2006 IEEE Education Society's Distinguished Lecture Series
Prof. Burks Oakley II
University of Illinois
January 2006

Presentation One - “The What, Why and How of Blogs and Blogging.”

Slide 1:

Well, welcome back!  This is Burks Oakley speaking to you from my office at the University of Illinois in Urbana, IL, USA.  I’m pleased to be with you today as part of the first 2006 IEEE Education Society’s Distinguished Lecture Series.  This is the first presentation I’ll be giving as part of this series.  It is entitled, “The What, Why and How of Blogs and Blogging.”

Slide 2:

For the last few years, blogs have been quite the rage.  In fact, just over a year ago, the word “blog” was chosen as the 2004 Word of the Year by Merriam Webster, one of the major U.S. dictionary publishers.  Given the prominence of this word, I think that it is important that we all understand what blogs are all about, and how we might apply them in our teaching and scholarship.

Slide 3:

On this third slide, we see the definition of “Blog” and “Blogging.”  This definition is taken from the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, which I’ll be saying more about in my fourth presentation on Wikis.  You can certainly read the definitions here, but basically a blog is a website for which an individual generates content, including text, digital photos, digital video, and so on, on a fairly regular basis.  The term blog is really shortened from the two words: “web” and “log” – a web log, or blog, for short.  Authoring a blog or maintaining and adding content to the blog is called “blogging,” and the individual articles are then called a “blog post” or a “posting,” and the person who posts them is called a “blogger.”

Slide 4:

Blogs are actually very simple.  In the most basic terms, blogs are nothing more than web pages.  Blogs are usually read in reverse chronological order; that is when you open a blog, you see the most recent postings first, and you have to go back through the blog to get to earlier postings.  Blogs are incredibly popular.  Technorati is a company that tracks the number of blogs and the number of daily blog postings, and Technorati actually claims that a new blog is created once every second.  Part of the popularity of blogs is that they are so simple to create and to manage.  The software necessary to create a blog, to update the blog - that is, to add a new blog posting, is very, very simple to use.  And one of the nicest things, certainly, is that many companies now provide free software to create a blog and in fact, free web hosting for the published blog.

Slide 5:

Different media can be used in blogs.  But typically blogs are text-based.  However, there are indeed photo blogs, audio blogs – well, audio blogs are really for podcasting, and we will be talking about that in the third presentation in this series, and then there are video blogs, video-on-demand webcasting or vodcasting, as it is now called.  But again, the typical blog you will encounter is largely text-based.

Slide 6:

As I said, it’s very simple to create a blog.   As an author of a blog, as the blogger, you can actually, and I encourage you to do this, actually create a free account at the Blogger.com web site.  Blogger.com is actually a company that is owned by Google.  Go to the Blogger.com website and create your free account, and you’ll see something like the screenshot shown on this slide – which is what I see when I log on to my account at Blogger.com.  You’ll notice that I have a number of different blogs, Burks’ Selections, Burks on Learning, and one for the online class that I teach at the University of Illinois at Springfield, PAC442 Section B.  And you can see the big red arrow pointing at the plus sign – if I want to make a new post on that blog; I simply click on that plus sign and open up a web-based form.  This form allows me very easily to enter the text that I want to appear on my blog.

Slide 7:

As I said, it’s really very simple to create a blog posting.  When I login to my account in Blogger, it gives me a very nice web-based form where I can put in a title and where I can enter the text of my blog posting.  I get to use a very nice WYSIWYG editor, which stands for “what you see is what you get” – I can include bold, italics, different color fonts, and so on.   I can include hyperlinks in the text.   When I have the posting just the way I want it, I then simply click on a button marked “publish” – which you don’t see here – which then publishes my blog onto the web.

Slide 8:

Blogger.com provides a companion web site at Blogspot.com.  So when I publish my blog, the published blog then appears on the Blogspot.com website.  And as I mentioned, all of this is free.  I can create a free account in Blogger.com, create a single blog or a number of blogs using the web-based interface on the Blogger.com website, and then I can then publish the blog, and when I do, it’s published to Blogspot.com.  This is just one of many software packages that are provided on the web for publishing blogs, and like this, many of them are free.

