An obvious tool to use for writing projects is a blog. Blogging software is free, web-based, and very easy to use. You can insert all kinds of stuff into a blog–images, multimedia, podcasts–and customize it according to your purposes. My two most popular blogging software tools are WordPress and blogger.
Blogs are reverse-chronological publications, where you can record your writing and invite comments from a wider audience. Perhaps one of the most powerful aspects of a blog is its public nature–anyone can read your blog and write to you about it. You can develop friendships with people you would have never known and increase your network of acquaintances. But here is the real power of blogs: RSS and tagging.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again until no one at Boise State looks at me and says “what’s an RSS feed?” RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it allows you to tell a web page that has this code embedded in it to send you its most recent information to the place you designate. For instance, you can subscribe to this blog and have the posts automatically “fed” into your newsreader (I use Google Reader.) Or, you can have them go to your email (but I keep pushing using email less and less, so this is not my recommendation.)
Tagging is a way to categorize your postings in a way you see fit. It is often called “folksonomy,” or a collaborative way of classification (from taxonomy). By tagging content, people can find your blog postings through a blog search engine such as Technorati.
You can also use global tags that everyone agrees to in your class, thus finding all of your students’ postings. For instance, if you had your students write to a blog once a week on a subject of their choice, they could tag each post according to their content, but also tag it some pre-determined word, such as “edtech202schroeder.” When you do a search on technorati for “edtech202schroeder,” you would get all of the blog postings your students had done up to that time. And, if you take it a step further, you can actually create a custom feed for these posts and have them all go to your feed reader. (But that’s for another posting.)
Blogs can be used for personal journals, reflections, writing rough drafts, a multi-genre writing project, posting videos and writing about them, podcasting, and class websites. They are pretty versatile, but are limited in their structure (reverse chronological postings).
Once people start writing blogs and really getting into it, it’s habit forming and becomes a real pleasure. And when other people start reading your blog and commenting on it, then it takes on new meaning. It’s all about reading, writing, and connecting with others.