Now that the new school year has started, or is about to start, we all want to have fresh insights into how to do the things we’re paid to do. It may be how to teach better, or how to engage students more. In my case, not being a school teacher any more, I want to keep my feet on the ground and my finger on the pulse; I want to know what new applications and innovations folk are talking about, and to keep abreast of current thinking.
One of the places we children of Web 2.0 turn to, of course, is blogs. But how can you tell if a blog is worth reading? What sort of things should you look for? Here are my (highly opinionated) suggestions.
Who is the blogger?
I always like to know who is giving me their advice or opinion. If someone turned up at your school and started telling you how you should be doing your job, wouldn’t you ask them why they think they’re qualified to tell you? So one of the first things I look for is their bio. If they don’t have one, I wonder why. Is it forgetfulness? Have they only just started writing? Are they unwilling to use their real name because of professional reasons (in which case, say so)? Marginally even worse, I think, are the bios that start “I am a mother of two teenage boys and love to go windsurfing.” Who cares? OK, it tells me you’re a well-rounded person who doesn’t spend their entire life staring at a computer screen, but quite frankly if it has no bearing on the subject matter of the blog then I’m not interested.
What I’m actually concerned with is the blogger’s qualifications for writing their blog. If you’re writing about education, and your day job is a lawyer, that’s fine, but don’t expect me to act on your suggestions without a great deal of thought – just as you wouldn’t take legal advice from a teacher.
What is the focus?
Well, I guess the real issue is: does the blog actually have a focus? If your blog post today is about educational technology, your post yesterday was about weather conditions in the Shetlands, and the post the day before was a rant about your gas bill, I won’t subscribe, because it’s too hit and miss for me. I’m happy to subscribe to blogs that are about anything and everything, but if they’re called something like “The Educational Technology Blog” (I just made that up, by the way, so apologies if there really is a blog by that name), I expect it to be about educational technology. That’s not unreasonable is it?
How sound is it?
In other words, do the suggestions sound reasonable? Would they be likely to work? Does the writer actually sound like he knows what he’s talking about? Obviously, some people are good bluffers, so you will have to be able to answer the first question in order to properly judge the quality of their advice.
Has the blogger been published elsewhere?
Anyone can set up a blog these days, so being published no longer has the cachet in and of itself which it once did. I’m interested in whether the blogger writes for websites other than her own, or has been published in a journal which either pays for articles or which has a system of peer review. That would give me even more confidence in what they have to say.
What is the tone?
I have to say that I do find some bloggers very irritating: they adopt a somewhat arrogant tone, admitting no viewpoint other than their own. I prefer to read balanced writing, in which the writer is humble enough to admit that he or she may not have all the answers.
What’s the blog about?
This is an offshoot of the previous two questions. Basically, the issue is this: is the blog about the blogger? If it is, I hope they enjoy themselves (Oscar Wilde said that to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance), but you know what they say: two’s company…. If there are you and your blog, there’s no room for anyone or anything else: I’m not a voyeur.
How regularly is it updated?
I think blogs should be updated every day, or X times a week, or once a week. I like to know when to expect the next blog post, so I can look forward to it. I don’t like it when a blog gets updated Monday last week, Wednesday this week, and not at all next week.
How often is it updated?
This is tied in with the previous question, obviously. My preference is every day, so you can start each day with a fresh insight or thing to think about.
How content-rich is the blog?
I like blogs that are what I call “sticky”. You go there to read an article on X, but then an article on Y catches your eye. You’re reading that, and there’s a reference to another article on the same blog, about the subject. You go there, and you notice an article about Z. In short, I like blogs that are impossible to read in their entirety in a couple of hours, so I have to keep coming back. It feels like discovering a treasure trove.
How well-written is it?
I am not a fanatic over so-called correct forms of English, as a read of “We don’t need no rules of grammar” will tell you. But I do think the worst errors should be avoided, like “comprise of”, or putting an apostrophe in any word which has an ‘s’ on the end. Even more importantly, is it engaging, or is it just wooden?
I hope you found these suggestions useful, and not too opinionated and arrogant! What do you look for in an educational technology blog?
This article first appeared on the Technology and Learning website on 18th August 2010.