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Start Blogging to Change the World

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

A former student recently asked me to help him get started writing his own education blog. Seems that a few of the things that I taught in class had stuck in his mind like hard-to-reach itches and he was getting desperate to scratch this particular one. I’m always happy to help my students, past, present, and future, so I thought this provided an excellent opportunity to share my own experience getting started as an education blogger, and to pass on some tips for others about how to start their own blogs to help promote change in education.

Purpose
The least successful blogs are those which rely on personal sharing. No one wants to read about washing your laundry, who you met for coffee yesterday, or any other facet of your daily life – unless you are a celebrity or represent some other significant social niche that is of overwhelming public interest. That said, you need to have a focus that gives your writing direction and speaks to the interests of your target audience.

For me, that focus is on the future of education and educational reform. It is a topic of personal and professional interest. It is something that I know about, having studied Instructional Systems Design in graduate school, worked with teachers to promote innovative teaching methodologies, and from my own time in K-12 and higher education classrooms.

To get started as a successful blogger you must first make your purpose for writing clear if it isn’t already. Create a list of the things you like and dislike about education. Then conduct some research into the three to five key issues you have found that move you the most (yes, I am arguing for emotional engagement with what you are writing), see what is being said about those issues, and use that information to outline both sides of the argument. Finally, after doing your research, decide what your position is on the issue and write out a paragraph, or even a couple pages, that makes your point of view clear. To keep your purpose in mind, you might print it out and post it near your work station. If you are lucky, you might even get a blog title out of this process.

Content
Your reason for writing (purpose) is different than the content that you will write. There are only so many times that you can articulate and re-articulate your position on an issue before your readers will lose interest. You will need to write about many different topics that fall under the umbrella of your big idea.

I focus on educational technology and how it does or will affect the future of education, political issues relevant to the future of education, online learning and its effect on education, changing notions of literacy in the Information Age, etc. These broad topics all address the future of education and reform in some way and provide an endless supply of potential topics.

There are two general paths that you can take to get started; one would be to use your own experiences as a primary source, where you relate your topics to a particular context, such as your classroom if you are a teacher. The other would be to separate the topics from context and write your posts using the issues as the focus. Either one will work, but for the novice blogger, having the focus of writing about the way these issues play out in a specific context would be a great way to begin. Writing about your own class or experiences provides you with both a focus for the writing and a ready supply of examples with which to illustrate your points.

Audience
I have an unfair advantage in that I work for a media company that promotes my work and my website had a built-in audience before I started. However, there is still a lot of work to be done before you even start writing, to build up an audience so that your posts will not fall on deaf ears. The good news for aspiring education bloggers is that there is a voracious world of potential readers just waiting for you to tell them about your insights into education. Here’s one strategy for using social media to build a network before you even start posting:

  • Tweet – Sign up for Twitter as soon as you have any idea what you might be interested in writing about. Give yourself a Twitter handle that somehow relates to your interest or makes it clear that you are not just @johndoe123 writing about whatever pops into your head. Once you are on Twitter, find some folks that Tweet things you are interested in by searching a few hashtags such as #edreform, #edtech, or #highered. Once you find someone writing something interesting, follow them, then check who they are following and follow anyone you find there who seems to write relevant Tweets. Some of these people will follow you back, and, viola, you have begun building an audience for your future posts. For more uducation hashtags check out this list of the best education reform hashtags on Edudemic or the 23 Best Education Hashtags from Ed Resources Online.
  • Other Social Media – Follow a similar strategy with Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Google +, etc. Look anywhere you can find people with similar interests and link up with them. Be sure to use the cross-pollination features of Twitter and Facebook to make sure than anything you post or Tweet in one shows up in all the others.
  • Curate – One of the fastest growing categories for Web interaction is curation sites. These tools allow you to form and manage collections of things from around the Web. I personally use Scoop.it, Pinterest, and MentorMob as my primary curation tools, but there are dozens, maybe even hundreds more available. Find one that suits your needs and interests and begin using it to form some collections of other people’s articles and videos that relate to your interest. Here are a few of my collections to check out:
     

Remember that this is a process. You cannot expect to begin blogging and instantly have thousands of readers. You will need to build an audience slowly and methodically over the course of months or even years. Keep an eye on your Twitter account, a growing list of followers and increasing retweeting of your articles will be a clear indication that you are making progress.

Writing Guide
Once you have built an audience and developed your ideas, you will need to actually write something to post online. Practice first and have friends, family, or other captive audiences read your work and comment honestly. You will get much better at the writing the more you do, so don’t be ashamed of those tentative, first few posts. Embrace them as a learning experience. This excellent guide to blog writing from Write to Done will help you develop your voice and tone and stay on message.

Using Blogging to Change the World
It is my hope that you will use this information to get involved in the discussion about the future of education. The online world is an active and exciting place in which to explore different perspectives on the school reform debate and to make your own voice heard. Don’t stop there though; blogging and social media are also great ways to get your students involved in real conversations that affect them deeply. The voices of college professors, K-12 teachers, and their students are all important to hear when it comes to making the American education system the most innovative and useful one in the world.

Follow me on Twitter @drjwmarquis
Join the #edreformtribe

Image: Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net