Vol. 6. No. 2 INT September 2002
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Mad Blogs and Englishmen

Jim Duber
duber dot com

In Bengal to move at all
Is seldom, if ever, done,
But mad dogs and Englishmen
Go out in the midday sun.

Noel Coward (1899-1973), British playwright, actor, composer.
Mad Dogs and Englishmen (song) (1930), published in Collected Sketches and Lyrics (1931).

A short form of "weblog", blogs seem to be appearing nearly everywhere on the Internet. The sudden popularity of these web-based diaries or personal journals may be a little hard to understand at first, but upon closer inspection, their ubiquity should not be surprising at all. They are, after all, exceptionally easy to use and there are many no-cost hosting services available. Although yet to be embraced by the online TESL/TEFL community, I believe they deserve serious consideration by instructors as course supplements and as textbook supplements by authors and publishers.

Description and Background

In the introduction to we've got blog (John Rodzvilla editor, 2002, Perseus Publishing), Rebecca Blood aptly describes blogs:

"They are a training ground for writers--and there is fine writing being produced daily on hundreds of sites. They are platforms of intelligent reaction to current events...They are desktop broadcasting...for the Web."

You can read a concise history on the phenomenon in one of Blood's online essays: weblogs: a history and perspective. (NOTE: This and all subsequent external links in this article will open in a new browser window for your convenience.)

There are now many different software tools, called "bloggers" with a wide selection of features for writers. Many of these bloggers are free and they make it very easy to publish and maintain a professionally designed online journal. Some present collections of personal notes, others choose to allow collaborative entries and/or comments. Archives are automatically created and linked appropriately. Although it helps, you don't need to know any HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language, the basic code that controls how information is displayed on a web page). And, perhaps best of all, you don't need to bother with FTP (File Transfer Protocol) in order to upload files to a web server. Basically, all you need is access to the World Wide Web to create and edit blog entries--type in some text, press 'Publish'. Anyone can do it.

Basic Usage

To find out for myself, I recently registered for a free account with Blogger. The registration process took under 2 minutes. I had to fill out a form, divided among four pages, which asked me to: (1) enter my name and email address; (2) provide a title and optional short description of my blog, while choosing to make it public or private in the Blogger Directory listings (I also opted to take advantage of the free-hosting solution for now. I could have paid $15 per year to have the hosting service's advertisements not appear); (3) enter an address of my choice for the blog's URL; and (4) choose a template design.

Only 20 minutes later I had published my first couple of blog entries, changed and customized the template design, and successfully invited a colleague to collaborate on the site--all within the easy-to-use editing interface provided by the Blogger system. You can read more about the details of these first entries in my Test Blog for TESL-EJ Column. With that, I was convinced--anyone can master the basics of blogging in no time. It's as easy as typing an email in a browser-based mail program, but instead of pressing the "Send" button, you press the "Publish" button.

Educational Applications

Jeffrey Hill is the "owner" of the EnglishBlog, a blog which presents annotated links to websites of interest in the TESL/TEFL field. I asked him why he decided to use a blog to present this information. He replied:

Because it's much easier to update the information. You just 'blog' whatever site you happen to be visiting and it appears on your weblog immediately. I've got another website (www.englishnetlinks.com) which presents links in categories but they are not annotated (don't have the time!) so it seemed a good idea to use a blog to highlight the best sites I came across.

Ian Ross, an EFL instructor currently in Korea, maintains a blog called the Kyungnam to Kyunggi Journal. I asked him about it via email and he replied:

...I think everybody who goes on extended travels thinks about keeping a journal at one point or another. I started one when I first got here, with pen and paper (I didn't have a TV for 4 months and didn't have home internet for... ages). I'm terrible at keeping those up too. It lasted for about 4 entries and then I threw it into a closet. A friend of mine ran a blog however and I checked it regularly. I decided that Blogger would give me both a cheap (free) way to keep an online presence, as well as offering me a simple interface by which I could be encouraged to post regular updates to a potential travel log...

SchoolBlog is a free blogging package and community with the primary aim of providing a forum for children to publish and interact with others over the web. A page entitled "What are SchoolBlogs?" includes the following explanation:

SchoolBlogs are also a great collaborative tool. Working projects between schools across the globe can be provided with an online platform in a matter of seconds. SchoolBlogs can also produce discussion and information flows within an individual educational establishment, that are far more dynamic and effective than a traditional 'intranet'. Teachers and students are motivated to share information because they have ownership of it.

An obvious use of blogs, some instructors use them to post daily lesson plans (note: this link points to a discontinued blog--however, as a model for this type of blog, it's a good example).

On the publishing side, authors in the Macromedia Flash community are already starting to use blogs as tools to promote and support their books and programming services.

Advanced Features

If you've ever sent a web-based greeting card, you'll find the process of setting up and posting your first blog entries just as easy. You choose among a variety of design themes with the click of a mouse. You can preview your choice and change or customize settings at any time. Although the free systems don't generally offer space to host images or other multimedia elements, with basic HTML skills you can embed web-based audio or video elements hosted on external servers.

Some of the advanced features that are found in blogging packages include the abilities to allow users to post comments in reply to entries, to add team-members with full editing privileges, and to add calendar-based automatic archiving systems.

Recent advances in the field include multimedia blogging:

read about it see/try an example requires Flash 6 (or better)
read about it see/try an example requires Flash 6 (or better)

There is even a new service which promises to allow remote blogging by publishing via simple email messages. You can read about blogging via email.

Further Resources

Test Blog for TESL-EJ Column is the blog I set up while researching this topic. Please feel free to add your comments and suggestions on this article and the issue of blogging in TESL/TEFL there.

Choosing a Blogger for Students is an excellent review of several of the more popular free blogging software offerings.

Who Let the Blogs Out is a short article that focuses on the business and marketing aspects of blogging.

Microcontent News Articles provide links to articles about the blogging phenomenon and related resources.

The Google Categories Listings on Blogs provide links to all sorts of blogging resources.

End Note

It's hard for me to believe that I started editing this column over 6 years ago (in March 1996). Time sure flies On the Internet. While it is with mixed emotions that I resign from this position, I am very pleased to be leaving you in the capable hands of my successor, Vance Stevens.

Thanks very much to Maggie Sokolik and Tom Robb, editors of TESL-EJ, for all your support through the years.

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.

Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation.

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