Laying the Standards for a Blogging Renaissance

RSS Standard and the Foundations of Blogging

With the potential demise of social media, does this offer a possible rebirth of blogging communities and the standards they are built upon?


There is something wrong with social media. Responding to John Lancester’s article in the London Review of Books, Alan Levine suggests that the only response is to exit Facebook. For Duckduckgo, the issue is the 75% of the top sites incorporate Google trackers. Nicholas Carr heralds a new era where we will depend on third-party security support, an era where even thinking is automated. Writing about the disempowering nature of Twitter, Kris Shaffer argues that the answer is not simply moving to Mastadon.

For some the answer is about going ‘old school’, a blogging Renaissance. Oddly, there seems to be a push in some communities for subscribers and email newsletters. This is done by adding sign ups that pop out of posts (even if you have already signed up). If we are to truly have a rebirth though then the technology that I think we need to reinvest in is RSS.

Short for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, RSS is a standard that allows users to receive updates to content without the need to manually check or be in fear of missing something due to an inconspicuous algorithm working in the background. As David Nield explains,

One of the main reasons RSS is so beloved of news gatherers is that it catches everything a site publishes — not just the articles that have proved popular with other users, not just the articles from today, not just the articles that happened to be tweeted out while you were actually staring at Twitter. Everything.

Usually this feed is built from the web address. If not shown on the site, tools like the Connected Courses Magic Box can be used to capture it. Some platforms, such as WordPress, also allow you to create a custom feed based on a particular tag or category. You do this by selecting the particular tag or category and adding ‘/feed’ to the end of the URL. Useful if wanting to follow just a particular topic. Although feeds themeselves can be adjusted, this is done in the backend.

To sort through ‘everything’, you use a news aggregator, such as Feedly, Digg Reader or Tiny Tiny RSS. These applications allow you to collect a number of feeds in the one place. These feeds are stored as an OPML file, a format designed to exchange outline-structured information.

As a side note, these applications each have their own features and affordances. For example, Feedly now restricts new users to 50 feeds before asking for payment.

There are a number of ways to develop and edit an OPML file. You can use an OPML generator to build an outline or use an editor to refine a pre-existing list shared by somebody else. Something useful when downloading the public links from a WordPress site. You do this by adding ‘/wp-links-opml.php’ to the end of the URL.


I am not sure whether social media will go away, but with the questions being asked of it at the moment, maybe it is time for a second coming of blogs, a possible rewilding of edtech. The reality is that technology is always changing and blogging is no different. Whatever the future is, standards such as RSS and OPML will surely play there part. So what about you? Do you have any other alternatives to social media and the challenges of our time? As always, comments welcome.


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Blogging the Digital Technologies Curriculum

Ben Williamson on Digital Technologies

Digital Technologies is more than just learning to code. This post re-imagines the curriculum around blogging and explores how it maybe better integrated.


There has been a lot of discussion around the changes to the curriculum brought on by Digital Technologies. This is a part of a global movement to increase knowledge and understanding of the way the digital world works. It is a move away from the treatment of digital technology as solely being associated with ‘information and communication’. Some have maintained the two, while others seem to have made a clear break. The concern has been that for some digital technologies has come to equal coding in the classroom. (Listen to the Kin Lane and Audrey Watters discuss this on the Contrafabulists Podcast.) This problem though is only one part of a bigger story.

Digital Technologies is made up of a number of parts which combine into three strands: working with data, systems thinking and creating solutions. DLTV break this down into a focus on decomposing a problem and algorithmic thinking. Although there is a focus on ‘technology’, this change is as much about mindset as it is about skillset. This is something Doug Belshaw touches upon in his work on digital literacies. A focus on thinking means that many of the steps accounted for in the curriculum can be completed offline. See for example the work of Tim Bell. The real challenge therefore lays in how to integrate within the wider curriculum.

The biggest complaint I hear is how to incorporate Digital Technologies into an already crowded curriculum. To me, this misses an opportunity. I remember when the Victorian government brought in AUSVels, which called out a lot of new areas of learning, I attended a session that demonstrated the intent to focus on learning and inquiry. Instead, too many interpreted these new additions as silos to be further compartmentalised. I think that the Digital Technologies curriculum offers the same potentials and problems.

To model a possible integration, I took a look at the curriculum from the perspective of blogging. Many schools integrate blogging into their day-to-day practice. (See Adrian Camm’s work.) Here then is a breakdown as to how the Digital Technologies could be incorporated into the wider curriculum:

I am not saying that everyone should blog, even if I think that blogs offer a lot of potential. My intent here is instead to encourage others to think more divergently when approaching the Digital Technologies curriculum. Every context is different. I hope then that this example helps address that. So rather than jumping to the assumption that Digital Technologies simply means that every student needs to code, what ideas can you think of moving forward? As always, comments welcome and encouraged.


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Obstacles Associated with Blogging

Kathleen Morris recently put out a poll investigating the obstacles associated with blogging. Although I added my vote for time, I felt it was worth following up with some of the challenges and the reasons associated with each. To begin with, I will focus on personal blogging.

