Thursday, September 5, 2013

Beginning Academic Blogging

Blogging is still a very new medium, and my students who have kept blogs have mostly kept personal ones. How does one get up and going with a good academic blog? There are some technical aspects, but the most important thing is developing the habits of digital literacy that accompany the best uses of blogs (rather than going by print-based habits that aren't always in keeping with the online environment).

Technical Basics
We are using the Blogger platform, for which there are ample tutorials and help pages available online. I tell my students that if the interface is new or confusing, first look up some of those aids and then ask help of fellow classmates. The basics for just posting are simple enough. My students are working off of blogs already created to which they've been invited to be an author, so they do not have to create or set up the blog fresh (though tweaking the design is something to take on soon).
  • Get onto Blogger.com 
  • Navigate the dashboard
  • Create a new post: title, body, basic formatting (including adding in links), using the jump break if their post goes beyond one screen, and adding labels to a post.
  • Add an image to a post
Post Length
While Google+ posts should be very short (more quick updates than developed thoughts), blog posts should be longer (a rule of thumb: 100-400 words to start with). Of course, that length is less than two typed pages, double-spaced. It's relative. A good rule of thumb to go by is not to go beyond a screen, or else to front-end what you are saying, since it is a small percentage of those who browse blogs to read past the first screen. (Note that I am violating that rule of thumb right now. There are occasions that justify longer posts, especially as you get into drafting a paper or developing a project. When you do longer post, just be sure that you use the important jump break feature, as I am doing right here before giving further instruction on blogging:

Be Informal and Personal
Online writing is more casual than formal academic writing. It is also more personal. It's vital that you show some color, give some detail about your interests and personality so that people will connect with you. This enhances your ethos (the credibility of your character) as you write.

Read to Write Publicly
Blogging should change the way you read by getting you to look for things that you can share very briefly (Google+) or in a more developed way (via blogging). As you read assigned texts, take notes and look for something to remark on in a post. 

Read Blog Posts; Don't Just Write Them
Do not make the mistake of "monoblogging" (the digital equivalent of talking without listening). It will be very tempting for you to treat the blog as a digital dropbox where you turn in a response as though this were on paper, directed only to the teacher, and had no social component to it at all. Avoid this problem by planning time in your blogging for reading the current conversations. Some of the best blog posts come as more developed responses to others' posts. And if your own analysis can refer/link to others' posts, all the better.

When I say read the current conversations, I mean 1) look at what your instructors are saying here on Moby Digital; 2) read all the posts from the two or three other students on your assigned student blog; 3) sample posts from the other student blogs in our class; 4) find and read other content (print, digital, blogs or other media) on the topics you are exploring or researching. A well-read blogger is a more interesting and influential blogger.

Be Creative
Vary your posts and watch how others are clever with post design, or the use of media. Go ahead and find and use images, or supply your own -- or music, or video, or animations. Just make sure that part of things doesn't take over, and that you respect copyright (Try to use Creative Commons licensed content by others, which only requires attribution, not permission). Want to do a video post instead of a written one? Go for it. Want to make a whale-shaped piƱata, dress up as a pirate, and whack it with your wooden leg? Go right ahead. Creative doesn't have to mean silly, of course.

Be Thoughtful
That means behave yourself, but it also means to be reflective, to think and to synthesize (rather than merely quoting the latest meme or making light observations about popular culture). The best blog posts, by the way, are not simply the expression of a reaction or an opinion. They show that someone has done some work thinking, connecting, evaluating, and often making claims about things. Good blog posts have substance to them and some life to them -- encouraging good conversation. So, try to go beyond saying "Yeah, privacy is a big problem in the digital age" or "Whoa! That Queequeg is creepy!").

Advertise Your Posts
Blogger is set up automatically to prompt you, during the posting process, to send a link to your blog post to Google+. You should do that routinely, and be sure that you share to the general public and not just to fellow class members. You won't get interest and feedback that need in order to refine your ideas unless you get these circling among relevant and available audiences.


Several other suggestions for getting going blogging can be found in my "Ten Tips for Academic Blogging"

Image credit: Creative Commons Licensed by Mrs. Gemstone (Flickr)