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An Education Writer/Blogger Goes to School

March 23, 2012

I am thrilled to be participating in Words Awake: A Celebration of Wake Forest Writers and Writing, taking place today through Sunday. Part of the event includes visits to local schools and I was asked to speak with students at the Paisley IB Magnet School. I worked with their teacher, Mr. Marvelli, via Skype and email to craft a plan for what I should say. As my own editor at OnlineCollege.org put it, “good luck explaining what you do for a living.” What emerged was a series of questions about what I do and how I do it, and I thought a blog post might be a good place to start.

So, here are the questions and my thoughts (although I think I could write a full post about each one). Please take a look and help me provide additional feedback to these middle and high school students who are interested in writing. And wish me luck today!

What is your writing process?

Each week I post 3 to 5 articles at the Inside Online Learning blog, and each one starts with a “pitch” that my editor approves. I start with each pitch as a proposal for a post – defining the audience and topic, how I plan to approach it, and something about why I think it is an important topic – and expand on it.

The structure and flow of the post are important – conversational in nature, readable, engaging (hopefully), encouraging, and authoritative. I’ve usually done some preparation for the post already by reading about the topic (see below) and bookmarking (via Diigo) resources I want to go back and reference.

After I complete a draft, it goes to my editor for review. I make modifications and finalize, select an image to go with the post, and then add it all to the blog site (powered by WordPress). After I upload the post, but before I publish it, there is some tweaking after I proofread one more time on screen, and often read it out loud.

Where do the ideas come from?

They are all around! Once you put your antenna up, you begin to find them in items you read, watch, and listen to, and in lots of conversations with friends and colleagues along the way. There are five categories that organize my thoughts and writing ideas – resources for online instructors, resources for online students, current trends in online education, career advising, and educational advising/student expectations. My professional experience in higher education student services, as an online instructor, and as an instructional designer all inform my writing.

I was given the advice early on to spend as much time reading as I do writing. This can be tough to do, but helps me stay up-to-date on the topics I write about and is my primary source of new ideas for posts. I subscribe to lots of other blogs (via Feedly), news sites (via Twitter and Google+), and listervs. Browsing through these sources is a daily task.

What is the place of blogging in the U.S. and the World? What role do blogs play?

Anyone with Internet access and a blog account can write for a global audience. That is amazing and challenging at the same time. Blogs are platforms that can be used by an individual, or group of individuals, to amplify a voice or an idea. They can be used for business, to market a service or product. Bloggers can build communities around what they write, made up of participants with similar views, interests, questions, etc.  The ability for a reader to leave a comment on a post takes reading and writing to another level – you aren’t just reading, you can interact with the writer by leaving a comment. And the blogger is aware of this when writing the post.

Blogs can also be more private and personal, written only for you or for just a few friends. It’s not journalism. It’s not necessarily objective. It’s the bloggers perspective on the topic. In short, a blog can be whatever you, the blogger, want it to be.

There are currently millions (billions?) of blogs online and the variety of topics, purposes, and writing is as diverse as the population.  Technorati provides an annual State of the Blogosphere report and in the 2011 edition   identified five different kinds of bloggers: 1) hobbyists (61%), 2 -3) Professional Part-time and Full-time (%18%), 4) Corporate (%8), and 5) Entrepreneurs (13%).

How are blogs used in education?

Blogs are growing in use by educators and students. Academics are getting more involved in disseminating their research this way, in addition to more traditional publications, and schools are using blog platforms for school papers (like the Paisley Paw Prints!) and to build communities with parents and teachers. Students, particularly those in online courses, often find blogs as requirements in their courses for posting written assignments, peer review and feedback exercises, reflective journaling activities, and to create digital learning portfolios with artifacts that demonstrate what they have achieved in their courses.

Just as in non-educational settings, blogs can be used to build communities in education – communities of learners who communicate online through their writing and comments. And it’s happening at all levels, not just in college courses. Take a look at EduBlogs.org: With over 1 million blogs and counting, this community is specifically for educators and students. EduBlogs.org also sponsors annual awards (2011 Winners here) in which voting is open to the public.

Blogging platforms are easy to use, making a new blog quick to set-up and ready for use. They also allow for not only text-based content, but also the addition of multimedia, polling, and other communication tools. Blogging in education engages students and teachers with the course content and learning activities, with the technology required to establish and maintain blog sites, and with each other and potentially a larger audience as they make their blogs available on the Internet. Getting involved with blogs and a reader and/or writer also develops digital, information, and media literacy, as each source must be assessed for currency and accuracy.

The Discussion Continues

Paisley students, if you are reading, what other questions do you have? Ask here and I’ll answer, and hopefully others will as well. (You can also reach me via email: mvenable @ design-doc .com or through Twitter: @Melissa_Venable.) Do you have a blog? If so, tell us more about it – why do you blog and what do you like to write about?

I’m looking forward to continuing the discussion, especially about blogging and education. And as I continue to participate in the Words Awake event, as a blogger amid a host of other kinds of writers, I’ll be taking more notes about the purpose of blogs, blog writing, and how it all fits in with the rest.

Image credit: Search Engine People Blog, Flickr, CC-BY

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Andrea permalink
    May 8, 2012 12:43 pm

    Thanks for your marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it, you’re a great author.I will make sure to bookmark your blog and will eventually come back later in life. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great posts, have a nice day!

  2. May 25, 2012 11:58 am

    I Will have to come back again whenever my course load lets up – nevertheless I am taking your Rss feed so i could go through your blog offline. Cheers.

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