Personal Obstacles

  • Time and Motivation: I agree with Seth Godin that the question of time is often about priority, but I also think that it can come down to motivation. When I look at twenty plus ideas that I have waiting to be developed. I wonder if what I am saying needs to be.
  • Perception: A part of working out what to say is considering how what I write may be perceived. Some speak of branding, but I think that it is about trust. I remember being told about a teacher who had to have everything that they posted vetted by their organisation. Clearly that is an extreme, but it is something to be mindful of and the ramifications that it may have.
  • What to Say: Some like Godin argue that it is important to ‘just ship‘. However, rich ideas take time and effort. Like Tom Waits, I often prefer to leave my posts ‘in the shed’, starting them and letting them progressively grow and mature. Interestingly, I listened to a podcast recently featuring Clive Thompson where he spoke about taking at least three months to craft a long form essay. I think that there is something worth celebrating with this and it may be better considered as a personal preference, rather than an obstacle.

Obstacles in the Classroom

As I have reflected elsewhere, I think blogging in the classroom provokes a different set of obstacles to personal blogging:

  • Developing a Habit: Many teachers turn to blogs (and other such spaces) expecting instant change. The problem is that there are often habits that need to be developed, such as regular reflection or sharing with a wider audience. For example, it may be useful to start with a physical journal or portfolio before turning to the digital solution.
  • Another Thing: In addition to developing habits, blogs risk being treated as ‘another thing’ to consider within an already crowded curriculum. The challenge is to see blogging as a development on what is often a part of every classroom, that is sharing and critiquing information and ideas. Rather than handing work into a teacher, publishing it on a blogger opens a learner up to the potential of a wider audience.
  • Fear: One of the problems associated with publishing work is the fear that sharing something publicly risks it being misconstrued. Clive Thompson argues that going from an audience of zero to an audience of ten is so big that it’s huger than going from ten to ten million. To alleviate this concern, I recommend starting within a closed community, such as all the students within a class or a year level and building from there.

In the end, when investigating obstacles, each platform will have their own set of solutions, with some being more obvious than others. So what about you? What are your obstacles? As always, comments welcome.


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Back to (Blogging) Basics

Jennifer Hogan recently wrote a post about the 13 things to consider when blogging. Here is a summary of her list:

  1. Every journey is unique
  2. Make time to learn each day
  3. Blog regularly
  4. Forgive yourself when you don’t post
  5. Put your social profile links on your blog
  6. Schedule posts ahead of time
  7. Create graphics for your blog
  8. Actively engage on twitter
  9. Have an About Me page
  10. Include links to previous posts in your blog posts.
  11. Comment and leave comments
  12. Chunk content, use clean fonts and leave blank spaces
  13. Keep a blog idea list.

I started writing a response, then realised that it might be better to just write my own list. So here is my list of the basics that I think every blogger should know:

  1. Why: Everyone can write a post, that is not the point. What matters is why blog. Maybe it is personal? A particular project? Collaborative? A professional portfolio? The investigation of a subject? Curation? There are many faces to blogging and they are developed over time.
  2. Expression: Hogan makes the point, every blog is unique. One of the ways this uniqueness shines through is the voice on the screen. This could be choice of format, the length of posts or the use of tone. The challenge, find the expression that suites you best.
  3. Way of Being: For some blogging is about the daily habit of writing. Others suggest a routine of once a week. What must not be ignored though is the right not-to-blog when needs be. Whatever the frequency, the focus should be on capturing ‘fringe-thoughts’. Blogging to me is better considered as a way of being, of thinking, of seeing.
  4. Portability: There are so many platforms to choose from. Blogger. Edublogs. Medium. WordPress. WP.com. Jekyll. Tumblr. Weebly. Some look good, others are easy to use. What matters the most to me is portability. A few years ago, I moved from Blogger to WordPress, I could not travel in reverse though. Although you may not think that it matters, when it does, you will be happy. Many were burnt by Posterous. Who knows what will happen with Medium?
  5. Look and Feel: With the world of RSS and AMP, It is easy to ignore how posts are presented. This is the allure of Medium, every post looks slick and clean. Although most platforms provide useful defaults which do the job, it is important to clean up any widgets or features that may not be needed. This includes adding an About Me page and links to other sites on the web.
  6. Content: Just as it is important to consider expression, it is important to consider different content that can be embedded to add to posts. This might be creating images, adding a Storify, recording audio or video, visualising data, customising a map, showing it with a GIF or developing a dynamic resource.  Each provides a different way of representing ideas.
  7. Connect: There are many options when it comes to engaging with a blog. This might be writing a formal comment, but it also might be engaging on social media. What matters is connecting with others in the creation of community. This might be remixing an idea or linking to a post. What is important is developing a community.
  8. Workflow: In part, this will be decided by your platform, but think about how you go about writing. Maybe ideas will start with a physical journal? Maybe you might write notes in an app. Whatever it is, make sure that it works for you and works with the devices that you use. Personally, I usually start out with a Google Doc and then transfer to WordPress when I am ready to publish, but there is no right or wrong way.

