribe to blogs using the news reader: http://thecommoncraftshow.blip.tv/file/205570/ .

Typically, subscriptions from different blog sites are combined on one page and arranged by title and abstract. Items that warrant further exploration can be expanded so that the full posts can be read and comments can be made.

You can register for a news reader at Google Reader (http://reader.google.com ) or Bloglines (www.bloglines.com ). These readers allow you to browse through lists of possible RSS providers or specify your favorites. If you're new to blogging, consider starting on a small scale by choosing one of the classroom-oriented sites described above. As you become accustomed to blog use, try out some of the other suggestions or discover an application of your own.

Bull is a professor of instructional technology in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. Ritt is a doctoral fellow in the Curry Center for Technology and Teacher Education. Wang is a research associate in the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia.


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