Fostering Sharing and Community Through Blogs

“That’s why I think blogging is potentially different from any writing that we’ve asked students to do, a genre that may have great value in terms of developing all sorts of critical thinking skills, writing skills and information literacy among other things. We teach exposition and research and some other types of analytical writing already, I know. Blogging, however, offers students a chance to a) reflect on what they are writing and thinking as they write and think it, b) carry on writing about a topic over a sustained period of time, maybe a lifetime, c) engage readers and audience in a sustained conversation that then leads to further writing and thinking and d) synthesize disparate learning experiences and understand their collective relationship and relevance. This just seems to me to be closer to the way we learn outside of school, and I see those things sorely lacking anywhere in traditional education.” – Will Richardson, Weblogg-ed

“Blogging allows us to think out loud together.” – Scott Rosenberg, “How Blogs Changed Everything”


A blog (short for weblog) is typically described as an online journal where entries are displayed in reverse chronological order.  A number of services and software platforms have developed that make this process nearly as simple as word processing.  As a result, it has become possible for someone without any knowledge of web design or HTML to publish content to the web.  While the traditional journaling use of blogs is certainly still common, blogs have evolved into much more than just a place to post journal entries online.  They have become, more importantly, personal publishing spaces.  What was once the exclusive domain of large media companies–the ability to publish to a mass audience–is now easily accessible to anybody with an internet connection.  While this has always been true about the web, the important difference with blogs is that they require very little technical knowledge to use them.  This simplicity is important, because as author Clay Shirky points out, “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.”  (Here Comes Everybody, 2008)  The ease of use that blogs bring makes them a useful tool for educators and students to extend teaching and learning into online spaces.  They can now focus on the sharing of ideas that can be facilitated and the connections that can be made between people without being distracted by technical details.

In thinking about blogs as personal publishing platforms, it is important not to confuse the characteristics of blog-based web publishing with publishing in print.  Personal publishing through blogs differs in some fundamental ways.  Print publishing, along with other traditional forms of media are mostly one way affairs.  They follow a broadcast model in which messages are sent out and the majority of people are merely consumers of the information.  With blogs, however, people are both consumers and creators of content.  It is a participatory medium that engages people as writers as well as readers, and as a result, is much more social in nature.  In addition, blogs provide a mechanism for readers to leave comments back to the author, providing a direct communication link between the writer and the reader.  The resulting form of communication created through blogs more resembles a conversation than a static printed document.  In addition, as people read, write and comment on each others’ blogs, the practice can encourage the formation of community through the shared conversations that emerge.  Many groups, including many colleges and universities, have adopted shared blogging platforms (many blogs hosted on the same system).  This allows for connections to be more easily fostered and managed between members of the group, in essence, turning the personal publishing platform into a community publishing platform.

The use of blogs for education is not necessarily a methodology in and of itself, but a form of communication, through which many different methodologies can be applied.  Blogs are flexible in their application and therefore lend themselves well to a wide range of creative uses.  That being said, there are many use cases that have been well tested and studied.  In a review of the literature on using blogs in higher education, Leslie and Murphy (2008) identified two major themes that speak to their efficacy 1) the facilitation of social interaction and social presence (including opportunities for group communication and feedback) and 2) the social and collaborative construction of knowledge (providing opportunities for community centered sharing).  In addition, other identified benefits of blogging include:

  • encouraging students to take ownership of their learning, and to publish authentic artifacts containing their thoughts and understanding. (Ferdig and Trammell 2004)
  • supporting community-centered instruction (Gergen 2002)
  • offering a means to share knowledge and to help others (Anderson 2005)
  • facilitating group communication (Grant 2006)
  • allowing social learning experience to flow from learner to group and from group to learner. (Downes 2004)

The most common use of blogs has been in their original sense as an online journal used for sharing reflections, thoughts and ideas over time.  Using blogs in this way supports social constructivist pedagogies.  Teaching strategies that focus on learning through collaborative inquiry, shared narratives or reflection on experiences lend themselves well to using blogs.

