To Blog or Not To Blog

That was the question driving my action research into the phenomenon of blogging.

Blogging is, in brief, the cyber equivalent of vanity press publications. Innumerable blog sites are to be found on the World Wide Web, a few maintained by professionals who seemingly successfully promote their own services. Many others are on-line journals, confessions and rants that will probably, ironically, remain unread in cyberspace.

The idea of using blogs with students was initiated through discussions with a colleague who felt that it would be feasible to have students collaborate on a single document through a blog site. Such sites would be internet based, driven by web technologies and hosted outside of our divisional and school servers. This seemed a simple solution to students’ perceived frustrations and their real failures in using I-mail effectively.

Over a period of several weeks a number of sites and pieces of Open Source software were tested. CMSimple, Drupal, Eblog, EbnWeblogger, Grey Matter, Lenya, LiveJournal, Magnolia, Mambo, Plone, Typepad, Webblog-ed, WordPress, and others were reviewed.

Some of these titles are software downloads that were installed on an IBook inside a virtual server called MAMP (WAMP is the Win version). MAMP mounts a fully configured Apache Server complete with MySQL and PHP inside a folder that can be easily deleted without detriment to the rest of the contents of the hard drive.

Other titles were hosted, web-based products that offered a basic personal site, often free, as well as upgraded sites based on a fee structure.

The software represents challenges for a casual user:

  • While all of the Open Source downloads and all of the on-line bloging sites claim to be user friendly, even the simplest is at least as difficult as learning how to use FTP The more sophisticated sites, like this one, have a steep learning curve. Even a moderate comfort level represents an investment of 15 – 20 hours.
  • Apache Server, SQL and PHP are requirements to run most of the blogging and CMS software whether or not it uses a flat file or relational database structure. These are not standard configurations on most ISP sites. (Individuals who want to test some of the titles list above, should investigate MAMP or WAMP.)

The on-line blogging sites present some features that should concern users in a school context:

  • A number of sites promise opportunities for collaboration. In order to do so, all members of a group must to join the “community” by registering as users and thus starting individual blogs, first. On many sites, this immediately targets the individual to a barrage of advertisements carried in the banners and elsewhere on the site. While students may voluntarily initiate a web presence from home, that ought not to occur at school.
  • Default settings for personal profiles that are generated at registration are market driven. Although each user can opt out, the publication, sharing and sale of personal information (viz. names, sex, consumer preferences) is the primary objective of the blog. Because of the intense supervision that would be required to begin and maintain “safe” blogs, asking students to open up blogs may well lead to FOIP difficulties.

ConclusionWhile Open Source Content Management Software may be fruitfully used by educators, installation of the software will need to occur on local servers. Many universities, charitable foundations and businesses create effective web presences and interactive interfaces. Schools and divisions might benefit from the use of such software to rejuvenate their web spaces.

The subspecies, Blogging Software, may also work in a stand alone situation, in schools or with individual classes. Here MAMP or WAMP might provide a vehicle that would permit ease of installation (and removal) thus reducing the maintenance costs in terms of IT and tech support.`


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