Slide 9:

Continuing on then, when I publish my Burks on Learning blog on the Blogspot.com website, it’s at http://burkso2.blogspot.com/ .  At this point, I should mention that all the hyperlinks in these Impatica presentations are in fact active hyperlinks.  You can stop the presentation at anytime, click on a link, and go visit that website, and come back to the spot and continue on in the presentation.  This will work on any of the Impatica presentations on any slide.  I’ll also say that if you want, you can go check my blog on a regular basis and see if there’s a new posting there, but as we’ll be seeing in the next presentation – in presentation two – you can also subscribe to what is called an RSS feed for my blog, using an RSS feed aggregator, and if you do that, the RSS feed happens to be at the URL shown in this slide:  http://feeds.feedburner.com/b2onlearning.

Slide 10:

I guess now is a good time to stop and pause and think if it’s so easy to create one of these blogs, and so easy to publish it, and it’s so easy to have people go on the web and view your blog, why would you want to blog in the first place?  Since most blogs are text-based, blogging is good writing practice.  Since bloggers are expressing themselves on a number of topics on a regular basis, blogging is certainly a very creative outlet.  You can express yourself on any number of issues, ranging from politics, to your own garden, to your thoughts about your research, and of course, students can do this as well.  Students can blog and discuss their own creative ideas, and react to what other bloggers are writing – as I said, it’s certainly good writing practice.  Writing helps galvanize ideas and perspectives for future action.  It helps the writer put together ideas, knowledge, and principles.  Bloggers can contribute to a larger group of people who are blogging, and I’ll say some more about this in another slide.  You can connect with so many others around the world.  I’m always reading an individual’s blog who is at the University of Western Australia, and he’s reading mine.  We are each teaching each other.  And by viewing personal information about a blogger, it helps me understand more about this person as an individual.  Finally, I can go back and look at my thoughts from 6 months ago, what I was putting in my blog, and see how my thoughts have changed over time.  Again – blogging is a very powerful medium for self-expression.

Slide 11:

Earlier in this presentation, I mentioned a company called Technorati.  Technorati actually carefully tracks the number of blogs.  Again, I mention that Technorati says that one new blog is created every second.  They also are tracking the number of blog postings, and in this slide we see the number of posts per day, showing a nice linear increase in the average number, and since many bloggers are blogging about current events, you can see on this slide when certain world-wide events came along – we saw a spike in the number of blog postings on these days.  Again, many bloggers, the people who maintain blogs, are discussing current events in their blog postings, but certainly that is not the only purpose for having web-logs or blogs.

Slide 12:

Another piece of terminology that you should understand is the term “blogosphere.”  And the Wikipedia definition of blogosphere is listed here:  “The collective term encompassing all blogs as a community or social network.  Many weblogs are densely interconnected.  Bloggers read each other’s blogs, link to them, reference them in their own writing, and post comments on each other’s blogs.  Because of this, the interconnected blogs have grown their own culture.”  And this is very true if you look at Technorati, you can actually search through blogs and see what people are posting about.  You can search through keywords and find the keywords that are used most often on a minute-by-minute basis to really get a good sense on what the blogosphere is discussing at any point in time.

