Technology

Blogging in the Classroom: Blogging for the Novice

Sarah A. Curtis, Jason Lahman, and Brian J. Griffith, April 2012

Note: Please use the links provided below to explore further resources on each topic, including technical directions and video tutorials.

Listed below are a few tips and suggestions for getting started with a blog.

1. Choosing a blogging service

Several free blogging services are available to choose from. Some of the most popular services include Blogger, WordPress, Xanga, LiveJournal, Windows Live Spaces, and TypePad. For a detailed explanation of blogs and the various blogging services, see Manan Ahmed’s article “Blogging: It’s Easier Than You Think!” in the May 2005 issue of Perspectives (http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2005/0505/0505tec2.cfm).

2. Signing up for a blogging service

Creating a new account with any of the above-mentioned blogging services is quite easy. However, in the interest of saving space, we will focus only on the top two blogging services: Blogger and WordPress.

Blogger

If you choose Blogger, simply navigate to http://www.blogger.com, click on the button which reads “Get started,” and follow the directions from there. However, it is worth noting here that all of Google’s web-based products are connected via a single Google account. This means that if you already have an account with any of Google’s other services (i.e. Gmail, YouTube, Calendar, etc.), you are already a Google user and, therefore, are able to activate a Blogger account at any time. If this situation applies to you, simply navigate to http://www.blogger.com and use the “Sign in” form on the right-hand side of the screen.

WordPress

If you choose WordPress, go to http://www.wordpress.com, click on the button on the  screen which reads “Get started here,” and follow the directions from there.

Selecting a blog name and a unique URL

Both Blogger and WordPress will begin by having you create your blog’s official name, or title (ex: “Paris: Biography of a City”) as well as pick out a unique URL (ex: http://myblog.blogspot.com). Since every blog must have a unique URL, you may find that the URL you want to use is already in use by another user. If this is the case, the service will prompt you with various other options to consider. If none of the proposed options are satisfactory, experiment! Advanced users may be interested in purchasing a custom URL (ex: http://www.myblog.com) and use it in lieu of the free, specific URL assigned to each blog by the blogging service during the registration process. A custom URL can be set up at any time; review the “Help” section of either service’s website for instructions. It is worth noting that many of the above-mentioned blogging services allow users to maintain several different blogs within the same user account. This means that if you are interested in running a separate blog for each of your courses, you can do so within your single blogging service account. Each blog, however, will require its own unique URL (ex: http://hist100.blogspot.com; http://hist200.blogspot.com; etc.).

Customizing your blog’s design and functionality

All of the major blogging services allow users to customize their blog’s design (that is, the blog’s general appearance, in terms of its dimensions, color scheme, and graphics).You will be directed to select a “starter template” during the initial registration process. This template will serve as your blog’s temporary design. If you are satisfied with the template’s general appearance, you are free to continue using it. However, if you are less than enthused, you can browse through a selection of several other templates, most of which can be used for free.

Blogger

To select a different design, or template in Blogger, return to your “Dashboard” (if you are having trouble finding this, simply navigate to http://www.blogger.com which will redirect you to the “Dashboard” section of your account) and click on the “Design” button (located under your blog’s official name, or title). Once completed, you will be redirected to the “Design” section of your blog’s administration page. Click on the “Template Designer” button (located at the top of the page under the “Design” tab) which will redirect you to a dynamic template design tool. Play around by clicking on the various options; the tool will provide you with a preview below so that you can see how your blog would look with any of the provided templates. Once you have decided on a template, click on the “Apply to blog” button (located in the top-right-hand corner of the screen).

WordPress

To select a different design in WordPress, navigate to your blog (using the URL you selected during the initial registration process), log in, and, once completed, position your mouse’s cursor over the button in the top left-hand side of the screen which features your blog’s official name, or title. Once completed, click on “Dashboard” (the first option on the descending drop-down menu). When are in your account’s “Dashboard,” you will be given a list of the blogs you currently maintain. Click on the “Themes” button (located under the “Appearances” section in the menu on the left-hand side of the screen) which will redirect you to a section where you can choose a new template. Many of the templates you can choose from here are free. However, not all are free. The higher quality designs run anywhere from $45 to $100.

