What makes blogging unique is that it is not dependent upon any external market-driven forces for its survival. You are the custodian of your own ideas and how you choose to promote your ideas will ultimately determine the success of your blog. This is no small thing. For example, if you use Twitter for CPD you will no doubt have stumbled across some doom-mongers who have predicted the demise of the company on more than one occasion. Were that to happen all of your ideas, advice and learning could potentially be lost with it. But educators are a unique online tribe. They are wholly unconcerned with all of the silliness associated with the mainstream usage of Twitter. Educators have created personal learning networks (PLN) and an astonishing number of chats within the Twitter framework. Every day new global connections are made between educators which have real impacts on teaching and learning in classrooms worldwide. While the company may struggle on the macro level, on the micro level the education scene is flourishing. But regardless of this, educators are beholden to the fortunes of the macro and as goes the mainstream on Twitter so goes its educators. It is then useful to think of blogging as your gold reserve, a way to keep your ideas, learning and general online dealings safe.
Here are my top 5 tips for blogging in education.
1. Choose a Platform
Blogger is a simple-to-use platform owned by Google since 2003. The site offers a minimalist appearance and options but offers several customisable templates so that you can personalise the look and usability of your blog. The site is free to use and you simply sign in using your existing Google account. With this free option you can start a blog with only a partially-custom domain name (e.g. eoinlenihan.blogspot.com) This is a good option for someone who is focused on a free, low-tech introduction to blogging. Even with this option, were they to discontinue Blogger – and there is no reason or indication to suggest that they will – your information is still safe and you have the option of migrating all of your work to another provider or a personal domain. Blogger also provides you with the option of using your own custom domain (e.g. eoinlenihan.com). Using a custom domain means that you are in full ownership of your material and even if Blogger is discontinued your work remains online. Because Blogger is operated by Google and is linked to your Google account you can rely on the same safety and reliability as you would expect of your e-mail account.
For a good example of how to use Blogger in education, see “The Principal’s Page” by Beth Houf.
Below is a brief step-by-step video tutorial introduction to getting started with Blogger.
What makes WordPress an attractive option is that it is a dedicated blogging platform. Its templates (of which there are a great many more than Blogger) are designed to give your past blogs maximum exposure. For example, you can choose to lay out your posts in a grid formation for easy access to past posts. Also, it is easy to tag posts which allows you to neatly categorise and file them for your readers. Another useful feature is the site’s sharing option. You can quickly and easily configure your blog to link with all of your social media accounts so that once you publish a new blog, it is automatically shared with each platform and saves you significant time in manually promoting it.
If you decide that you would like to make blogging the heart of your website then WordPress is your best option. When you sign up you can choose a free account or with curation in mind, you can purchase an upgrade account which allows you add a custom domain name which guarantees the safety of your work.
For a good example of how to use WordPress in education, see @ShiftParadigm by Mark Weston.
Below is a brief step-by-step video that looks at how to get started with WordPress including advanced tips on how to purchase a domain name, edit your blog settings, add pages and widgets.
Weebly is what I use to host my blog. I chose Weebly because of its simple drag-and-drop premise. I had no coding experience and I was daunted by the idea of managing my own website. Weebly made all of that simple. Further, when I started blogging in November 2014 I knew that I wanted a platform that I could also use as a place to give student work a platform, to create and embed videos quickly and easily and perhaps, in the future, add a store page too. At that time Weebly seemed a more complete website builder than WordPress and while that is now not the case as WordPress has shaken off its initial tag as a blog builder and become recognised as a website builder in its own right, I am still happy with my decision to go for Weebly because of its simplicity. I am an educator seeking to have his voice heard, not an IT expert. The content, not the platform was and is my primary concern. For a good comparison of Weebly and Wordpress click here.
Below is a good step-by-step introduction to getting started with Weebly.
