by Joe Moxley and Terry Beavers
Technology is redefining literacy; consequently, we also need to reevaluate how software tools can be used to facilitate writing, communication, and collaboration. We stand at an exciting time in human history, when our modes of expression are being radically transformed. E-mail, word processors, instant messengers, imaging software, wikis, blogs, these tools are all altering how we teach, and how we research, write, collaborate, publish, and archive information.
Today’s writers are challenging the authority of the printed page with one-inch margins. Popular tools such as AOL Instant Messenger are creating a genre of writing that more closely resembles talk rather than writing. The linear organization of the traditional page is being replaced with a hypertextual structure: one that em-beds images, videos, and various interactive features, such as places where writers can post their ideas and opinions or suggest changes to the writing. As our standards of literacy evolve, we must reimagine our teaching. Below is a brief discussion about a new writing genre: blogs.
The term “blog” is shorthand for “Weblog” or Web Log, typically an on-line, serial journal in which people write about their thoughts and lives. Rebecca Blood, author of The Weblog Handbook, traces this term back to 1997 when Jorn Barger began keeping a list of “other sites like his” (Weblog History, http://www.rebeccablood.net/
essays/weblog_history.html), a list
that was subsequently published in Camworld (http://www.camworld.com).
While blogs may have been scarce in the late 1990s, blogs are now extremely common, representing a growing and evolving new genre of communication. In fact, by March of 2002, there were approximately 1 million blogs published on the Internet. Over the years, as writers have experimented with the genre, and as software developers have created new software to publish and archive Web logs, the genre of blogs has evolved. Interestingly, blogging has morphed into two related genres, photoblogs, which typically include photographs with commentary, and videoblogs, which synthesize video with commentary.
While the genre of blogs remains in a state of flux, we can say, in general, that all blogs share the following characteristics:
As blogging software becomes more sophisticated, blogs are correspondingly changing and becoming more complex. Most blogs are monological, i.e., they reflect one person’s thoughts and emotions. However, some blogs now adopt more of an interactive, dialogical approach. Some pages, for example, encourage readers to post their two cents about an author’s blog. Additionally, blogging software now often allows readers to insert their comments inside the actual blog stream. In this way, blogs may function like discussion forums, fostering public discourse. Not all bloggers emote about personal events nor use the first-person, though. Some businesses use blogs so that employees can communicate with one another.
Bloggers enjoy linking to and describing other blogs, Web sites, and Wikis. In this way, according to some popular culture pundits, blogs challenge traditional mass media. If people are getting their information and their analysis from other people’s sites, then they don’t need an editor from the New York Times or Wall Street Journal to update them on events or tell them what to think about a subject. One outstanding example of this approach is the popular SlashDot Web site (http://www.slashdot.com). Popular blogs (as measured, perhaps, by the number of readers that frequent them each day) tend to be updated daily. In addition to writing their weekly columns, some journalists are using blogs to build stronger relationships with their readers and for extending their thoughts on timely issues.
In the classroom, instructors can use blogs to support daily writing practices and activities. These can in turn improve the quality of students’ writing, helping them harness the generative power of writing. Blogs can also facilitate student learning, as students discuss readings and synthesize research. For examples of the author’s blogs used in classroom settings, see http://teaching.etdguide.com/facto/archives.asp.
“The Art of Blogging — Part I”
by George Siemens (http://www. elearnspace.org/Articles/blogging_ part_1.htm) Siemen offers an excellent introduction to blogging, covering important highlights of blogging’s history, sketching out a variety of uses and benefits of blogging, and informing viewers where they can go to begin blogging.
Looking for a good place to blog? Blogger (http://www.blogger.com) is a megasite for blogs. The site includes a newsletter about blogger posts and enables users to create their own blogs.
There are quite a few commercial weblog packages available. Among the favorites are RadioLand (http://www. radioland.com) and MoveableType (http://moveabletype.org). As noted below, FrontPage 2003 will include a Weblog template.
Roll Your Own
There are many blog tools available today for just about any environment: php, python, asp, asp.net, perl, etc. Use any good search engine to find one to your liking. We have used many and each has its own quirks, both positive and negative. One resource coming soon that will make blogs even more ubiquitous is the combination of Windows Server 2003 with the program FrontPage 2003. This configuration comes with a simple built-in Weblog template that will allow untold thousands of new office and lab bloggers to maintain a personal web presence.
Try It Out!
The authors invite you to play around with blogging by either setting up your own blog at Blogger or by adding a few entries at the blog
on CollegeWriting.net at http://collegewriting.net/webwiz/journal/user_menu.asp. To blog, simply log in by using “harmony” as both the user id and password and start writing.