So you’re thinking of blogging?

Blogging 101

So, have you ever thought about starting up a blog?  Wondered where to start?  What type of blog to use?  What would you blog about?  This introductory post is aimed at helping you understand how blogs work, what types of blog systems are out there, and see some examples of how people are already blogging!  Since blogging first got started in the early 2000s, there are many different reasons why you might want to start a blog.  Some blogs are personal, some are professional, some represent schools, districts, libraries, or even organizations.  Blogs have been used by english, humanties, art,  and science teachers to extend their classrooms, and they have been used to reflect on their practice.  Blogs have been used by students to share their thoughts, to practice their writing and to reflect upon their lives.  Blogs are used by Superintendents (and other Superintendents, and even Associate Superintendents), Principals, Teacher-Librarians, Teacher LeadersPeer to Peer ConsultantsDistrict Resource Trainers, and by student support personalParents can Blog! Blogs can be fun, blogs can be political, and blogs can be a call to arms.  Blogs can be used to organize groups, create conversations, and to distribute information.  The power of blogs is that they become personalized and focused on the author and their audience.  What your blog is about is entirely up to you!

What Blogging systems can I use? (and how easy are they?)

Tumblr is a very simple and very easy to use blogging platform.  It started off as a simple way to share images, but has grown to allow you to publish text, imagery, videos, documents and anything else you might want. Tumblr is a system that allows your subcribers to easily see if you’ve published new posts and is very simple in its design and features.  Most users will not have any difficulty creating and maintaining a tumblr blog. (example of a tumblr blog I created – http://mrmuellervln.tumblr.com/)

Blogger is a Google based blogging platform that connects your google email address with a google blogger account. Once you create your blogger account it is very simple and easy to post new blog posts.  It has a lot more features than tumblr and allows you to customize your look and feel of your blog a lot. Visitors can subscribe to your blog, there are many extra “widgets” you can add to your blog, and one of the best features is the intergration with the rest of your google account, allowing you to embed your google calendar as part of your blog. (example of blogger blog I created – http://mrmuellervln.blogspot.com/)

 EduBlogs is an education specific version of a WordPress blog (see below).  Edublogs  are education specific and allow you, the teacher, to publish and monitor classroom blogs and student blogs from within their ‘systems’.  Teachers can even lock down access so that students blogs are not public, and only available to the teacher and other students in the class.  There are many features that are removed in the free version, limiting the usefulness of this service.  (example of a EduBlogs blog I created – http://mrmuellervln.edublogs.org)

 Wordpress is the most featured, customized and useful blogging platform out there,  but it can also be very intimidating and a little complicated.  WordPress.org offers free hosting of a simple blog, but if you have your own hosting and domain name, you can download and install your own WordPress server!  This allows complete customization and individual personalization.  WordPress allows any number of “plugins” and “widgets” to extend the functionality of your blog.  WordPress can also be used in a multi-blog environment, hosting dozens of individual blogs and can be a very useful tool for an entire school-wide blogging initative. The BUZZ, this blog you are reading is an example of a WordPress.org blog.  I have made a couple of tutorial videos to help you get started with wordpress and to also see ‘behind the scenes’ what a wordpress blog looks like.

How do you keep track of all these blogs?

That is the million dollar question!  Keeping a ton of bookmarks on your computer can work for a little while, but eventually, you won’t be able to keep track of them and might end up missing some really good blog posts!  So, there are a couple of good strategies for you to keep on top of what everyone is blogging about.  The first way, is to follow these bloggers on twitter.  Almost all bloggers, especially education based blogging, are also active on twitter.  They include a link to their blog in the bio, and they regularly use twitter to “tweet” about their latest blog post!  This can be a great strategy for finding new blogs to read and follow!

But how do you know if there is a new blog post to go read?  Well, thats where the power of RSS comes into play.  RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” and it is a set of technologies that allow anyone to “subscribe” to a blog, by adding their RSS ‘feed’ into a RSS Reader!  A RSS Reader is a program that collects all your blogs in one spot and then alerts you when you have new blog posts to read at their blog!  So, it takes all the guess work and bookmarking away from you.  The best and easiest Reader is Google Reader and it can track and inform you about new blog posts to read!  It lives in your browser and it is always up to date!  See this screenshot below for what the Google Reader looks like:  I only warn you not to get discouraged with how many blog posts you should read sometime!  Don’t feel guilty about not being able to keep up.  No one can.

