Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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Brian Grenier wrote a blog post back in 2007 that I think I missed where he asks the question how do you write a blog post?

Miguel Guhlin just wrote a great post in response to Brian’s thoughts. In my COETAIL course yesterday we had a great discussion around how blogging was going for those in the class. All of them just 5 weeks into blogging. It was interesting to hear that many of them say blogging as publishing. That they had a lot of drafts waiting to be published but they wanted them to be “perfect” or “publishable”.

“The thought that other can read this, that a future employee can read this makes me want it to be publishable.”

It was great to listen to them talk among themselves and the different feelings they had about being a blogger. They asked me what I thought and along with Miguel talking about how he writes a blog post I thought I’d share my thoughts.

1. Blog topics are all around you
You are passionate about something whether teaching, technology, your kids or your car. Be passionate and writing is easy. If your not passionate about the post, or idea, you’ll know cause you just won’t do it.

This makes it hard when a teacher (like me) asks you to blog about something you might not be passionate about. That makes blogging an assignment….not real blogging. Real blogging is about you….about your thoughts, your feelings, your ideas…..the blogging you do for classroom, is just classwork.

2. Write down ideas or topics
At least two or three times a day I think to myself “that’s a blog topic” and for a while I would sit down to write a blog post and not be able to remember what it was that spurred that moments thought. So I’ve started writing blog topic ideas down. I use the stickies app on my MacBook and Google Tasks via a Chrome extension that lets me quickly jot down topics. I also have a notebook in my backpack for those times when a computer isn’t near to jot stuff down in. Everything from grocery lists, to blog topics. Lastly, I use my iPhone where I have a page of notes that are blog topics. No, you don’t have to have as many places as I do, but I know those are the spots I look for when I have time. Not all ideas make it to a full blog post, some get crossed out, others get folded into each other. It’s the brainstorm phase of writing….just like we teach kids. 🙂

3. Keeping web pages organized
http://welkerswikinomics.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/diigo.pngThis came up in class yesterday. How do you keep all those sites open, or organize that you want to talk about in a blog post? In Firefox I use an extension called Tabloc that allows me to ‘Lock’ a tab (still looking for a good one for Chrome is anyone has one!). So if my browser closes or I need to restart those tabs that are locked, stay safe and saved. I also have gotten better at tagging web pages in Diigo and using the highlight features as well. Social bookmarking takes time to understand and time to find out how tagging works and how to use it for you. I have a system that works for me and I’m going on 5 years without using bookmarks within my browser…..everything is in Diigo and Delicious (which are connected so when I save to Diigo it auto-saves it to Delicious….a perfect backup system!)

4. Find a blogging interface that works for you.
There are many different blogging interfaces that you can use to actually write your blog post in. I’m a huge fan, and honestly would have a hard time blogging without ScribeFire (Firefox Add-on). I’ve tired to blog just using WordPress and visually it just doesn’t do it for me. I know that many people use the Flock Web Browser and find the built in blogging application very good (I think it’s my second favorite). Scribefire is the only reason I still use Firefox. My day to day browsing has moved to Chrome and I find that I don’t blog as much because it means going someplace else to write. That’s what I love about ScribeFire, it’s just there, in your browser waiting for you to start writing.

Take time to try out a couple blogging applications and see if one fits you and your style. You gotta be comfortable with your flow of thought, writing, and idea process otherwise writing will become a chore not a pleasure.

5. Finding your Flow
In the end….I think it’s about finding your flow. Some people blog at the same time every day. I know Kim Cofino (cause we talk about this kind of stuff in the office) does most of her blogging on the weekend, because that’s what works for her. I found that I need it cool, I blog better, ideas flow when I’m in a cooler temperature. So I either blog in my home office with the A/C on or here on the couch with a fan blowing on me to keep me cool. I didn’t realize this was an issue for a long time here in Bangkok. It’s only been about 6 months that I realize I don’t write because I’m uncomfortable, hot, sticky, and not in a thinking mode.

Find your flow, find which time/day works for you, what place, which application. Take time to try things out. I’m constantly looking for another blogging application to replace ScribeFire and just haven’t found one that I like better…that enhances my flow of ideas and process of writing.

