Weblogs are sometimes criticised for being the self-obsessed ramblings of people who have little to say and too much time on their hands in which to do it. But there are gems out there - including many sites created by children.
Dot.life - where life meets technology, every Monday
By Giles Turnbull
Children as young as seven in one British school are using weblogs as part of their normal routine, and are doing better than non-webloggers as a result, their teacher says.
Weblogs, easy-to-use personal journals published on the internet, get
children more interested in school work they might otherwise have
disliked, says junior school teacher John Mills.
Children at Hangleton Junior School in Hove, Sussex, have been using
weblogs in their spare time to learn more about things that interest
them, but as a result their performance in class has improved.
John believes his is the only school in the country using weblogs to
such an extent for such a young age group.
Some of Hangleton's weblogs
"I first saw weblogs when I was working in Holland a couple of years
ago," he says.
"What I saw made my jaw drop. I knew children would love to use this
John set up an after-school club about weblogging at Hangleton, and
it has become so popular that nearly half the school turns up for
The children enjoy using the weblogs so much that they happily do
extra work at home, even though they've not been given homework to
do, and expand their weblogs far beyond the four pages John suggests
they aim for at the start.
Crucially, some of the children who attend the club have improved
their knowledge of IT far above what is required of their age group
by the National Curriculum.
"The Government target is for 80% of children of this age to reach
level 4 by year 6. All of the webloggers have done that, and some
have reached level 6. They are doing what 14 or 15-year-olds are
expected to do.
"The children using weblogs are streets ahead of their peers in IT,
and they have made greater advances in literacy than we would
normally expect for their age group," John adds.
The weblogs make a difference to day-to-day IT lessons, he says.
"A typical lesson aim might be to teach the children how to copy and
paste, and change text from one font to another.
"We can do that in Microsoft Word, which is fine, but the children
aren't very inspired by it.
"The weblog software we use, Manila, looks very much like Microsoft
Word and has similar features. When you use a weblog to teach copy
and paste, or changing fonts, the children are a lot more interested.
"They are really involved. They know it's different, they now have
something that lets them speak with their own voice. Adults tend to
tell children what to think; weblogs give them a chance to voice
their own thoughts.
"There's a degree of trust involved. They know that if they post
anything they shouldn't, their weblog will be taken away from them."
The school's weblogs project has been so successful that it has just
been shortlisted for a New Statesman New Media Award, an annual event
highlighting the best web development in the UK.
In the US, weblogs are starting to be taken seriously by teachers.
Students are encouraged to contribute to group weblogs devoted to a
particular project or class, or perhaps maintain their own personal
blogs on which they post essays and homework assignments.
By connecting together the weblogs of a whole class, or even a whole
school, it's possible to create a virtual community where students
can read, and make comments upon, one another's work.
Web developer and teacher Stephen O'Hear shares John's passion for
weblogs in education. In his capacity as a fellow of the National
Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta), he is
exploring ways of using technology and multimedia for learning.
"Weblogs are incredibly versatile. They are simple to understand and
simple to use. They offer the ability to publish and get feedback,"
Posting to a weblog is not like pinning an essay on the classroom wall.
"That's not a two-way process. Weblog-based discussions can continue
long after a post has been published; they can go far beyond the
scope of the original work."
Stephen sees opportunities for using weblogs across all areas of learning.
"Rather than using a weblog as a platform for an individual voice,
you can use it for a collaboration of many voices. A class of
students doing a project on the environment might want to start a
weblog about their local river; because it's online, it might attract
interest from local residents and policy-makers too. The local
community can be drawn in on something that, without the weblog,
would have been isolated within the school."
Back at Hangleton Junior, John Mills is full of optimism about the future.
"I'm leaving this school later this year, but I shall still be
helping to set up weblogs for each class and possibly
"Ideally, I'd like to see every child with a weblog of their own."