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Socialnomics – Social Media ain’t a fad!

Below is a Youtube video based on an amazing book that contextualizes a lot of the recent developments in Social Media and how we are all using it. I definitely had to pick my jaw up off my desk with some of these astronomical statistics. This video was made by Erik Qualman who also wrote the book Socialnomics.  This book explores the development of Social Media, its explosive growth, the profound changes it is bringing and how best to leverage these new technologies.

Some of the most amazing statistics from this video that immediately stuck out to me are:

  • 96% of all Millennials have joined a social network
  • If Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s 3rd largest (Behind China and India)
  • 80% of companies use Social Media for recruiting new employees
  • The fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55-65 year old Females.
  • Youtube is now the world’s 2nd largest search engine (after google)

This video is high energy and very enlightening to whats happening all around us.  Sometimes it can be hard to see the forest for the trees, but this video really helps me understand that magnitude of this change and how immense and powerful our new networks, communications and tools are!  I hope that you enjoy this video as well!

I think this video and book really illustrate how important it is for educators to not only acknowledge the important role Social Media plays in our lives and our student’s lives, but how important it is to teach Social Media etiquette, safety and to role model appropriate and balanced Social media behaviours! We all play a role in helping each other navigate these new tools and virtual spaces!

#askshakespeare – A Panel of Experts brought to your classroom

Today’s post is about an “ah-ha” moment I had yesterday.  I have been using twitter for just about 2 years now, and only really using twitter for about the last 6 months professionally.  Yesterday, I saw a tweet annoucing “Ask Shakespearian Experts anything you want using the #askshakespeare hashtag today only!”.  I thought, WOW!  What a wonderful way to use Twitter to extend your classroom and learning opportunities out into the world.   Here is how the event was described on Blogging Shakespeare:

“On 2, February 2011 Shakespeare organisations, enthusiasts, scholars and professionals worldwide joined us on the AskShakespeare panel through their twitter accounts and answered all the questions that were posted on the #askshakespeare.”



This simple use of the Twitter platform, a hashtag to organize the questions (#askshakespeare), and the volunteer time of these experts, scholars and professionals created a virtual ‘panel’ that could be accessed by any teacher, student, enthusiast or citizen to learn more about the Bard.  I asked two seperate questions:



Within minutes, I had 6 responses from 3 different experts, each weighing in on the questions regarding Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathway, and also whether today’s copyright laws would allow a writer and playwright such as Shakespeare to borrow and adapt from many sources to produce a new, yet derivative, product. 

So, overall, this was an opportunity for me to really see how Twitter and Social Media can be used in a very effective way to enhance your educational environment, whether it is face to face in a classroom, or online, via distance, you can implement simple and easy tools to bring experts and knowledge into your classroom!  You can find and access experts from around the globe, interact with them and use their knowledge and expertise to help your own students. 

My top 6 reasons why I love and use Social Media!

Today I wanted to share with the readers of this blog my top 6 reasons why I am so pleased with social media as a tool for Educators!  I have been teaching now for over 7 years, and 6 of these have been teaching part-time as an “online” or distance educator.  Throughout these formative years, I have struggled, as all new teachers do, with figuring out what Educating is all about.  I have sought like-minded Educators in my district, attended many Professional Development workshops, and collaborated with my peers at the school level.  This has allowed me to grow and develop as an educator, which I value very much.  The one concern I had over these developing years was how difficult or how time consuming this was.  Collaboration happens just a couple of times through the year, Professional Development only offered 5 days in a school year. Conferences were typically expensive, far away and did not cover the curriculum I taught my students.

With the development of Social Media, especially Twitter, I have had more Professional Development in the last 6 months than the last 6 years!  I have ‘met’ more like-minded Educators, worked collaboratively with people from all over North America, have been able to virtually “attend” conferences that were far away through backchannels and have expanded my understanding and knowledge greatly!  How did I do this?  By spending about 30 mins a day on twitter, reading the stream, clicking interesting links and by finding other like-minded Educators to ‘follow’.  

I have found new ideas and strategies to try.  I have been inspired by what others have been able to achieve.  I have been helped by people I’ve never met in person, but have communicated with often.  So, what are my top 6 reasons why I use Social Media?

