Saturday, April 02, 2005

Blogs as Easy Publication Tools

I'm writing this at 8:15 a.m., from San Jose, California.

I'm struck by how easy it is to do this. To log into a Web site, click "create new post," and then to write.

Once a blog is set up, it's easier to post to a blog than it is to write and send email; and email is snap, and Blogger made setting up this blog another snap. That's a lot of snap-ease.

Because this is easy, I really think -- don't laugh -- every writing teacher should try it. It helps to have something to say (it doesn't have to be brilliant, you just have to want to say it where others can read it if they're of a mind to), and you have to want to write on a regular basis to keep your own interest up. Those are fairly significant hurdles, really. But even if writing teachers aren't sure this is something they'd want to do -- write publically and reasonable regularly -- it's worth doing at least once.

Every composition theory course, every writing and teaching of writing course, should require students to try blogging. And for the course, students can set up private blogs that only the class members can see, making going public a choice. And if not a course, every workshop for teachers on writing with computers or teaching with technology, where possible, should have a blog component where the folk in attendance who don't have a blog, create one and write a post.

Just to see how easy it is to do.

So what's a blog good for?

In a writing class, just about anything can be tried. A sampler of ideas:
  • as writing journals (duh).
  • as reading response journals.
  • as research spaces where students post notes on research ideas and processes.
  • as writing-sharing spaces, where essay drafts are posted and the comment feature lets classmates offer feedback.
  • as place for students to write about things that don't fit into the class, but arise from having been in the class -- the tangents, outtakes, and other ideas that percolate but often are left unattended.
  • as a place to post and comment on photos.
  • as a place to put audio notes and ideas as they occur -- get a good idea on the way to someplace and not near a pen, or keyboard? Audioblog it with your cell phone.
  • as a place for assigned writing topics -- civic discourses, questions about reading, continuations of class discussions and other bits of homework and classwork that usually come in as bits on bits of paper can come in as bytes on blogs. More of the work of the class can be captured and saved by students, and reviewed and reflected on by teachers.
A blog is a kind of content management system but in being that, it is also a writer's tool for managing the self they present to the public which reads their blog. The content managed is not only the word, but the ego behind those words; as the words are shaped, the writer also shapes her or his public identity. A blog gives students a unique way to do this. Overtime, as their writing accumulates and their interests emerge, and their voices shift, they begin to reshape who they are.

A blog is the place where a writer can think in public, and the act of sharing thoughts is both intimate and anonymous in this space. You never know, to start, who, if anyone, will read what you write. Yet over time, most blogs will find some audience, no matter how small. And a writer who likes the writing and posting, will grow.

Now many blogs will be abandoned over time, or go fallow for periods.

And that's ok. Many teachers who try blogging in teaching writing course or workshop won't like it and won't want to do it again and won't ever ask students to do it. That's o.k. too. Blogging's not a requirement, it's a choice.

But to make an informed choice, it would be great if every writing teacher gave it a try.

And then, if the use blogs in their teaching or ask students to try their hands at blogging, it becomes like any other teaching tool -- an experiment in pedagogy, one that will work sometimes and not work at others. But one that, like any teaching idea, can be improved in any event by reflection and practice. All of which is worth doing.

Anything that gives writing teachers a new writing tool that might help them convey to students the wonder of writing is worth exploring.