Blog Literacy: Setting up your academic blog
This is an update for a post made in 2015 for my Literacy Theory class, now updated for ENG 704: Teaching Writing Online.
What better thing to do on a cold winter’s day than a little webwork? That’s what my ENG 704: Teaching Writing Online students will be doing in January as they set up their blogs. This may not be new to them. At this point, blogs are the old technology of the social software world. Along with wikis, blogs were around before any of it was even called social software. I created my first blog using Blogger over twenty years ago, so the chances of blogs being new to the students taking my literacy theory class this fall are very small. However, viewing blog set-up as a series of acts and decisions that fall into the realm of literacy works whether this is their first blog or their fifth. With that in mind, the prospective online writing instructors in ENG 704 should examine the steps and decisions they make setting up their blogs for this class. It is even worth blogging about in a full-window sized reflective post.
Of course, many students already have a blog or even more than one due to classes that used blogging in the past. Those students will choose one of their blogs to repurpose for the class. If they do, I prefer that they keep all the prior posts (especially if they were rhet/comp focused), but address the change of topic in the first post made for this class. When blogs change focus, they also tend to change names and change appearance. These old-timers to blogging will want to go into the dashboard and do some repurposing. For example, if the blog was called “ENG 722 Blog” (not a good name), now is the time to choose a context-specific name that is about the theories and issues examined this semester, not the course number. Those repurposing a blog may also decide to change the theme or color. Such changes are never truly random, and it may be tied to changing academic identity or associations with different colors due to cultural lore or past training in aesthetics such as in art and design classes or technical writing classes. My hope is that when reflecting about changes later, they go beyond a mere list of changes and do some analysis in terms of their particular sets of literacies.
For those who do not already have a blog, their first decision is to decide which free blogging platform to use. I made a post about that it is a good place to start. Not all blog software is created equal, and some of what’s out there is not the best for what we will do here. The advice given in Choosing a Blog Platform in 2019 was intended to help new bloggers decide between platforms. After that, the decisions are all new and students may have a vision for their blog that they don’t know quite how to achieve through the dashboard just yet. 704 is an online class, so seeking help means texting me or using Collaborate to work things through. Student may also work together, but this early in the semester, that is less likely online without some nudging, and I will do that through a Discussion Board “Help!” thread. Without a doubt though, there will be someone in the class with blog experience who could give some help working through the steps.
Setting up a blog means thinking about the desired functions and the audience. Making the space fit these aims can take some time and tweaking. For example, when I moved Moon City Review from being a tab on the Moon City Press to its own URL and blog, I had several goals. The site is fairly complex and took two days to complete. Webwork takes time to get right; I don’t think setting up a blog for ENG 704 will take two days, but it should take more than five minutes. Here are some decisions that need to be made. It gets even more complex if you want a blog space that can also work as a CMS for your classes. This list applies to newbies and old-timers:
- The name of the blog. This is not tied to the URL, which is the blog address. The title can be changed and often is if the blogger changes focus for the blog. Do not name a blog after the course name. That just screams “This is something I’m doing because I must for the grade. I am not engaged with the material at all.” Name an academic blog based on the subject material or if the ultimate plan is to use it as a professional blog site, the title should be based on the individual and her/his interests. If it to be a CMS for your classes (possible with WordPress or Edublogs), then try a neutral name like “The Hub” and have a subtitle: “Ms. Moxie’s Writing I Classes.” The 704 blogging then would have a –post that notes that this was for a Teaching Writing Online class.
- The theme. Most blog software has a feature called themes, although sometimes it is called something else. Pick one for looks and for what functions it has. For example, I like one that has tabs for pages and allows you to use your own image for the banner.
- To tab or not to tab. The most basic design difference between themes may be whether or not it uses tabs for pages. Some use a two or three column system where one of the column has links to the other pages. Some have a gallery feature, which is nice for those who like to use photos a lot. Lots of choices. The great thing about blogs is that if bloggers find out they hate one theme, they can instantaneously change it to another or even preview a number of themes without having to commit. Of course, configuring the blog after changing themes can take some time, but getting it just right can be very satisfying.
- Single page? More than one? Some bloggers end up deciding that this is so much work that they might as well set it up as their professional site too. If that is the case, more than one page is needed. Basic blogs start with one page—the blog. That’s where the stream of time-date stamped posts are. if another page is added, it can be used for other purposes. For example, on this site I have pages tabbed for About, Blog, Research/Publications, Teaching, Poet’s Life, and DMAC. The About page (sometimes called home page) is where people start and it gives an overview paragraph. The Blog comes next. Research/Publications is an abbreviated CV that links to my folio, a more detailed dossier. Teaching gives a synopsis of my course for the semester, and Poet’s Life tells about my poet blog, This Poet’s Life). Finally, DMAC contains work from my summer with the Digital Media and Composition Institute.
- Besides the blog page, students starting a professional site may want to add a CV page or even a teaching page where a teaching philosophy is given. I moved that sort of thing to yet another site I created last year for my promotion to professor dossier. Take a look if you are interested in something more formal. In it, I used the blog page for publication abstracts. After the promotion process was over, I repurposed it as my more complete professional site.
- Ease of media use. Some themes are better at incorporating photos, audio, and video than others. Try a Gallery theme if you think you will use a lot of media.
So that’s it—things to think of when setting up a blog. I hope you have fun with it.