6. Write to your community ~ Know your audience
A blog website whether you like it or not is about branding. Your audience want’s to know what they are going to get when they go to your site. You know what to expect when you go to CNN, BBC, NYTimes, TechCrunch, Mashable, etc. Your blog needs to have a focus. That doesn’t mean you can’t go off topic once in awhile, but the majority of your blog posts should be to a specific audience. I focus broadly on education and specifically on educational technology. But I also talk about my love of baseball and travel as well……after all it is my site. 😉

So that’s it…find your flow, find your audience and blogging can be enjoyable.

As a technology person you don’t always get to decide where you are going to start with teachers. In fact, most of the time the teachers tell you where you are going to start.

Hence my focus on parent communication. Many teachers are looking at using blogs as a way to communicate with their parent communities.

Now, before I go any further I say they “use blogs” but that doesn’t mean they are blogging. I do believe there is a difference. Teachers find the ease of which you can setup a web site and post new content using a blogging program simple and straight forward.

So blogging and using a blogging program as a website…are to different things. I do believe, however, that you can start using the blogging software as a website for communication and as you get comfortable with how it works, how to create conversations, and how students/parents can and will respond that you can move from a blog as a website to a blog as an actual blog…..does that make sense?

I saw teachers make this transition at SAS: kpower, spower, adecardy just to name three who starting out using a blogging platform and ended up blogging.

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been working with the 1st grade team here at ISB in creating a portal for their parents. Vu, the technology leader, has really embraced the digital tools with the rest of the 1st grade team. They use a Google Doc to plan their meetings, and a blog to communicate with parents.

We talk about making it easy for teachers to use these tools so when I walked into Vu’s room the first day and he told me what he wanted to do I said:

“OK, we can do that….and what if we can do it all from your desktop? You, and the team, won’t have to remember passwords, or sites….you can just put content where you want it.”

Needless to say the Smartones are off and running!


So here’s the setup on the first grade teacher laptops.

  • ScribeFire: Still my favorite client for blogging. It’s simple, straight forward and teachers pick it up quickly. I showed Vu how to install it and connect to the blog and he helped the rest of the team get theirs set up.
  • Google Calendar Sync with iCal: This is different than just subscribing to a calendar. You can write an appointment into iCal and it syncs back to Google Calendar.
  • FFXporter iPhoto Plugin: Vu found this great plugin for iPhoto that allows you to select a picture (or group of pictures) and upload them to Flickr.
  • FlickrSLiDR: We created a FlickrSLiDr slideshow and embedded that on a page of the blog. Now when the teachers upload their photos to Flickr and put them in their set they automatically appear on the blog. From there parents can click on a picture that takes them back to Flickr where they can download it and keep it if they so choose.

So that’s the basic setup…so invision this.

You take a picture of a great project in your class, you download the picture to your Mac which automatically imports it into iPhoto. You select the picture and export to flickr. When it is down uploading the pic it automatically opens the picture on Flickr where you can name the picture and save it. Next you click on ScribeFire, write a post, drag and drop the picture from Flickr into your blog post where you want it, select your categories, and click “Publish”.

You want to add something to the calendar during a team meeting? No problem, while your iCal is open just select your Google Cal add the event and your parents know about it instantly.

We talk about what Web 2.0 can do for a teacher, how about making the web seem like it’s just on your desktop.

At Monday’s after school help session I was talking with a different teacher explaining how she can get Flickr pictures to show up on her blog. My reply was simple:

“You have to understand that the Interent is created by connections or links. Once you understand that it is connections that run the web, a whole new world opens up to you. By connecting people, places, and websites we can push and pull almost any information anywhere.”

There were a couple comments left on my last post about communicating in this new digital landscape. Blogs and wikis might not be the best solution. I agree they might not be…but then again they might be for a particular teacher or school. I do believe however that my thoughts on communicating digitally do not apply to only blogs, or wikis or Web 2.0 tools. I believe it’s just solid advice for communicating digitally period!

(If you want to hear more on that subject you’ll have to come to my Learning 2.008 session!)

These tools are here to make our lives simpler. If teachers can not find that simpleness they will not use the tools. At a technology person in the school you have to find ways to make it simple and help teachers to understand that this is not “just one more thing” but actually replaces some of the old things they were doing. This isn’t deep change, but it’s a start.