Have your own Educational Blog using Free Tools

By: Khirulnizam Abd Rahman & Syahrul Nizam Junaini

1. Definition of Blog - Blog is one of the Web 2.0 applications to disseminate information in the Internet. It is actually small-scale website, usually composed of some brief and frequently-updated postings in reverse chronological order. Blog is very popular because it is normally free and has the ability to gather feedback. Now everybody can have their own blog, like we have our email. Thanks to the free services from blog providers. Due to the easiness of using blog, people can do almost anything; even the lecturers can share their learning materials to the students and to the masses.

2. Blog usage in education - In the education activities, blogs are used to disseminate notes, a medium of communication where announcement and discussion between teacher and students take place. By using blogs, the teacher could post assignments, share URL links, etc for their students. The students could provide feedback, discussion or answer through the feedback facilities provided by the blog system. They upload the learning materials to the students as well as for public viewing, sometimes. It could also be viewed as one of a new style of informatization of education. In this case, blog is a place for smart, lively and dynamic conversations platform between the teachers and students. It can also be the teachers’/lecturers’ digital portfolio, which is important for carrier growth.

3. Blog to facilitate teaching & learning - There are ample of free blog providers to choose, even a special blog provider tailored for education blogging called Edublog (edublog.org). You could also use blogger.com, wordpress.com, live.msn.com, 360.yahoo.com and etc. There’re even awards  given to the best educational blogs (edublogawards.com) in different categories. One of the educational bloggers directories is International Edubloggers Directory, which has 686 members from all over the world, and variety of fields. It can be found at edubloggerdir.blogspot.com.

4. Free tools to compliment the blog – In order to manage and perform several activities in the blog, you need blog post editor, online file(document) storage, commenting tool and also online forms.
4.1 Article Editor - Windows Live Writer is provided freely by Microsoft (windowslivewriter.spaces.live.com). It’s actually an article editing software that’s available offline, and capable of storing our blog posting in the local storage. It is a very easy tool for blog devotee to edit, manage and post articles. Compared to the editor provided online this offline editor is much more user-friendly. (FYI, Microsoft Office 2007 also provide facilities to publish your document directly to your blog, however it’s not free)
It’s a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor, and has a lot of plug-ins to help you do a specific task. For example, the Source Code formatter helps us publish programming code that has several different color based on the code syntax category. This kind of tool helps us a lot in presenting programming codes in such a way that the user will find it more interesting, rather than a single-colored text. The default web-based editor does not provide this tool.
4.2 File Hosting - All the notes, presentation slides, lab manuals, assignments, past-year exam samples, students’ assignments and projects, development tools and compilation of source codes need a place to be available online. Thanks to Skydrive (skydrive.live.com) that generously gives the user 25 gigabytes of free storage. We put all these materials in Skdrive, and provide the download links from the blog. There are also several other free document sharing options such as scribd.com, slideshare.net and 4shared.com .
4.3 Commenting facilities – This is a very good tool to gather feedback from the students, a place where students could ask questions and also for the lecturer to announce anything about their teaching and learning activities. You could subscribe this services from cbox.ws or shoutmix.com . Once you successfully subscribed, you will be provided a script. You need to paste the script to the widget (gadget) in order to make it work on your blog.
4.4 Online Form – We found this tool useful to perform survey or even a simple online quiz. There are a lot of online form provider such as surveygizmo.com and spreadsheet application from docs.google.com . We’ve been using Google’s spreadsheet since it provides visual reporting and allow you to download feedback in Excel format.

5. Conclusion – This article is to share our experience in managing educational blog using free tools.  Though the services are free, there are many accounts to create for all the services. There’re a lot of hassles in managing these different services. If your institution allocated some budget to manage a Learning Management System (LMS) server, it’s much better to opt LMS. LMS provides one-stop application to manage all the activities mentioned before (in a much more user-friendly manner).

Khirulnizam Abd Rahman – is a lecturer at Faculty of Information Science and Technology, KUIS. This article is adapted from several proceedings presented by the writers. He is happy to share his knowledge in blogging (find his blog at kerul.blogspot.com). Should you need further clarification about anything related to this article, please do not hesitate to contact him at khirulnizam@gmail.com or facebook.com/khirulnizam.

Syahrul Nizam Junaini - is a Senior Lecturer at Malaysian University of Sarawak (UNIMAS). His main blog is at syahrulnizam.com. He wrote several books and the latest one is “Ilmu Pengaruh; Bukan Jampi tapi Seni”, which is available from his blog.

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