2. Just do It
My mantra to this day is publish and be damned, not because what I write is controversial and I expect a backlash but because I am prepared with each post to be criticised or to be wrong. No post you put out will ever be perfect. No post will reflect your thinking in 10 or 15 years time. No post will be 100% grammatically perfect. Each one is simply a snapshot of where you stand on an issue or practice of importance in education at this moment. And to this point I have been overwhelmed by how positive the education community has been. The majority of my posts are designed to inform other educators about practices or programmes that I feel could be useful in the classroom but I also speak about education policy and reform from time to time. In these cases I have not once encountered a single person who was anything other than constructive and engaging when and if they differed in opinion.
My advice is if you have a desire to write, even if you are not sure how many blogs you have in you or how confident you are of your writing, just do it. My experience with blogging, now 48 posts in, is that doubt quickly shifts to confidence and the opinions you once thought presumptuous may later prove useful to others. So even if your first blog post is just to introduce yourself to the blogosphere and say hi, that is better than not writing and leaving all those ideas bottled up inside of you, or worse, go forgotten.
3. What is your Purpose?
When I started blogging I felt that I had a great deal of specialist knowledge that I wanted to share, in particular on learning spaces and international education. My first thought about audience was when I realised that writing in English about the German education system did not have a large appeal – it was too niche for English speakers and it locked out many German speakers. I was happy to be writing but I wanted more engagement and so I began to think more about what educators wanted. Twitter helped me to understand the needs of educators on a deeper level. By engaging in Twitter chats I could easily identify universal areas of concern for educators and write posts where I though I could add something helpful to the conversation. This way I was able to get more engagement by writing relevant content for a larger audience and mixing this with areas of niche interest for me. So you could say my blog is (hopefully) both a form of CPD for me and a showcase for my personal interests.
Weebly provides detailed statistics on the breakdown of your posts. You can quickly and easily find the number of views each post has and from there you can make informed decisions about your content. Because my vision for my blog was never linked to clicks I use this information not to drive my narrative but to identify areas where I can provide useful information to readers. These statistics are also fun. For example, though at the time of writing I thought it would have limited appeal, this post on Twitter for Educators has proved to be my most enduringly popular post. It has been used around the world in CPD sessions in schools and I still get Direct Messages on Twitter commenting on it. I have recently found that readers like Top 10 lists. They are easy to jump in and out of and so are not time-consuming.
Statistics are interesting but it is the comments beneath the blogs and more so the feedback on Twitter that has most influenced how my relationship with the audience has shifted. While my blog began in a more procedural and introvert tone I have opened up more to the audience as I have grown in confidence. This post in which I reflect on a lesson that went poorly sparked a great discussion on Twitter and resulted in a huge amount of support from teachers who were feeling similar pressure and going through similar reflective processes in private. I wrote the post on the train home from work because I was so frustrated with how the class went. Before blogging I would not have had a useful outlet for this disappointment. As a new blogger I would never have considered putting that disappointment on view for the world to see. But blogging changes you.
Twitter also allows you to tag up to 10 individual accounts to a picture and this is a great way of sending your blog directly to people you think will be interested in it. If you use this method be careful to only link people you genuinely feel will be interested or people you know well. Some feel put on the spot to comment, like or share your post when directly tagged and that is not always fair.
In the statistics feature of your chosen platform you will be able to distinguish not only which posts were most popular but also which social media platform provided most interaction. This allows you to consider your promotional strategies to maximise interaction.
5. Images and Copyright
Once you have secured an image you can manipulate it to create an eye-catching promotional image for your blog by using Canva, Easel-ly, Piktochart or some such similar infographic creation programme. These programmes provide templates to suit all social media formats so if you like to promote your blog on Twitter you can create an image that will automatically fit exactly to the size of the image requirement of Twitter so that all of your image is seen by your PLN and increases the likelihood that it will be viewed.
If you do decide to start blogging I wish you the best of luck. The truth is blogging has changed my practice immensely.