So they are my blogging basics? What about you? Maybe you prefer Hogan’s list or maybe you have something different altogether. As always, comments welcome.


NOTE: For all of my blogging resources, click here.


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Blogging

A collection of resources associated with blogging


Why Blog?

Back to (Blogging) Basics

Eight aspects to consider when starting out in the blogosphere, including why, what, how, portability, added content, community connections and workflow.

I Blog Therefore I Am

A collection of thoughts regards the benefits of blogging.

Blogging Starts with Why

There is so much written about why to blog, this post starts with finding your reason.

Developing a Blog

Often blogs are spoken about as some sort of fixed entity. Sadly, this focuses on the what overlooks how and why we blog in the first place.

Why Blogging Still Matters

With the rise of various social media spaces in education, such as Facebook and Google+, blogs matter more than ever for they offer control and privacy that other spaces do not provide.

The Many Faces of Blogging

Some break blogging down into tasks or unpacking the response. However, we often overlook the purpose and intent behind them.

5 Ways to Change the World Yesterday

Why associated with blogging starts with me, but it is through sharing that ideas and thinking are given the possibility to grown and develop,

Blogging in the Classroom

A reflection on my experiences of blogging in the classroom.

There is More Than One Way to Write a Blog

Often it is presumed that there is only one way to write a blog, this post unpacks some other possibilities, including as a means of collecting links and resources.

Sharing the Load of Blogging In and Out of the Classroom

Exploring the different possibilities and potentials of collaborative blogging beyond the classroom.

Sharing the Load of Blogging

A reflection on the idea of a collaborative school blog to share practice.

So Everyone Has a Blog, Now What?

This is a short post on the importance of having a reason to blog, not just focusing on the platform.

Read Write Wikity

Continuing to explore different ideas and opportunities associated with blogging, I collected together some reflections on setting up my own instance of Wikity.


Which Platform?

A Guide to Blogging Platforms and their Niches

A summary of some of the different blogging services available, what they enable and where their biases lie. Included are an array of resources to support.

Creating a Deliberate Social Media Space for Students in School

To support students in regards to digital citizenship, use WordPress to create a social space, therefore gaining more control over online presence

Picking a Portfolio Platform

A summary of some potential platforms for student portfolios.

Starting with Edublogs from Scratch

I have discussed the benefits of blogging with Global2, as well as some of the intricacies, however, I have not unpacked how to get started.

Introduction to Blogging with Global2

Some of the possibilities for blogging with Global2/Edublogs, as well as a list of resources to with getting going.

A Global2 Guide

Global2 provides the usual functionality of WP, with the added benefits of moderation, filtering, class management and network admin. This is my guide to getting going.


How To Engage?

To Comment or Not To Comment? Is that the Question

There are many out there who say blogging is dead and that this is best epitomised in lack of dialogue and conversation. This post provides a different perspective by reframing the question.

What Makes a Comment?

A question that does not get asked often enough is what it actually means to comment and what might it mean to bring the comment back?

Reading Texts is Easy, especially When You Listen to Them

Although not directly on blogging, it captures some different ways to listen to blogs, rather than read them.

Ten Step Guide to Being Connected

An attempt at a guide to getting connected. Having a blog as a place for people to hear your story is an essential part of it.

A Guide to Following Blogs

A post that explains some different ways to follow a blog, including subscribing, via an RSS Reader or an automated recipe using a platform like IFTTT.

Are You Really Connected If You Are Not Giving Back

One of the challenges with a participatory environment is that without contributions there is no network. So it begs the question, are you really connected if you are not giving back?


Reflection

Read, Write, Respond

A reflection on the decisions associated with beginning a blog.

A Blog for All Seasons

Different blogging platforms enable different possibilities. Here is an account of some examples that I have created over time.

Uncanny Reflections on a Year Blogging

Memories forgotten can often haunt us when later uncovered. This post is about three posts that had this effect.

My Secret Art of Blogging

An extended response to Naomi Barnes’ post exploring the act of writing. It is an insight into the process of writing, not the usual why.

Reflecting on the Voices in the Village

Rather than look back at the number of hits to measure the impact, here is a collection of comments from readers collected across the year.


Creating Content

Creating Images for Blogs

A list of programs with their positives and negatives for making visual quotes to add to blogs and other social media platforms.

Who’s Telling Your Story

An introduction to Storify, a platform that allows you to curate tge content a number of social media platforms and then embed it within a blog.

Powering Up Your Blog by Adding Content

Incorporate different content, such as video, GIFs and audio, in order to improve engagement and communicate using a different voice.

A Guide to Visualisations

There are so many different forms of visuals that you can add to a blog, from a mind map to a sketchnote, each adding to the mental image of the reader.

Making My Own Maps with Google Apps

Another point of contact to embed in a blog.

An Introduction to GIFs

A guide to creating and sharing GIFs.