  • Equality – Twitter and other Social Media is very flat.  You can communicate, follow, and converse with anyone else on the medium.  This has allowed me to dialogue with Trustees, Superintendents, CIO’s, Politicians, and other important people that make up my ‘community’.
  • Collaboration – Got a good idea?  Share it and see who else wants to contribute and have access to the final product!  Twitter and other social media has allowed me to find fellow online English educators, as well as others to share challenges, pitfalls, success, and dreams.  It becomes easy to network and work together with other web 2.0 tools.
  • Discussion and Debate – The weekly #edchat discussions and debates on twitter allow Educators and anyone else interested to talk about issues we all face.  What works?  What doesn’t?  What can you do to help your school?  What should districts do to support their educators? Each week there is a new topic to debate and discuss with hundreds of participants and points of view.
  • Better than Expensive Conferences – There has been a recent trend of conferences for educators becoming very expensive.  Coupled with travel and accommodations, Educators are quickly priced out of attending such conferences.  Social Media lets me attend pro-d EVERY SINGLE DAY.  You never know what you’re going to learn when you jump on twitter for 10 minutes in the morning!
  • International Community – Social Media can help “tear down that wall” as Ronald Regan once said during the Cold War.  My community of Educators is truly international, with many voices coming from all over North and South America, Europe, Australia and other countries.  With developments in real-time translation from Google Translate, this is going to grow and expand, as it won’t be hindered with language difficulties any longer!  Star trek technology? Nope, its here today.
  • Local Community – Twitter and other Social Media tools have allowed me to explore and connect with other Educators located right in my backyard!  Apart from the teachers at my local school, it was difficult to find other Educators in my district who are working on really cool ideas and strategies.  Through twitter I am able to connect with educators from around Vancouver, the Lower Mainland, and the Province, allowing me to get a sense of what’s happening in lots of other districts.  Together, we can all ‘rise the tide’ of BC Education!

I hope my exploration of the reasons why I love Social Media so much as an Educator and a Professional have helped you understand why it’s important to try these new tools.  Just like the telegraph, the telephone, the television and other important technological developments have changed the way we interconnect, these tools are paradigm shifting, truly creating a flat, fair and fun landscape for 21st Century Educators!

Got another reason why Social Media is good?  Participate in the discussion by adding your thoughts below!



Putting Social Media in its “place”

There was a very interesting interview on The Colbert Report on Monday, Jan 17th with MIT Professor Sherry Turkle on Social Media and how we should consider forming some basic guidelines on when to use Social Media and when to put the phone/computer away and direct all your attention on the person or task at hand.   Please watch this interview here:

http://colbertreport.thecomedynetwork.ca/#player-area
(Be sure to select the Jan 17th Episode)
Now, the premise of the interview was to explore issues from Sherry’s new book, “Alone Together: Why we expect more from Technology and less from each other“.  Stephen Colbert was quick to try and “nail” his guest, using his character and clever wit to catch this author out.  Sherry Turkle made many great points in the interview about how the rise of Social Media has invaded personal spaces (checking an iPhone at a funeral?) and that the frequency and simplicity of Social Media has ‘dumbed down’ or reduced our interaction to tiny bites, rather than whole conversations.

There are many interesting ways to look at this, and Stephen Colbert did challenge Sherry Turkle on many assumptions, one good point he made was that many small interactions can be as good as one medium interaction, or no interaction at all.  We do get to know each other through these ‘micro-interactions’ on social media spaces.  It does, however, take longer to end up at the same space we might get to a lot sooner through focused conversation.  This sparked excellent dialogue and discussion between Sherry and Stephen, which ultimately proved Sherry’s point!  The debate and detailed discussion they were able to have would have been very difficult over Twitter, limited to only 140 characters!

So, what can we take away from this?  Well I think its important to remember to put that smartphone away when you have someone or something in front of you that wishes to engage, or needs to get done!  Just because you can jump online and tweet about something, does not mean it can’t wait 20 mins until you have the moment to step away from the conversation or activity you are currently involved in.

We should contine using Social Media, this is certain.  We just need to learn new protocols on when to fully immerse and when it is ok to “check out” from whats in front of us, and into our phones/computers/social networks.  We also need to accept that we cannot do it all at the same time!  Multi-tasking may sound nice, but it’s really only dividing up a small amount of attention to multiple things, where everything and everyone suffers a little bit.  Lets not be “Alone Together” like Sherry Turkle talks about.  Lets engage with each other offline when we are in each other’s presence.  Lets engage online when we are away from each other!  Give the people around you the attention they give you, and we will all do allright.

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