In my ENG 725: Teaching Writing Online class this spring, one of the things they will be doing is reflective readings responses. That should be no surprise, especially in an online class where face-to-face discussion takes some mediated contortioning. I know blogs seem so old-school now, but really, I have yet to find anything better for reflection, for “the long thoughts.” Since my first blog back in 2001, I have tried many blogging platforms. some of which have vastly improved through the years. All are free. Some need server space, but most do not, a real advantage for teachers who don’t want that annual expense. Fairly early on though, by 2003, I decided that the expense was worth it and bought my own domain and paid for server space. Besides listing different blog choices, I would like to examine that choice also.
My decision to go for my own domain was completely wrapped up in the concept of a visible scholarly and professional identity on the web. As a Computers and Writing specialist within the larger area of rhetoric and composition, I felt that it was not only appropriate but mandatory for me to have a web presence. I realize this would not be everyone’s choice. The domain was very inexpensive and still is: $7.50 – $15.00 depending on who does it. in 2003, server space through a host service was the only way to go. Since then, several free blogging services have branched out to allow you to use your own domain for your web address on their service. For example, Blogger does this.
I had other reasons to go with a hosting service though. At the time I wanted to use Drupal, which was really a wonderful CMS for the time. It is still good, and I’ll say more about it and DrupalEd in my list. Drupal was download-only, so I went with a hosting service that would download and maintain it for me. It was a good choice since I did not enjoy dealing with database errors or other horrific glitches that seemed to happen regularly to my peers who did their own downloading and updating. The main reason I did this though was because I needed more than a blog. I used subdomains to separate out functions between my blog, my teaching space, and my CV. As you can see from the tabs here, I still do that.
Here are some current blog choices. I am limiting them to free services:
- Blogger. If Blogger then was what it is now, I would have stayed with it for a long time. It lets you use your own domain (for the cost of domain registration) and it has good themes that you can go in and tweak if you want a different color or pattern combination. It also allows either group or single blogs. It is owned by Google now, and its move towards being an innovative blog space with interesting features began on its acquisition.
- LiveJournal. I used this early on. The “friending” concept began here, and the loose collaborative groups that develop this way are very interesting. I don’t think it is workable for academic space though. I used it for a study that was the basis for my dissertation.
- WordPress. The link is for the .com site where people can sign up for their own blog space for free. The .org site has free downloads for the software in case you want it for your own domain and server space. The WordPress themes are the big draw here. There are so many, and so many functions come with them. This site is a WordPress blog that allows you to tab to other subdomains. The Moon City Press site, another site I am associated with, is also WordPress, but its theme has a nifty gallery that rotates the new books and announcements. This is a choice with plenty of customization options while still easy to use for beginners. You can make it as complicated or a simple as you want.
- Edublogs. This uses WordPress, and it has the advantage of its own dashboard interface that has hand-picked widget options that are particularly useful for teachers. The only negative I have is that when I used it for a class about five years ago, they had serious stability problems. It looks like those problems are resolved, so I would not have any qualms recommending it now.
- iWeb. Don’t use this. It’s not free, it’s wonky, and Apple is in the process of phasing the software out, so your blog will soon be an orphan. Apple’s pre-iCloud storage, MobileMe, allowed some of the generous storage space to be used for websites and also limited it to iWeb sites. When iCloud came in, suddenly Apple was very silent about iWeb. So, if you are willing to invest in server space, iWeb is now able to FTP to a host, but really, you would do far better to upload Drupal or WordPress if you’re going to all that trouble anyway.
- Drupal. I still think of Drupal and now and then am tempted to use it again, espcially at times like now when I remember using its easy polls as classroom discussion starters. As a freestanding blog though, it is overkill and keeps its geeky street cred by being tweaky and difficult for many initial users to set up. It is available to use for free at Drupalgardens though, a big improvement over the days when downloading and having your site hosted was the only option.
- DrupalEd. This was designed for writing classes by writing teachers. I used it at Missouri State for the composition classes when I was acting Composition Director. It is free, and it you have a school that is interested, I can get you in touch with people who can give you advice on setting it up. This is not an individual blog solution; it is meant for a school or program.
- Tumblr. I think this could work. I have not used Tumblr because I am not really a snippet blogger; I use Pinterest for my short, mostly pictorial posts. This seems to be a place to collect things or pieces of text.
- Ning. I really enjoyed using this for my classes in the brief window of opportunity when it was new and free, before they cut off everyone who was not willing to pay. It is a great blend blend of blogging, social media, tagging gone amuck, and pretty effective community building. Missouri State’s Ozark Writing Project uses Ning, and you can see that it is working well for them. I put it on the list because the fond memories still linger, but not enough that I’m willing to pay $24.95 a month for their entry-level plan.
The choice is yours. This is one time when free options may really be the best options.