My Awesome Reading List

Using Awesome Tables to create a more dynamic organisation of content for blogs.

Creating Video Content

Some applications for creating video content, with examples to support.


Reviews

Claim Your Domain

A review of Audrey Watters book on why it is important to claim our presence online and some steps to going about it.

School of Thought

A review of Dan Haesler ‘s book. Although not solely about blogging, he touches on it throughout.

Master Teacher to Master Learner

A review of Will Richardson’s book unpacking connected learning. Blogging is an important part of this.

Things Are Not Always As They Seem

A collection of short reviews, including a comment on Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think and David Weinberger’s To Big to Know

(Re)Claiming My Space on the Web

A reflection on my experience of blogging with Reclaim Hosting so far.

Looking for a Local Perspective on Blogging

In response to AITSL’s dismal attempt to provide a list of bloggers for educators to read, this is my attempt to capture a local perspective.


Other Resources

Diigo Library

Blogs to FollowSheet to work with


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My Secret Art of Blogging

There are some things I don’t really write about. This is one of them, my secret art of blogging. Fine, I have written my share of posts touching on the purposes, whether it be reflecting on the uncanny, connect with others or curate different ideas. However, I have written very little about the time and space in which I write.

I am not exactly sure why after 300+ posts I haven’t really written about this. Maybe it is too personal? I have written about reading and listening to texts, but not the actual writing thereof. Maybe it isn’t something that is usually shared? How many posts do you read about how posts are written? Maybe it isn’t usual? Sometimes when you read about people and their Pomodoro Timers, my process somehow feels wrong. Maybe no one cares? Fine, I write for myself firstly, but there are some things I only write when I know it has an audience of at least one. Maybe I am scared of not being real? Sometimes I fear that when people find out that it is all the product of time and effort that I might be found out as being some sort of imposter? So why now? I chose to write this post  in response to Naomi Barnes recent on ‘What Works in Writing?’ Although I wrote a response to her post, I felt that it deserved a longer reflection.

In her post, Barnes reflects on the act of writing. In particular, she shares her thoughts on John Birmingham’s argument that to be a serious writer you need to be selfish and set aside time each day. The problem she explains is that such views ignore the instability of time. Some people balance family and work before even considering writing. Does this mean that they are not committed or serious? This point really stood out, especially in regards to what being a writer means to me.

As much as I would like to commit myself to writing or reading uninterrupted for a few hours each day, it is not something that my life currently affords. I really applaud those movements, such as #28daysofwriting, where people are encouraged to start a habit or those who write 750 words a day. With two young children, I am lucky to get five minutes uninterrupted. So at the end of the day, I have learned to make do with what I have. To be honest, having less time has really opened my eyes to the time that I do have. So here are some of the things I do with that time.

Building Ideas One Brick at a Time

There are those who argue for writing for a set time and then publishing. Others a word limit. Sadly, I do not have the conviction for either. This is not to say that I am not deliberate, I am instead deliberate about building ideas. Sometimes it is something someone says, sometimes something I read, sometimes something that happened, wherever the source, writing begins long before words hit the page. Doug Belshaw talks about increasing your ‘serendipity surface’, while David Culberhouse shares about spending regular time at the idea well, I think that the challenge is dedicating deliberate time combining seemingly disparate ideas.

Barnes captures this in her post when she explains,

While I’m pushing my daughter on a swing I am turning ideas over in my head. When I am watching TV or chatting with friends, I am thinking about how what we are saying fits with what I want to write about.

I could not agree more. My ideas often form and ferment when I am out and about.

It is easy to get caught up in impact and the influence of digital tools, but this has always been my habit. I have always built my ideas slowly. Back in university, I would always be writing down bits and pieces on anything and everything. Old envelopes were often my favourite.

Before becoming a teacher, I was a cleaner. Working odd hours, I was usually left to my own accord. Often I would stop after mopping this or cleaning that and hurriedly scribble down a few thoughts associated with an essay I was in the midst of. Nowadays I have replaced the paper with various apps. In the words of Bill Ferriter, technology has made this more doable. However, the habit itself of constructing ideas has not changed.

A Mobile Workflow

Over time, I have explored a range of digital workflows. I used Evernote for a while until I lost a post because of syncing issues. I think that I had a document open in two locations so when it backed up, I lost a whole lot of work. I then toyed with notes for a bit, as they connected with my Gmail account. However, the most dominant application that I have used for a while is Google Docs. The game changer with Docs was when offline capabilities were added a few years ago. So, for example, with my monthly newsletter, I create a template in Docs and progressively add to it as the month unfolds.

In addition to Docs, I use Google Keep for snippets of ideas that have not found a home or links that I might want to take further action on, whether it be adding them to a post or writing a comment.

I tinkered for a while with recording ideas. Both Keep and Docs allow this. However, I feel that recording works best when an initial draft is already written, not when ideas are still at a stage of stream-of-consciousness. I also found that the voice-to-text functionality on my Android mobile was not as good as using it via the web in Docs.

