Blogs v. Social Networks

'WordPress' photo (c) 2006, Adriano Gasparri - license: versus
There have have been some interesting conversations on Google+ about the future of blogging. The basic question is will social networks such as Google+ replace traditional blogging as we know it? It seems some in the mainstream tech world claim Google+ and any other similar social networks can replace blogging. Their logic is this, most bloggers used social networks to share links to their blogs to their followers and possibly an extended audience as followers shared those links with their friends. This would hopefully drive traffic to the blogger's website. The reason social networks such as Facebook or Twitter did not function as blogs was because of limits on the number of characters used to write a message or tweet. Go over the limits and things get tricky. URL shorteners such as helped in promoting blog posts on social networks. Now we have Google+, which is still in private beta and new users need an invitation to get in, and the character limitation is now gone. Google also makes it easy to insert links and embed media. Add the fact that a Google+ post can go to select groups or the public, then it can serve all the functions of a blog. Or can it?

One of the curriculum changes I have been wrestling with this summer is should sixth graders setup and write using a traditional blog such as Blogger or Word Press. I have used Blogger, Edublogs, and Kidblog in the past with some but not overwhelming success to suit me. Also, with between 210-240 per semester, it becomes an issue of do I want to have some kind of life outside of school? My wife and son would like to see me once in a while if only for me to give them money or pickup something at the store. Our school network really drags sometimes when attempting to access the sites, causing frustration for me and the students when we go to the site. Finally, whenever I hear about how all students take to technology like ducks to water I roll my eyes. Most students may be tech-savvy but definitely not all. This was a lesson I learned the hard way last year. To make writing online a much easier and more enjoyable experience, I am thinking of using the learning social network for blogging or online writing.

In the past, most teachers would post a question or writing topic in a blog post then let the students write their responses. This is usually done on schools' websites but I found our district's current system is rather had and buggy. I tried it last year and students' replies went all over the place. For example, I would find a response written during second period over in third period. The site also uses a code name system for the purpose of protecting identities. Unless I had the roster of student names and code names, students would be protected from getting a grade because I could not tell who was who. I could change the settings to show the names but why should I do that when I am logged in as the teacher? Fortunately learning social networks, such as Edmodo and Schoology, can allow responses to a teacher's post or let the student post independently. Both have the capability to allow the teacher to have selected students' writings made public that gives students the feeling of sharing with the outside world. Finally, students can insert links and/or embed media easier than on traditional blogs.

An argument can be made about using sites such as Blogger, Edublogs, and Kidblog for online writing and I am not proposing traditional blogging is going away. If I did, you would be reading this in Google+ instead of my website. Actually, my seventh grade students will probably be creating Edublog pages this year. This will give them them some experience with managing blog on the most popular blog engine in the world today. Blogger is out because our district blocks it because of the Next Blog button on each site. However, I have come to believe it is easier for students to write on the learning social network site then move them along as they get more experience. Finally, it will be social networks such as Facebook or possibly Google+ where students will do most of their online writing in their future. Would it not be a good idea to teach them how to share on these sites properly? Then again, laws like the one recently passed in Missouri might put an end to student writing online. Please give me your thoughts about using blogs or social networks for students to write online.