Web logs in Education FAQ

If you are new to the concept of Web logs in education, read through this FAQ for some basic answers and examples. If you want more information, or you have questions, please e-mail me at:

wrichard at hcrhs dot k12 dot nj dot us.

What is a Web log?

Who uses Web logs?

How have Web logs been used in the classroom?

How do Web logs impact learning?

How do I create a Web log for myself or my classroom?

Do I need to know HTML?

What are the technical and cost issues surrounding weblog implementation?

What is the eBN?

What other Web log software are eBN members using?

What is RSS and why is it important to educational use of Web logs?

What is a Web log?
Web logs are easily created, easily updated Web pages or Web sites that can be accessed and edited from the Web browser of any Internet-connected computer. Think of them as digital paper.

Who uses Web logs?
Almost anyone can create and maintain a Web log with minimal technical experience. For that reason, in an educational setting, Web logs are used by students and teachers of all ages, k-16.

How have Web logs been used in the classroom?
Classroom uses of Web logs are many. They can be used as online student portfolios or filing cabinets where assignments and projects are stored. They can be class portals where teachers keep homework assingments, links, handouts, syllabi, etc. Teachers have also used Web logs as collaborative writing spaces where students read and give feedback to one another. Web logs have served as reader’s guides for literature study, as newspapers, and as project sites where students create and contribute all content. See the list of sample Web logs linked below.

School Website
Classroom Portal
Composition Instruction
Literature Study
Student Research Logs
School Library Site
Student Portfolios
Collaborative Learning

How do Web logs impact learning?
In a broad sense, the advent of easy-to-use web publishing tools like Web logs has effectively lowered the technology barrier, allowing teachers and students to take full advantage of the promise of the Internet. Features like integrated tools for discussion and feedback, automatic archiving of materials, and content syndication establish weblogs as ideal spaces for the presentation and discussion of knowledge and information. The open, flexible nature of weblogs encourages dialogues among many participants; many faculty Web log users, or “bloggers,” have invited professionals and mentors from around the world to participate in their classes via their Web logs. In the hands of creative teachers, Web logs can enable students to connect their classroom experience to the “real world.” This has had an extremely positive effect on the students, who quickly realize that they are writing for or having a dialogue with a community larger than the teacher or the class. (http://www.nitle.org/newsletter/v2_n1_winter2003/features_weblogs.php)

How do I create a Web log for myself or my classroom?
There are a number of Web log software applications available to Edubloggers depending on their level of technical expertise and support, the number of Web logs they wish to create, and their budget. See What other Web log software are eBN members using? for more information on Web log software applications.

Depending on which blog software you ultimately choose, there have recently been several books published on the basics of blogging. Many of these books cover the basic Web log packages.

The Weblog Handbook by Rebecca Blood
We Blog: Publishing Online With Weblogs by Meg Hourihan, Matt Haughey and Paul Bausch
Essential Blogging by Doctorow et al

Do I need to know HTML?
While a knowledge of HTML code helps, you do not need to know HTML to use many Web log software packages. In fact, Web logs have been embraced for that very reason – publishing to the Web is as simple as filling in a form and pushing a button.

What are the technical and cost issues surrounding weblog implementation?
Hosting for your weblog is dependent on which software you choose and the level of technical support at your disposal.

A hosted service is the easiest and quickest way to start. Services like Blogger allow new users to set up an account (for free or a premium version for $35 per year) and begin posting literally in a matter of minutes. Blogger can host the blog, or the user can post to his/her own site.

A remotely installed blog is perhaps the most involved to setup. If you have access to a server that allows you to run CGI scripts and/or mysql, Movabletype is a full-featured blog solution (free for non-commercial, $150 for commercial). Some technical skills are required to configure the blog and database. Documentation, however, is excellent for Movabletype. Installation is also offered for a fee. MT can be installed for $20 dollars.

Desktop blog programs are installed on a user’s computer, and posts are then uploaded to a host server. Radio Userland is a desktop program for $35.95, which includes hosting and upgrades for a year. Start up process for desktop blogs is almost as simple as hosted services like Blogger.

School weblog hosted services:

Manila blog software, hosted on Frontier, is a full-featured, out-of-the-box content management solution. Although Manila hosting sites exist (Weblogger.com, $19.95 per site, per year), many schools have chosen to buy Manila/Frontier to run on an on-site server. The Manila/Frontier bundles can be purchased from UserLand for $299 a year (academic pricing). Manila is used to create this site and is used by many members of eBN.

What is the eBN?
The Educational Bloggers Network is a collaborative of teachers and organizations using weblogs in education. Its purpose is to help its members kindergarten through university, to access and use Web log technology for the teaching of writing and reading across the disciplines. The network provides a forum for educational professionals who use Web logs, an array of opportunities for teachers to continue their professional growth, and a framework for cooperation to deal with issues that affect the integration of Web log and other digital technologies into teaching and learning.

What other Web log software are eBN members using?
Blogger, Movabletype, and Radio Userland are only a sampling of available blog programs. For a complete listing of blog resources, visit the Weblogs Compendium.

Before you decide on a particular blog tool, it’s also helpful to keep in mind that not all blog tools are created equal. In the best case scenario, you should have an idea of what you’d like to do with your blog, and choose a blog tool based on its feature set. For example, if you’d simply like to have students post their work to the Web, all of these are viable solutions. However, if you’d like to have your students then discuss their work on the blog, tools like Blogger and Radio, that don’t come with an integrated discussion tool, won’t meet your needs. Check the eBN site soon for a complete rundown of Web logging software and their features.

What is RSS and why is it important to educational use of Web logs?

RSS stands for Rich Site Summary, or Read Simple Syndication, depending on who you talk to. Either way, RSS is a powerful tool for educators in a number of ways. Whenever you see the little orange XML box, you know that the content on the site you are reading is being syndicated, meaning it is possible to read the content without actually going to the site. Instead, you use what is called an aggregator that allows you to read RSS feeds from dozens or hundreds of sites all in one place. So, instead of spending hours clicking through all of the sites you like to read, you need only minutes to scan through the collected posts from all of those sites in your aggregator.

The implications in education are many. First, RSS facilitates the sharing of information by bringing content to you instead of you going to find it. Teachers could “subscribe” to many RSS feeds of sites in their subject areas and be able to keep abreast of resources or news in their specific fields. Those who are subscribed to the feed from a school library could be instantly updated when a new book is added to the collection. Parents could subscribe to the feeds of their sons’ or daughters’ Web logs, allowing them to follow along with their work. Similarly, classrooms could easily go paperless as teachers could read all the work done in students Web logs by simply accessing their aggregator. Leave those stacks of paper behind!

While many aggregators have found favor with educators , the easiest way to aggregate news feeds right now is by using Bloglines.com. With their web interface, you can access your news from any computer with an Internet connection and a browser. With stand alone aggregators, you need to make sure you have it loaded on every computer you use.

Many publications including the New York Times and Rolling Stone, as well as sites like About.com and Amazon have RSS feeds that you can subscribe to. And many more are on the horizon.

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