To support my working space, I develop ideas using social bookmarking, in particular, Diigo. Whether it be annotating posts or taking a few notes, these are the ideas that I store for later. Once I start building an idea, I will often go to Diigo to mine for further ideas and inspiration. It acts as something of an extended memory. Something that Clive Thompson touches on in his book, Smarter Than You Think. I also read quite a few books on my phone using either via the Kindle app or PDF and often dive into these as well.

Limits to Writing On the Fly

There are limits to going mobile. I could manage, but it would not be ideal. Earlier this year, with the arrival of our second daughter, I spent two months depending on my phone. Much of my writing was done while she was asleep in my arms. I wrote using Docs and posted via WordPress in the browser. Being a keen attributor, adding endless links can be fiddly. The continual cycle of flipping through tabs, copying links, adding them to text and making sure they open in a new tab is both frustrating and tedious. I have at least now discovered a plugin that makes all links open in a new tab, but the process is still annoying on a phone.

In addition to this, embedding content is near on impossible. Having ventured down the path of creating my own images, posting them to Flickr via my Known instance and adding them via Flickr using Alan Levine’s CC bookmarklet. This is very much dependant on the desktop. I won’t even start with embedding other content, such as video and audio.

Lately, I have also started exploring different apps and extensions for improving my writing. Grammarly and Hemingway App provide various forms of automated feedback. I am particularly interested in finding alternatives to the usual search engine optimisation aids which seem to focus on making writing machine readable, rather than human readable.

Although there is a WordPress app, I just do not think that it supports the way I write. Like with Evernote, I have had issues with losing work. It is getting better and I must admit I am slowly coming around.

When you are a writer, you write?

Gayle Munro recently wrote about her experience of writing a thesis. Like Barnes, Munro spoke about challenges of not necessarily having the luxury of time. With a job and a young family, she spoke about the challenges associated with having to “relearn and adapt study habits developed during my ‘free’ undergraduate years and a very focused full-time MA.” She describes how with each change to her situation she adjusted.

It can be easy to say that a writer needs dedicated time in a space of their own. However, to me, writing is a story of compromise. David Truss talks about finding the time by getting up early, so does David Culberhouse. Bill Ferriter has shared his regular  practice of doing his writing in a booth at McDonald’s. I also remember being told about how Raymond Carver wrote many of his stories in his car or how David Malouf wrote An Imaginary Life at night after teaching. Although each of these people managed to find time, they only did so by making some sort of compromise.

For me, I have written this post on a train, during my breaks, holding my daughter, wherever I have gotten the chance. It has grown bit by bit. Writing a bit, then reviewing, adding this and deleting that. I was once told that I should keep my posts to three paragraphs. However, I neither write to paragraph, to a structure or to a word count. I write with the hope of giving ideas flesh, but with the knowledge that it is a quest that shall never end.

So what about you? What is your process of writing? In what ways are you deliberate? How has your workflow changed over time? As always, comments welcome.


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Blogging In and Out of the Classroom #digital16

Blogging In and Out of the Classroom with Aaron Davis

Session Description

It is often argued that learning needs to be redefined, transformed into something different. Going beyond what that change may be, a powerful tool that can help drive this are blogs. Originally designed as a means for logging information on the web, blogs have come to take many forms and purposes. This session is about harnessing the power and potential of blogging to develop learning inside and outside of the classroom. Whether you are confused about where to start or what possibilities blogs can offer, this session is for you.  Aaron will provide a range of practical tips and tricks associated with the differences between platforms, how to build a blog from scratch, as well as a range of examples and ideas of how blogs can be used in schools. The reality is, developing creative learners often depends on providing a place for them to shine and blogs is the perfect platform for this.

Here are my slides:

Here is a summary of some other links unpacking key concepts

  • The Many Faces of Blogging: Some break blogging down into tasks or unpacking the response. However, we often overlook the purpose and intent behind them.
  • A Guide to Blogging Platforms and their Niches: A summary of some of the different blogging services available, what they enable and where their biases lie. Included are an array of resources to support.

  • What Makes a Comment?: A question that does not get asked often enough is what it actually means to comment and what might it mean to bring the comment back?

  • A Guide to Following Blogs: A post that explains some different ways to follow a blog, including subscribing, via an RSS Reader or an automated recipe using a platform like IFTTT.

  • A Blog for All Seasons: Different blogging platforms enable different possibilities. Here is an account of some examples that I have created over time.

While here is a full list of  resources associated with blogging

While here is link to my blog roll for those wanting ideas and inspirations. Also a copy of my OPML for those wanting to explore Feedly.


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Blogging Seven Ways

Digicon16 Presentation - Blogging Seven Ways

Here is the blurb for my session at #Digicon16:

In this presentation, participants will be provided with the why, how and what associated with blogging. Whether it be the difference between platforms and what they allow. Ideas for what blogs can be used for. As well as the challenges associated with blogging, including restricting content and transferring content.

You can find further resources here.