Applicability to Native American Students

In a study on culturally targeted course redesign for distance learning classes, Hai-Jew (2008) identified the following qualities as being essential to culturally relevant instruction:

  • They must maintain fluid student-teacher relationships; demonstrate a connectedness with all of the students, and develop a community of learners, among which students learn collaboratively and responsibly (Autumn 1995, p. 480).
  • Culturally responsive instructors also need to view knowledge as “shared, recycled, and constructed,” and they must build bridges or scaffolding to facilitate learning; they must use a range of multi-faceted assessments for multiple forms of excellence (Autumn, 1995, p. 481).

The demonstrated ability of blogs to facilitate social interactions and the community nature of blogging support the qualities identified by Hai-Jew.  Also, the importance of viewing knowledge as “shared, recycled and constructed” matches up well with the ability of blogs to support social and collaborative construction of knowledge.

Blogs allow students to have a space where they can publish their ideas and their share them with one another.  This ability makes them an excellent tool to support learning through the sharing of personal experiences or narratives.  Native American journalist, Victor Merina, explains that, “the ability to hear the authentic voices and to share those voices with an audience is vital when it comes to covering Indian Country.” He sees the Internet and weblogs as a way to extend the long tradition of communication through storytelling (Merina, Fall 2005, pp. 32 – 33).  Another important aspect of blogs is that they facilitate the sharing of not only writing, but images, audio and video as well.  This lends itself to a broader range of media use in support of different learning styles and communication preferences.

Strategy: Common Course Blog


While blogs can be used in an almost unlimited number of ways, the common course blog is probably the simplest way to engage in blogging with students.  With a common course blog, a single blog site is set up for the course and all of the students in the class as well as the instructor have access to post to it.  Course blogs may be public, or they might have privacy restrictions which limit access to only members of the class if more privacy is desired.  The goal of the course blog is to create a community space where everyone in the class can connect and share with each other, or potentially to connect with an audience outside of the class.

The teaching methodologies behind this strategy for using blogs are not entirely new.  The best way to think about group writing on a blog is a hybrid of between roundtable class discussions and reflection papers.   In a common course blog, students write reactions or reflections just as they would for other writing assignments.  The difference is that with a traditional reflection paper, it is for the most part a private activity where students write for an audience of one, the instructor.  When reflections are published to a blog, the entire class or possibly even the community beyond the class (if it is a public blog) becomes the audience.  With blogging, students are expected to contribute their thoughts and ideas as well as listen to and respond to the other students just as they would in a roundtable class discussion.  The difference is that the conversations occur through writing and are not constrained to a specific place and time.


It is important that the instructor provide clear instructions for what students must post to the blog site and how they will be expected to participate.  A good way to do this is to require that students publish a weekly post to the site where they provide a personal reaction to the course material, readings or a specific question being asked by the instructor.  The instructor should encourage students to relate the course materials to their own personal experiences as well as link to other resources they find on the web.  Open ended questions or writing prompts work best because they help to provide a more student directed focus to the conversations which is key to creating a community learning space.  At the beginning of the course, it is important to provide simple and non-threatening prompts with the goal being to just allow students to become comfortable sharing and connecting with each other online.  Once students are comfortable posting to the blog, the instructor can gradually move the focus to more rigorous discussions of the subject matter.

In order to facilitate interactions between students it is important to establish participation requirements for commenting as well as posting.  A simple participation requirement might be to contribute one substantive post per week in addition to three to five comments on other students’ blog posts.  The comments are important because they encourage students to actively read and respond to what the other students write and provide a means of feedback.  In addition, when a student publishes a post to a group audience, there can be a certain amount of apprehension about sharing, particularly at first.  When a post receives a comment, it provides validation to the student that their post is being read and that their contribution is recognized.

In order to create the type of community space that engages students, the instructor must play an active role in facilitating participation, while at the same time stepping back enough to allow the students to make the space their own.  To accomplish this, the instructor should take on the role of co-participant in the activity, providing comments and questions that help direct the conversation.  The instructor should model participation and contribute to the discussion, particularly at the beginning of the course, but make sure not to dominate.


