Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Key Elements for Effective Blogging

I've read a lot of blogs this week. Some good, some bad. Some which haven't been updated for months and more, even years. As a result, I have a few ideas that might make your blog more effective for your targeted audience, especially if you are wanting to use it with students for educational purposes.

1. Define your purpose.

One thing that is common to most, if not all, is that the authors or writers have something to say. Contrary to the Seinfeld episode, "a show about nothing," bloggers have something generally they want to say, and sometimes abruptly stop because they have run out of things to say, or have moved on to the next fad, or are just too busy to keep it going. Sadly, that's what happened to me in during my first go-around with blogging about 2 years ago. I had great intentions, but I hadn't clearly defined my purpose of why I was blogging, it was something new, and I wanted to try it. I still have that blog, which I should really delete, because I never look at it. Instead, I keep this blog on 21st Century Learning going on a fairly regular basis, because I have set out for myself a clearly defined purpose about what I want to say or accomplish. This is largely in part due to my role as an administrator of a virtual high school, that it needs to be on the cutting edge of technology, not for the sake of using Web 2.0 tools just to say we are technologically advanced, but to engage with students about learning. So each week I try to pick a topic that I can write about and encourage my teaching staff about how to use the technology with greater results, or should I say more meaningful results from students. Too often I see technology used simply for the sake of using it because someone else is using it, and not really understanding how to enhance learning. but I'll save that for another blog. Back to the intend audience, little did I know that what I write is reaching a far greater audience than just my eTeachers.

2. Be aware of the potential of expanding your readership.

Recently, I added Statcounter and ClustrMaps to my blog. I did this because a colleague of mine, Sue Hellman, Small Changes, Big Return was telling me about how many people read her blog weekly, which set my mind spinning realizing I have no idea who visits and reads my blog other than I hope my eTeachers take the time to read it. So I set about a mission to figure out how to add a counter of some sort to the blog. I already had a Statcounter account, and realized I could add a javascript code from Statcounter to one of the Blogger gadgets and it records where people are coming from to read my blog. I was shocked, and pleased to say the least. I did the same with ClustrMaps, which is a cool application that shows the location of visitors from around the world, who are stopping by to read something I said. Honestly, I had no idea that this was happening. I did some shameless self promotion by pinging my blogging site so that Google ranked it higher in searches, but it worked. Now that I know I have people reading from all over, the pressure is on to put even more thought into what I say and even broaden the application of what I am saying to include more than just my eTeachers. But just learning these results of how many more people are reading my blog has really opened my eyes to the potential for students to use blogging as a tool to express themselves and give them a voice to be heard by other peers.

3. Embrace the language of blogging.

I think it is very important to know who your audience is. We tell our students, know your audience, who are you writing for, use appropriate language that will be understood by your audience. Why would it be any different with this medium? It isn't! I, by no means, am an expert on blogging, but I am a former English teacher, and I want writing to have feeling. Blogging doesn't have to be stiff, technical writing. It should express ideas that connect with people. So I try to write less formally and maybe a little more casually. I hope that it increases the readability, because I want it to come across more conversationally.

During this past week while reading a number of blogs, I found many that were simply records of weeks and weeks of tweets from Twitter. Brutal to read actually. I think I stayed on the site for 30 seconds and left. Another group of blogs were just delicio.us bookmarks, which honestly was interesting for the first few links, but became boring and cumbersome after awhile. Coming back to my initial point, blogs should say something of value. They should make important contributions to ideas on a wide range of topics, but still say something.

4. Encourage feedback or comments from readers.

In some respect blog writing is different than other writing, because it allows for people to provide instant feedback to what you say. The challenge is to get people to comment. Unfortunately, many people read your blog, but never leave any comments, unless you are terribly controversial and you really ticked them off. That shouldn't be the only way people are motivated to comment on your blog. I've seen a few blogs where they put a bold "Suggestions, Comments" at the end to encourage feedback. Overall, comments after a blog make it more meaningful to the writer and for other readers as well. For students, I think it is important that they are encouraged to provide feedback to one another. I would make that one of the requirements that they respond to one another blogs. Of course, I would want to make sure that each student has control over posting those comments before they are published on their blogsite.

5. Consider the length

Some blogs just go on and on and on... It's really critical to get to the point and say what you need to say and avoid rambling. It's a tough sell to get people to want to read something if it's too long. I don't know if it's just me, but it seems like my attention span is getting shorter and shorter. So if you don't grab my attention in the first few minutes, you lost me. Part of it is length, organization, and the next point the look and feel of a site.

6. Consider the value of incorporating design elements.

I'm a firm believer of the look and feel of a website or blogsite. Sometimes just the look of a site determines whether I stay on the site and look at it for awhile. Presentation is key. I really like a site to be clean and clearly layed out for readers. If it's cluttered and hard to navigate around a site, it's just easier to go somewhere else instead. There are tons of great resources of templates for bloggers to use to create a feel. Here's a few that I use and work for either Blogger.com or Wordpress.com.
  • Our Blogger Templates is great. Beautiful designs and layouts.
  • BTemplates is another great site. Really worth checking out if you want to create an atmosphere that accompanies the blog.
  • Blogger Styles is another great resource of templates to help with your design.
  • Check out Blogger Buzz, a blog I follow that always has super information about blogging.
Now maybe it's just me, or others feel the same way, but I think a few pictures or videos help make a blog page look more appealing. It showcases expression and heightens interest. Maybe it's the artist in me, but pictures, images, artwork, video just add so much to blogs. I say this, because I really think we need to encourage our students to express themselves creatively with artwork and images. it's not only the written words that will grab the reader but visual expressions as well. So helping students with design templates and devising a rubric for layout and content elements is very helpful for students.

Please post your pictorial or video reponse to this blog!

So because of the length of this blog, I'm going to go against my own advice and not post a picture or video, but instead ask you to post a picture or video link that you think might me helpful to express the language of blogging.

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