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The Many Faces of Blogging


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Just as there are many different blogging platforms, there are also many different ways to blog. Some break it down into different tasks or unpacking why we blog. However, we often overlook what actually constitutes a blog in education. To make sense of these possibilities, I have broken them down into seven different types that help to develop a deeper appreciation of the possibilities that blogging enables:


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Personal

The most obvious place to start with blogging is as a personal space. Whether it is about digging deeper into a particular question or simply reflecting on life, a blog enables a particular type of voice. This could be informal and not necessarily intended to scale. Just about getting ideas down, a digital scrapbook, giving ideas life or thinking out loud. While at the other end of the scale, it could be quite formal with a conscious effort made to present a particular perspective. Maybe this could be a principal sharing their thoughts on the school’s journey or a consultant sharing particular ideas and resources.

For a range of personal blogs, check the extensive list of nominees associated with the 2015 Edublogs Awards.

flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Portfolio

In some ways the blog as a portfolio is an extension of the personal. It too focuses on thinking out loud and reflection. Where it differs is that it adds a certain structure and a conscious intent. The expectations, whether it be standards being used, frequency of responses, the setting of goals or the kind of material included (and excluded), help guide the process. Although we often associate portfolios with students, they also apply to the teachers and leaders.

Here are some examples of portfolios:


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Subject

A flip of the personal blog is the subject based blog. What differentiates the two is the focus on a particular topic or problem, as opposed to an individual point of view. This might be a school website regularly updating information about news and events, a class sharing their learning, an organisation providing information about a project, a community challenge updated with new tasks, an event disseminating ideas beforehand or a writer sharing extracts from an upcoming book. Usually a project blog is not somebody’s primary space. More often than not, those behind a project also keep a personal blog.

Here are some examples of subject based blogs:


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Collaborative

A different take on the subject based blog is the collaborative blog. Often wikis and docs are considered the ideal spaces to connect and collaborate with others. However, blogs also provide the means to combine different voices in the one space. In a post exploring collaborative blogs, George Couros provides some positives to collaborative blogging:

  1. Takes the pressure off.
  2. Adds a kind of competitive nature to the process.
  3. Working with others supports reflection.
  4. Rich learning data.

Although a collaborative blog may also focus on theme, they involve a range of authors and perspectives. This is done either by creating different users or by syndicating content.

Here are some examples of collaborative blogs:


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Presentation

A different take on the theme based blog is the idea of the blog as presentation. At a basic level, this is where you use a content management system to create a somewhat static website. Taking this a step further, Alan Levine has shared how he hacks the code in WordPress to create sites that act like a slideshow. Either way, make a new blog for a presentation allows you to create a unique URL.

Here are a couple of examples of blogs as presentation:


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Curation

Another twist on the usual is blog as a form of curation and social bookmarking. This can take many forms. Sites like Diigo allow you to publish collections of links to a blog. This though has its limits. Blogs themselves provide some useful features that help to organise links using categories and tags, while applications like IFTTT allow you to automate the process of posting. Going a step further than this, there are numerous WordPress themes that allow you to turn your blog into something resembling Delicious or Pintereat. For something differemt, Known provides the means to not only curate links, but post elsewhere, while Mike Caulfield’s Wikity project a means of curating across a network.

Here are some examples of some blogs as social bookmarking:


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Social Space

Another form that pushes the constraint of the platform is blog as social media platform. This is where the lines blur between the traditional conception of a blog and a social media space. The P2 theme and its many children allow you to change the way comments are managed. Instead of clicking through to posts, it all occurs on the front page, acting similar to a message board. One of the useful features is that, compared with platforms like Edmodo, you have more control over the data. Even more powerful is the ability to break this down to particular users.

Here are some examples of some blogs that read more like a social media stream:


So there are my thoughts? What about you? Do you agree? Or have I missed something? Do you have an example to add to my lists or any resources that might relate? As always, comments welcome.


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A Comprehensive Guide to Blogging Platforms and their Niches


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The term blog derives from ‘web log’ and was initially coined to describe “discrete entries (posts) typically displayed in reverse chronological order.” This though has evolved over time. Now it incorporates a range of different tools for creating and communicating. Having said this, they often come back to a core set of features.

In a presentation written during the heyday of weblogs, Dave Winer unpacks these core features. At a basic level, Winer says that it all comes back to:

  • A single voice
  • Publishing descriptions and content
  • Identifying each post with a permalink
  • Allowing for comments
  • Archived and organised chronologically

Beyond this list, Winer touches on a range of what he describes as core elements. This includes how descriptions and posts are rendered, the infrastructure used to connect, the type of content allowed and the way content is outlined, including the use of blogrolls.

Although written over ten years ago, these  features have not really changed. Some may have been removed or others given precedence, but the structure remains the same. What I think is significant is that in some respect everything is optional. It is this fluidity that make each tool unique. So here is a summary of some of the different tools available, what they enable and where their biases lie.