It is important to establish clear expectations and guidelines, while at the same time allowing for enough flexibility for students to participate freely.  It is a good idea to create a rubric that outlines expectations.  Many examples of blogging rubrics can be found online, such as this rubric from San Diego State University, which can be used as a starting point.  This allows students to know up front what will be expected of them.  Providing examples that model a substantive blog post or a good comment is also an effective strategy, particularly for students who have not engaged in blogging as part of a course before.  It is important, however, to avoid focusing too much on the grading.  A good strategy is to give points to a student to reward them for their overall participation over a period of time, but refrain from giving grades to individual posts.
It is also important to use a separate communication channel to inform students of their grades.  The blog site should be used by the instructor to give feedback on ideas and help facilitate further discussion.  Communication about evaluation and grading should occur privately in a different venue.

Opportunities and Concerns

While blogging doesn’t require substantial technical skills, there may still be a significant learning curve for many students.  It is important to provide some basic training and support right from the beginning to help students feel comfortable.  In addition, students may have participate in writing and sharing online in their personal lives through social networking sites (Facebook and Myspace), but generally lack experience doing similar activities in an academic setting.  Students need direction and modelling from the instructor to help develop their ability to participate online for more academic and professional purposes.

Another important consideration is whether to make the blog public or private.  There are very good reasons for choosing both.  A private blog site can help to foster a small, safe community where students are able to share with their classmates.  Public blogs, on the other hand, may blur boundaries between the outside community and the classroom.  Opening up the conversation can enrich the classroom experience by connecting students to members of the community, experts in the field or students at other institutions.  Having an outside audience interacting with students on their blog posts can potentially be a source of motivation for students, giving what may be normally seen as just a school assignment relevance outside of the classroom.  Whatever the choice, students need to be informed about the privacy settings for the blog and the implications of the chosen settings should be discussed.

Other Potential Blog Uses

Individual Student Blogs

Instead of using a common course blog, the same activity could be done where students do the writing on their own blogs with links to all of the posts for the class aggregated on a common course site.  Individual blogs allow students to take more ownership of the blog site, to personalize it and make it their own.  If they are blogging for multiple classes, it would allow them to post all of their work in one place that could serve as a record or portfolio of their learning.  Managing a class across multiple blogs, however, requires slightly more technical sophistication and experience which may be a barrier to students at an entry level.

Instructor Blog

A blog can provide a simple way for an instructor to maintain a web presence for all of their work.  It can be used to provide a collection of papers, presentations, syllabi, or other work that can be shared.  A blog can also be a good way to share links to online resources, provide commentary in on issues in a field of study or connect with colleagues at other institutions.

Blog as a space for publishing course projects

Blogs do not need to be limited to online journaling.  Many blog software applications allow for static web pages in addition to chronological ordering of entries.  The static pages can be used as a simple way for instructors or students to publish to the web.  This is an effective means for sharing class projects, research or course materials with a wider audience.  Another benefit of using blogs is that they provide a mechanism for multiple authors to add content to the same site.  This makes them ideal for use as a collaboration space for group projects or as a single place to display multiple projects done by many students.

Blog as portfolio

By providing simple web publishing, blogs are an excellent way for students to display examples of their work across multiple classes and over time.  The use of a blog as a portfolio can accommodate both a snapshot of student work at a particular point in time or a space for ongoing reflection by a student about their own learning that captures the development of their thoughts over time.  Blogs could easily be used for students could create  portfolio sites where they can collect papers and projects over the course of a program.

Blog as point of aggregation

In addition to enabling individuals or groups to publish in their own spaces, blogs can be used as aggregation points to collect posts from multiple blogs.  This allows students, for example, to publish to their own blogs, while at the same time, the entries are collected on a class blog site.  Aggregation can also be done based on a particular topic using “tags” to organically identify and gather content.  For example, students in multiple classes could do a project or writing assignment on a particular current event.  All of these entries could be given a common “tag” and then all posts across the community that shared the same tag could be aggregated in one place, allowing students from different classes to share their work and have a discussion with each other.

Blog as news site

Blogs provide an easy way to create an online newspaper or newsletter.  Many pre-built themes have been developed to make it easy for any group to set up a news site where postings can be added over time and organized into different sections or categories.

Blog as Community Site

Blogs are an excellent way to provide a space for various groups around campus to have a shared online space where they can share information with each other.  They can be used as tools for people to publish event notices, share links and resources, post shared documents and have discussions with each other about these things.  Clubs and organizations on campus may be able to use blog sites to communicate within their group or to publicize information and engage an outside audience.

More Readings

Submitted by Jason Myers, May 2010

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