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by David Warlick

During much of 2004, I included in many of my conference presentations, brief explanations and demonstrations of blogging technology, or web logs. Teachers grasped the concept easily. After all, as a technology, blogging is pretty simple. But the potential of a writing environment with peer review and authentic assessment explicitly designed into it, drew a lot of attention and lots of questions. The number one barrier was that student posts immediately became public, with almost no oversight by the teacher.

With no alternatives available and my 2004 December weeks without extensive travel, I set out to build a blogging service that offered teachers a comfortable level of control over their classroom blogging content. By the end of January, educators, predominantly from outside the U.S., began knocking on the digital door of Class Blogmeister. They wanted school pass-codes so that they could set up classroom web logs, and set their students blogging.

Almost immediately, I began to receive e-mails from teachers saying things like, “I can’t believe that my students are begging me to let them write.” Just yesterday, I received a message from a teacher from the Outer Banks including some quotes from her students – “This is so cool!” and “I don’t want class to end!”

It is not an uncommon occurrence, to have students become so motivated in classrooms that infuse technology. But I suspect that the excitement expressed by student bloggers has less to do with “technology” and much more to do with something far more fundamental.

Writing is often taught as a technology – a tool that we invented to enable us to communicate across time and space. We teach it as a set of rules and procedures to be followed precisely, as students are given contrived prompts and formulas to write to. The difference that students see in blogging is that it is much less about writing as a set of rules, and much more about communicating.

Students are not merely writing what the believe their teachers want to read – what some students refer to as “playing school”. Instead, they are writing to a real audience, understanding that the audience will be responding to what they have to say. Students are in control, and empowered to influence other people through the skilfulness of their writing.

This is a deliciously potent lever, with which to help students develop better writing skills. Rather than a task to be performed, students are communicating.

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