WordPress

The most common blogging platform, WordPress is said to be responsible for a quarter of the webpages online. One of the reasons for the popularity of WordPress is the versatility provided through the plugin architecture and theme templates. Whether it be adapting posts or pages, tags or categories, it offers many possibilities. Another reason for the success is that it is open source, therefore anyone can fork it and develop it further. Subsequently, because of this adaptability there are a few different iterations that have developed over time.


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WordPress.Org

WordPress.org is the open version that anyone can self-host. As a platforms, it allows you to not only deploy a wide range of themes and plugins, but also make your own modifications to the code. In turn, you can turn the site into whatever you like. You only need to look at the work of Alan Levine to get a feel for what is possible, including the DS106 Assignment Bank, SPLOT Project and Photo Gallery and Presentation Blog. This freedom comes at a cost as it means that you need to be more mindful of backing up, system updates and site security.

Further Resources

  • Beginner’s Guide to WordPress – An extensive collection of tutorials to everything associated to WordPress. There are many modifications amd workarounds that are not usually found on more generalised sites.
  • WordPress.org – The place to go when looking for general support material, as well as reviews of themes and plugins.
  • Cog Dog Blog – Although not solely focused on blogging, Alan Levine often includes detailed posts outlining things that he has done with WordPress. I find this useful in making sense of what is possible.
  • Getting Started on WordPress (IndieWeb) – The IndieWeb is a space that has been set up to support users in taking more ownership of their presence online through the use of various plugins.
  • (Re)Claiming My Space on the Web – A reflection on my experience in transferring from Blogger to WordPress.org via Reclaim Domain.
  • Why WordPress? The 2016 Version – Still a Fan – Tom Woodward reflects on why WordPress is still his platform of choice.


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WP.Com

Unlike a self-hosted instance, WordPress.com provides a more secure, hassle-free service. This means that there are limited themes, no direct change to the code within the template and only select plugins available through the premium plan. The benefit is that system updates and backing up are taken care of in the background, however unless you upgrade this means advertisements on your page.

Further Resources

  • Self Hosted WordPress vs. Free WordPress ­ Explanation of the differences between free WordPress and self­hosted (which the school website is).
  • WordPress.com Support – A collection of support material associated with WP.com. It touches on topics such as publishing, customising and connecting.
  • Easy WP Guide – An extensive step-by-step guide to WordPress, unpacking each element.


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Edublogs

An educational blogging network, Edublogs is a version of WordPress somewhere between .org and .com. It provides a safe and secure platform with a range of benefits, such as secure plugins, the ability to moderate posts and comments, as well as excellent support. The downside is that you are sometimes limited as to what you can do based on the plan you are on.

Further Resources

  • The Edublogger – A community blog sharing everything associated with Edublogs, whether it be blogging with students or simply the latest updates and changes.
  • The Edublogs User Guide – As Global2 is a part of the Edublogs community, this user guide can be useful when trying to figure out some of the different intricacies.
  • 10 Ways To Use Edublogs To Teach – A video unpack some more possibilities to consider when it comes to blogs.
  • Global2 – A collection of resources associated with Global2.
  • Your Global2 Blog by John Pearce – A presentation unpacking everything from tags to widgets. A good run through of all the different things to consider.


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Kidblog

Another student blogging platform, Kidblog provides a safe and simple environment for students to communicate. One of the selling points is that the teacher as administrator is able to seemingly control everything. This includes passwords, post moderation, levels of access, categories and custom widgets. In addition to this, classes are able to connect with other classes without even leaving Kidblog. The benefit of all of this is that is that it allows students to focus on sharing. The problem though is that in making the process so seamless, students are deprived of the hard fun involved in actually creating your own space or keeping up-to-date with other blogs. Of concern, there are no plugins available to support exporting content for the purpose of backing up.

Further Resources


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Blogger

Blogger is a relatively straightforward platform. It provides a range of options, such as HTML and tags, but tries not to overly complicate things (a complaint often made about WordPress.)  In regards to infrastructure, it has a simple back-end. Although it is easy to use, this in part comes at the cost of versatility and individuality. You can adjust themes by adding in widgets and how they sit on the page, while you can add CSS code to make some changes. However, you do not have the ability to make the wholesale changes like with WordPress.Org, therefore there is a certain repetition when it comes to overall templates.

Owned by Google, there are benefits of direct connection to services such as Adsense and Google+. Subsequently, comments can be connected with Google+, while you are also able to easily link to other Google+ users. This can though be problematic if you decide to move services. Beyond these connections there are no plugins.

In the end, Blogger is a great place to start if you already use other Google products. However, there is always the fear that Google may decide to moth ball the service as they did with Google Reader. There is also the chance at any time that Google may close your site down if you have breached any of the terms and conditions.

Further Resources


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Tumblr

On face value, Tumblr seems no different to any other blogging service. It allows users to publish various types of content, as well as continue the conversation through comments. In regards to the infrastructure, the dashboard is fairly simple, while when it comes to themes you can either choose from those provided or customise your own using the HTML editor. For many, the draw card is the visual archive which is somewhat unique to Tumblr.