Slide 13:

On this 13th slide in this presentation, I’ve included links to what I think are interesting blogs.  And again, you can pause this presentation and go click on any of these links to look at these blogs right now.  My colleague, Prof. Ray Schroeder at the University of Illinois’ Springfield campus, maintains the first three blogs:  Online Learning Update, Techno-News Update, and his photo blog called Reflections.  The next blog is my Burks on Learning blog which is really an audio blog, where I have my podcasts, and we’ll be looking at that blog in more detail in the third presentation in this Distinguished Lecture series.  The next blog is maintained by my colleague, Prof. Lanny Arvan, who is the Assistant CIO at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  In Lanny’s blog, he discusses learning technology in a very thoughtful way.  The Chronicle of Higher Education maintains a blog called The Chronicle Wired Campus with a number of postings that are relevant to educational technologies in higher education.  Tama Leaver, who is an instructor at the University of Western Australia in Perth, maintains an e-learning blog with fascinating insight into the use of technology in learning, largely in the humanities and social sciences, but with real applications to other fields of education, as well.  And then the last blog is one that Technorati claims to be the most popular blog in the world, and it’s called Boing-Boing.  Boing Boing is a self-described “directory of wonderful things.”  Common themes in this blog include technology, futurism, science fiction, Disney, intellectual property, and even political issues.  I hope that you find something interesting in one or more of these blogs.

Slide 14:

Here we see a screen shot from Ray Schroeder’s photoblog called “Reflections, Prairie and Nature Photography.”  Ray likes to go on bike rides in rural central Illinois in the United States, and this is one of his favorite bike paths going through the prairie of central Illinois.  And he finds that maintaining this photo blog a very good expressive outlet for his creativity, not only the photographs that he’s taken, but also being able to share them with a world-wide audience in a photoblog.

Slide 15:

You may be asking how you can find blogs on certain topics, on a set of topics that interest you, and in fact, I’ve listed 4 very good search engines on this slide.  As you might expect, Google and Yahoo! both have search engines that only search blogs, and then Technorati, one of the most popular blog search engines.  Technorati actually updates their searches on a minute-by-minute basis.  And the last search engine then is Bloglines.  There are a number of other search engines that search blogs.  These are just 4 that I use on a regular basis.

Slide 16:

In thinking about blogs and the use of blogs in higher education, I think that there’s a really good reference that has been published by EDUCAUSE.  They have a whole series of publications called “Seven Things You Should Know about, dot, dot, dot.”   And in this case “Seven Things You Should Know about …Blogs.”  The seven things are: what is it?, who is doing it?, how does it work?, why is it significant?, what are the downsides?, where is it going?, and finally, what are the implications for teaching and learning?   This is just a two page PDF document, and I suggest that you download it and read it at your convenience.

Slide 17:

I would like to quote from the EDUCAUSE document, “Blogs are an increasingly accepted instructional technology tool.  Blogs can be used for reflection about classes, careers, or current events; they can also capture and disseminate student- and faculty-generated content.”

“Blogs offer students, faculty, staff and others a high level of autonomy while creating a new opportunity for interaction with peers.  Blogs provide a forum for discussion that goes beyond coursework to include culture, politics, and other areas of personal exploration.  Students often learn as much from each other as from instructors or textbooks, and blogs offer another mechanism for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and acquisition.”

So this suggests to me that we should be asking our students to become bloggers as part of their college learning experience.

Slide 18:

In finishing up this first presentation on blogs, I have an optional assignment for you, which is to create your own blog.  You can go to Blogger.com and create a free account.  Within that account, then, you can create a blog.  You’ll be giving it a name, and I’ll refer to it by it’s place keeper [MyBlogName].  You can then compose your first blog posting and publish it – if you accept all the defaults, you’ll be publishing it at Blogspot.com.  And the URL will be http://[MyBlogName].blogspot.com.  Whatever you chose for your blog name will get inserted in place of [MyBlogName] there at blogspot.com.  And then, of course, let all your friends, colleagues and family know the URL and let them know you are now an official blogger.

Slide 19:

This concludes the first presentation, “The What, Why and How of Blogs and Blogging.”  If you have any questions, please send them directly to Rob Reilly.  Rob is hosting this Distinguished Lecture Series for the IEEE Education Society.  Rob’s email address is reilly@media.mit.edu.  And, of course, you can find out more about me at my homepage, http://www.online.uillinois.edu/oakley/ or, of course, feel free to contact me by email at oakley@uillinois.edu.  This concludes the first presentation.