TECHNORATI.COM, THE GOOGLE OF THE BLOGOSPHERE is now tracking more than 50 million bloggers, who, at little or no expense, publish to a global readership ranging from a handful of devotees to thousands.
The word “blog” is a shortening of the term Web log or Web-based log. People blog for many reasons: to vent, to share a hobby or some other passion, such as sports, or the daily minutiae of their lives. Some people blog to teach, and some of those bloggers might teach or practice information technology in your school or school district.
For the sake of this article, we will look at three categories of blogging teachers:
- independent teacher bloggers, whose writing is completely unrelated to their job with your school or district;
- professional teacher bloggers, who write in their capacity as teachers in your school or district; and
- instructional teacher bloggers, who blog as an instructional strategy, usually encouraging their students to blog, too.
If you deal with any of these types of bloggers, you’ll want to understand what they’re communicating and set guidelines.
Independent Teacher Bloggers
Most of the time, the writings of an independent teacher blogger have little or nothing to do with their employment or work in the classroom.
Blogging is a distraction; it’s an opportunity to explore other areas of interest. But teachers are often passionate, and separated from their readers by time and space, they, like many people, may speak their opinions without sufficient consideration of the consequences.
Even though there is little a district can do to restrict independent teacher bloggers, you can help teachers to better understand the issues of blogging safely and responsibly. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org) has published a Web site that explains the legal ramifications of blogging. See “Legal Guide for Bloggers” at eff.org/bloggers/lg.
DEALING WITH INDEPENDENTLY BLOGGING TEACHERS
- Urge teachers to blog and provide staff development.
- Produce a document that describes the legal implications of blogging and suggests proper and responsible practices.
- Deliver the message: “Don’t be stupid.”
Professional Teacher Bloggers
Professional teacher bloggers are writing as teachers in your schools, with the intent of helping their students learn. Dr. Tim Tyson, principal of Mabry Middle School in Cobb County, Ga., says that his blogging teachers “welcome parents into their classrooms by facilitating active at-home participation in the child’s educational experiences at school.” Tyson’s teachers write about class activities, homework assignments, study guides, project and assessment reminders, and review and extension activities. They also publish exemplary student work, such as videos, podcasts, presentation slides and reports.
Blogging is a powerful communication tool, and communication is an important issue for your school or district. So how do you ensure that the professional teacher blogger is working for the good of the school and does not inadvertently damage efforts to achieve the organization’s mission?
Some districts forbid teachers from blogging or maintaining classroom Web sites. But many seek to more proactively help their teachers get the most out of their blogging activities by providing professional development and establishing policies that reflect the new Web.
Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a brand-new high school in Philadelphia, is a longtime blogger who is working to integrate this and other Web 2.0 practices into his school’s culture. Lehmann feels that “professional development is crucial to teachers, so that they understand how to use this rich communication tool as a reflective, pedagogical tool — not as a place to vent.”
Lehmann also urges administrators to provide time for teachers who are using blogging and other information and communications technology (ICT). “Too many of the teacher blogs I read (and often, even my own) have time stamps on their entries that show late-night insomniac blogging,” he says.
Years ago, schools and districts scurried to write technology acceptable use policies (AUPs) to establish guidelines for student and teacher use of the Internet and other ICT. Those policies were written, by and large, for a consumable Web, a technology where people went to find and use information. But the Web has changed: It is much more participatory, and it has become a platform for publishing and copublishing content, not merely finding and accessing it.
Therefore, it may be time to shake out those old AUPs and re-dress them for the read/write Web. It is important in all such policy documents to use its writing as an opportunity to promote positive applications of technology rather than merely to prohibit undesirable practices. The document should begin with a list of goals for blogging, classroom Web sites, e-mail and other ICT applications.
For example, a list of blogging goals might include:
Teachers at Dreamland School District are encouraged to establish and publish through Web logs in order to:
- Promote the school, district and education profession as a critical and successful community institution.
- Establish productive communication between the classroom and home by providing ongoing information about instructional goals, expectations, policies and requests for support.
- Provide students with information that will help them be successful learners.
To provide further assistance to teachers, the new AUP might include suggested blog uses. For instance, the document might include a section similar to this:
Teachers who blog are encouraged to publish information including, but not limited to:
- Weekly reports on what will be taught during the upcoming week, how it will be taught and why.
- Background information on topics currently being taught in the classroom, creating a context for students and for parents.
- Homework assignments.
- Descriptions of projects, including procedures, expectations, suggested parent involvement, assessment rubrics and links to last year’s projects.
- Achievements of students in the class, students in other classes, and other teachers, school support and administrative staff.
Finally, the policy needs a brief, clear list of prohibited activities:
Teacher bloggers will not use their blogs to:
- Conduct or promote outside business activities.
- Promote or advertise for commercial products unrelated or related to instruction.
- Defame or cause defamation of the character of any individual, organization or institution.
- Divulge any personal information about students, or jeopardize their safety in any other way.
DEALING WITH PROFESSIONAL TEACHER BLOGGERS
- Convene a committee and rewrite your AUP to reflect the read/write Web.
- Present the AUP to teachers in a proactive, promoting way.
- Select a blogging tool or service and configure it in order to leverage its best features for promoting the school’s mission.
- Provide professional development for blogging teachers.
Instructional Teacher Bloggers
Teachers who use blogs as instructional tools, either through students’ comments or establishing student blogs, raise more issues for the school and district. But teachers whose students blog within the context of lessons report improved writing and dramatically improved attitudes toward learning, classrooms and schools.
Tom McCurdy, director of technology and information services for Pinckney Community Schools in Michigan, says, “We are talking about new modes of communication, and we really need to take time to understand how different they are from our traditions. Podcasts and blogs go to a much bigger audience than our classrooms, our schools or even our communities. We have observed children focusing their efforts to ‘get it right’ when they blog or podcast. They are rising to a higher level of performance because they are connecting to the real world.”
For schools that plan to implement blogging as an instructional activity, student safety is paramount. The Children’s Internet Protection Act and Child Online Protection Act dictate specific procedures for student Internet use. Make understanding of these laws an explicit part of teacher and staff development.
It is also important to write or adopt a policy for student blogging activities. Establish and promote these guidelines within the instructional setting. They may be introduced as a code of ethics or a license to drive a blog, which students must read, discuss and illustrate an understanding of before they start blogging.
Educators must acknowledge that new technologies that have emerged during the past few years will be a part of our students’ future. Ignoring or blocking these applications from our schools and classrooms is to relinquish our responsibilities as educators.
DEALING WITH INSTRUCTIONAL TEACHER BLOGGERS
- Convene a committee to explore and write policies for student use of Web logs as an instructional tool.
- Select a blogging tool or service and configure it in order to leverage its best features for promoting student learning.
- Provide professional development that includes coverage of district policies, as wells as codes of ethics and laws.
TRY THESE SITES FOR HELP
- Colorado teacher Bud Hunt has established a blogging guide that his students use. It is available at www.budtheteacher.com/wiki/index.php?title=Blogging_Rules.
- Class Blogmeister, a classroom blogging service, includes a blogger’s pledge that users are encouraged to present to students. It can be found at classblogmeister.com/bloggers_contract.doc.
David Warlick, an educator for 30 years, has written three books about technology and its impact on our definition of literacy. He has delivered addresses and workshops in the United States, Europe, Asia and South America.