Many teachers use blog in education because they are possibly one of the best ways to do online research.
Blogs have been around for a long time in the internet world, precisely since 1994 when a student used it to share his writing.
In the years after that blogs have slowly become a great communication tool, used to inspire, educate, convince or entertain.
You can find a blog as a unique website or as a sub-page of other websites selling products or services.
It is usually used to communicate with costumers, give up-to-date information about a relevant topic and convince the readers to do a certain action like subscribing to a newsletter or making an informed shopping decision.
But you can do so many more things with blogs.
What are blogs
Blogs are basically web logs where the author(s) frequently publishes new posts.
Here are some examples:
- In travel blogs you could find new daily or weekly posts about places to visit or things to do;
- personal development blog may give you advice on how to become a better person, how to meditate or win your fears;
- home decor blogs could teach how to build a table or remodel your kitchen with tips on what to buy;
- In a cooking blog you could be able to read articles about food and recipes, possibly see videos showing how to make a particular dish.
The important thing to keep in mind is that what characterises a blog is its changing and evolving nature.
Unlike certain web pages where there is little or no need to update information, a blog keeps up with trends, personal experiences or new knowledge.
Internet users may read it like a newspaper or an online journal, and they could even subscribe to it to make sure they don’t miss the latest posts.
Social Media vs Blogs in education
The main difference between the use of a social media platform and a blog in teaching is the immediacy of communication and the depth of the shared information.
With blogs it is not so straightforward, first of all because in order to leave a comment to a post you have to either type your name and email or to log in to the blog comment hosting service.
In some blogs is not even possible to leave comments while in others you have to be a member of their online community.
As we can see, although it is one main feature of blogging, the author-to-reader (or teacher-to-student) interaction is a bit more limited than social media.
Moving on to the depth of the information being shared, here is where the full potential of blogging really stands out.
There are no limits to what you can put in a blog post.
There are no characters limitations, no restrictions as to the type of media content you can upload.
You can insert links in your text, pictures, videos (uploaded or embedded), change the color of the background, the layout of the page, divide the paragraphs in columns, format the text by adding bold and italics and so much more.
A blog gives, pretty much, complete freedom over content creation and delivery.
Blogs in education
As Torres (2009) assures, “blogs can be means to attract a few users to do homework and support academic activities outside the classroom”.
But they also could be used to provide references in classroom activities or as reading excerpts in language courses.
The flexibility of this online tool makes it very easy for teachers to provide a dynamic explanation of any topic since, as already mentioned, it is possible to integrate simple text with multi-media content of all kinds.
A real life example of a blog post for educational purposes
One of the classes I often teach is the B1 English course aimed at obtaining the Cambridge Assessment English Preliminary Certificate.
A really important part of the exam is the speaking section, which is divided in 4 tasks.
To better prepare students for this I created a blog post where I explain the structure of the test and give tips on how to pass it.
- I added real samples of images that students are asked to describe;
- embedded a video of a real speaking exam so that they could get an idea of what to expect;
- wrote a list of common expressions for giving opinions, agreeing and disagreeing, describing people and places and so on;
- Finally, I explained how the student’s oral abilities are evaluated.
The advantage of having this post online was that I didn’t have to explain it multiple times to multiple classes.
I could just assign the reading of the post and then use the classroom time for practice only.
And it was really beneficial for the students as well, as they could use the post as an easily accessible reminder on what to do.
Other uses of blogs in education
As it is becoming clear, blogs are very helpful to integrate in a course, especially a language one.
But we can extend the use of blogs in teaching a lot further.
They can foster creative thinking, inspire and be an interactive way to discover new things.
In blog posts you can find links that take you to more in-depth content, pdfs, research, educational videos and infographics.
A blog is like a multi-dimensional book that keeps being written, potentially endlessly.
For any creative teacher, or anyone with a passion for education and technology, this could be the most responsive tool for digitalising and shaping knowledge.
One last perk of blogs
While with social media you have no control on the appearance of your profile and posts (except for the profile and cover photos), you can customise blogs as much as you like or as far as your web design skills will take you.
Depending on the hosting service you choose, and the price of your plan, you might have the possibility to fully or partly change the layout of the pages, the font of the text or the position of the social media buttons.
This may sound superficial or accessory but online presentation and aesthetics are of paramount importance.
When a post is presented in beautifully written and formatted English, in a well designed blog with soothing colours and very few distractions (aka no pop-up ads), the readers pay more attention and may even regard the content as more valuable.
The opposite can be said of blogs that are poorly designed, non mobile-friendly, without text formatting and with lots of spelling errors.
And now, the downside
After singing the praises of blogging it’s time to talk about disadvantages.
The main one (or only one as far as I am concerned) is that the total control enjoyed by the author is counterbalanced by very little control of users.
Using blogs in teaching is great for asynchronous homework where students can elaborate the material on their own and then discuss it in class, but it doesn’t have the same real time interaction functionality that social media platforms have.
This could make a blog unsuited for class administration, deadlines reminders and changes communications.
Practical considerations about blogging
One last thing.
Since a blog post is substantially different from any other form of written text, it lends itself to a great deal of writing and reading exercises in many types of courses.
Phrases in blogs are shorter and more simple because online readers usually have less time and pay less attention than book or magazine readers.
But this doesn’t have to be a limitation.
Let’s say that a teacher decides to ask his students to write a summary of a book chapter but, instead of writing it like a normal paper, tells them to turn it into a blog post.
The rules of writing would change a bit for them.
There would be no “walls of words” (text with no breaks) or long sentences, no tedious formal discourses or academic jargon.
Writing for the web means writing for the everyday man, making simplicity the number one rule.
Not because people online are less smart, but because they are less emotionally attached to the content.
There are billions of gigs of digital information on the web, and it keeps growing by the minute.
To catch the attention of even one single overwhelmed user, a blogger needs to make it natural and effortless to understand what he/she is trying to say, otherwise it’s likely that people won’t go back to read a second time.
So, going back to the assignment from before, it goes without saying that if a student needs to write a blog post as homework he or she has to master the topic and then explain it as simply as possible.
And this search for simplicity, ultimately, is what will make the learning process incredibly effective.