Blogs:
Wikipedia defines a blog as follows: "A weblog (usually shortened to blog, but occasionally spelled web log or weblog) is a web-based publication consisting primarily of periodic articles, most often in reverse chronological order." It's easy, and accurate, to think of a blog as a form of a web-based journal, where each new page "posted" supersedes the previous entry.

These pages or posts can contain photos or media, but they are typically based on the author writing something, and with readers being able to comment on what has been written. Usually the writer then comments back, and a dialog is constructed. Really the first form of web-based self-published content, and so the granddaddy of Web 2.0, Blogging's enormous popularity is a testament to the incredible desire that individuals have to be heard.

I often compare blogging to walking on stilts. Both require learning new skills, and not everyone wants to do it! Knowing this makes it pretty amazing (and significant) that blogging has become so popular. There are some hurdles to starting to blog: needing to learn how to set up and then publish to your blog, figuring out how to bring readers there, finding ways to encouraging conversation, and then often "speaking to the empty room" (as bloggers call it) for months before (and if) somebody starts to pay attention to what you say. That's not to discount the truly valuable process that a blogger goes through personally to start discovering his or her "voice" while learning to put thoughts out into the public domain even if no one seems to be listening, but its a much more satisfying experience when blogging is actually the creation of an ongoing dialog between writer and reader/writers.

While blogs can be an easy way for educators or administrators to publish material for parent or students, that's really just a Web 1.0 use of the tool! One easy way in which teachers shift into the natural Web 2.0 aspects of blogging is to start online conversations on a topic--say a theme in a book, or a particular news story. The teacher writes the main posts, and the students use the commenting feature to respond to the teacher. As they do so, they begin to or are communicating not just with the teacher, but with the other students, and so develop a stronger desire to reflect and think about the discussion, and to communicate their thoughts effectively. Even in this kind of rudimentary use, it's amazing to watch how an open dialog can produce collaborative thinking.

Providing the students with their own blogs is an opportunity to create an even more significant enthusiasm for expressing and discussing ideas. While there are substantive issues to be dealt with regarding personal data, content control, and thoughtful online conduct, blogging at this level is extremely rewarding for the students and the teacher. Students begin to discover the personal interests that drive them and provide them focus in their writing, and the power of communicating clearly. They get feedback from their peers, and can be involved in sustained discussions that reflect the complexity of real-world issues, and in questions of journalistic responsibility. Writing is done as part of an empowering learning process, and not just for the teacher's grade--as the teacher's role in blogging often becomes more of a coach.

The great success stories of educational blogging almost always sound like this: "My students kept writing even when there was no assignment." What more could you ask for?