Where Tumblr differs from other services is the sense of community created around the culture of follows, likes and reblogs baked into the code. Although platforms like Blogger and WordPress have a space dedicated to following other blogs, the visual nature entices engagement. Associated with this, you are able to drag in media from elsewhere. Tumblr is very much a curated space. A creative repository of the web. As a site it exists somewhere between Twitter in regards to its open feed, Pinterest with its visual layout and Known in its celebration of the short form.

Further Resources


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Known

A lightweight publishing service, Known provides the means to share a range of content. It is fully responsive and is easily accessible via the browser. As a platform, it offers a range of possibilities, such as a digital locker that you syndicate elsewhere, a community space for people to connect or as a more personal short blog. Compared to other offerings, Known’s strength is not necessarily in its appearance, but rather what it allows you to do. With the ideal being to help people to take more control of their online presence it integrates with a range of other services. Due to this intended flexibility, you very much create your own iteration. Want comments, enable them. Want multiple users, enable them. Want to customise things using CSS, enable it. Through the plugins you are able to truly personalise the space to your particular needs. In addition to this, as it is open sourced it has been designed to be forked allowing for many other nuances.

Further Resources


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Medium

For some, Medium represents a blogging ideal. A one stop shop where you can post, comment, highlight, bookmark, collaboratively drafts and connect with different users. There are two glaring problems with this. Firstly, if you want to exist outside of Medium it is not made easy. Alan Levine has documented his efforts to make sense of the RSS feed, while you are unable to download your content in a form that is usable. The second matter is the feel of the space. There is little room for personalisation, while you are limited to the basics of text formatting. (I should.recognise that some like Mike Caulfield explain that there are benefits in bare basics formatting.) In addition to this, the profile pages are somewhat limiting.

With all this said and done, I think that Dave Winer sums up the problem with Medium best when he warns about it becoming the consensus platform. Like with Kidblog, the move away from the open web for the sack of convenience risks putting control in somebody else’s hands. It is for this reason that I always recommend posting elsewhere first before sharing Medium.

Further Resources


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Weebly

Similar in some respects to Storify, Weebly involves dragging and dropping various elements in order to create your content. Whether it be a title, a video, contact form and custom HTML you simply place the parts together like a jigsaw. This means creating a blog requires little expertise. In regards to the overall layout, there are a range of customizable pages, for some the simplicity within these can be frustrating.

Like WordPress.com the basic plan is free. However, this comes with advertisement. The different plans come with greater benefits. While like Kidblog, Weebly Education also lets you create 40 student accounts for free with no student emails required or advertisements.

Further Resources


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Seesaw

A content management system that works across all platforms, Seesaw provides the means to capture learning in a range of forms. Like spaces such as Edmodo, you can create groups and classes. However, what is different is that even with just one iPad in a classroom you can quickly allocate artefacts to different students. Recently, they added a new blogging feature. This allows you to curate student content in a central group space and post it out as a blog. As with most educational platforms, there is the facility to moderate posts. In regards to overall contents, parents have the power to download their child’s content, while schools that have subscribed to Seesaw for Schools have the ability to do a bulk download of.the student data. It is unclear where blog posts fit within all of this. Interestingly, there are many similarities with Kidblog, from the connections to the lack of RSS.

Further Resources


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Google+

Another alternative to the usual short informal forms, such as Known and Tumblr, is Google+. A social media platform, Google+ is designed to connect together different products, such as YouTube, Google Photos and Blogger. It is divided into three parts: collections, communities and the main stream. Whichever section you post in, you are able to incorporate different content type, including images, videos and links. It also allows for the use of hashtags within the writing. There is no avenue to embed content within a post.

What is unique about using Google+ as a platform is the ability to specifically control who sees what is posted. Basically, you can post for specific people, a circle, a community or simply for the public. In regards to reading, you are able to see a summary of someone’s viewable posts in the profile feed, while you can also use third party application to generate an RSS feed. Like Medium, there is little means for changing the look and feel of the site.

Further Resources


The reality is that there are many other blogging options available. Some educators use secure spaces like Scootle Community, others utilise different social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. Some utilise different services. like Storify, to suit their purpose, while others take a more nuanced approach, installing services like 1999.io or Pelican  and going from there.

In the end, it comes back to purpose. If I were starting out with blogging, either personally or as a class, I would sign up to Edublogs. They provide fabulous support, either through the Edublogger blog or via the likes of Ronnie Burt and Sue Waters. The next step personally would be to purchase your own space online and install your own instance of WordPress. This not only provides control over data, but also more options in regards to what is possible. Although this requires a little more effort, there are enough educators out there ready to help that it makes it achievable if you are willing to dive in. Another option when self-hosting a site is to use Known. Like WordPress, Known is open source. Although a seemingly simple site, it offers to possibility to build the web, but also own your presence there. It all depends on context.

So what about you? What service do you use? Why? Have you used any other platforms in the past? As always, I would love to know. Feel free to leave a comment?


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