3. Drafting and publishing blog entries

Blogger

Navigate to your account’s “Dashboard”. Here you will see a list of the blogs you currently maintain, as well as a number of links relating to your online Google profile and other administrative tools. To begin a new blog entry, simply click on the blue button which reads “NEW POST” (located under your blog’s official name, or title). Once completed, you will be redirected to a new blog entry editing tool which is similar in layout and appearance to the tool with which you compose and send an email. Under “Title,” type the title or subject of the blog entry; beneath it—in the large text input area—type any text you wish to publish. To publish, simply click on the “PUBLISH POST” button, located in the bottom left-hand side of the screen.

WordPress

Navigate to your account’s “Dashboard”. Click on the “Posts” button (located in the menu on the left-hand side of the screen). There you will find a list of all of the blog posts currently published (or drafted) on your blog. Click on the “Add New” button (located under the “Posts” section in the menu on the left-hand side of the screen). Once completed, you will be redirected to a new blog entry editing tool which is similar in layout and appearance to the tool with which you compose and send an email. Under “Enter title here,” type the title or subject of the blog entry; beneath it—in the large text input area—type any text you wish to publish. To publish, simply click on the “Publish” button (located on the right-hand side of the screen).

4. Posting supplemental materials

Creating “links”

Converting a word or a phrase in a blog entry into a hyperlink is the easiest way to “link” to other online resources. All blogging services provide a “Link” feature in their blog entry editing tool menus.

Blogger

In Blogger, highlight the text that you wish to turn into a link, click on the “Link” button in the top menu (i.e. the icon which features both a globe with a single chain link), and, in the popup menu that appears, paste in the URL to be linked to the highlighted text.

WordPress

In WordPress, highlight the text with which you wish to create a link, click on the “Link” button in the top menu (i.e. the icon which features a single chain link), and, in the popup menu that appears, paste in the URL to be linked to the highlighted text. Both Blogger and WordPress will generate any necessary HTML code for you and your users will be able to click on a live HTML link on your published blog entry.

Posting images

If you would like to add an image to a blog entry, both Blogger and WordPress handle the task similarly. In Blogger, click on the “Add Image” button in the top menu (i.e. the icon which features a small, square image) and follow the directions from there. In WordPress, click on the “Add an Image” button in the “Upload/Insert” menu and follow the directions from there.

Posting videos

If you are interested in adding video content to a blog entry, each service handles the task differently. In some cases it is easiest to begin on the video’s YouTube or Vimeo page where the “Share” and “Embed” buttons will allow you to either share the link with others or copy and paste (“embed”) the HTML code in your blog (which will allow your readers to watch the video directly on your blog rather than having to visit another website to do so).

Blogger

For Blogger, navigate to the video’s YouTube page, click on the “Share” button (located immediately below the video and to the right of the “+ Add to” button), and click on the “Embed” button. Once completed, YouTube will provide you with a series of options, including a feature that enables you to customize the embedded video’s size (that is, the size of the video in your published blog entry). After making any necessary changes, copy the HTML code provided in the text box above the custom sizing options, navigate to your new blog entry, click on the “Edit HTML” tab (located to the left of the “Compose” tab at the top of the text editing tool), and paste the HTML into the text input area. Finally, click on the “Preview” button (located immediately below the “Compose” tab) to check your work before publishing the blog entry.

WordPress

For WordPress, simply click on the “Add Video” button in the “Upload/Insert” menu (located at the top of the “Add New Post” section), click on the “From URL” tab located at the top of the screen, and paste the video’s YouTube (or any other online video sharing service’s) URL into the text input field. WordPress will generate any necessary HTML code for you and the video will appear on your blog embedded and ready to be viewed by your readers.

For information on using either YouTube or Vimeo, please consult the following resources:

YouTube: http://www.google.com/support/youtube

Vimeo: http://www.vimeo.com/help/basics

5. Authorizing and adding multiple authors

If you would like your students to participate as co-authors of a course blog, collect your students’ preferred email addresses and enter them into the contributor invitation form in your blog’s administration section.  Once invited to join the blog as a contributor, each student will be able to author and publish his/her own blog entries, which appear on the blog according to their dates and times.

Blogger

For Blogger, navigate to your “Dashboard” and click on the “Settings” button (located under your blog’s official name, or title). Once completed, click on the “Permissions” button (located on the far right-hand side of the menu). Click on the “Add Authors” button and provide the email addresses for all of the contributors you wish to invite as co-authors to your blog.

WordPress

For WordPress, navigate to your “Dashboard” and click on the “Users” button (located in the menu on the left-hand side of the screen). Once completed, click on the “Invite new” button (located under the “Users” section in the menu on the left-hand side of the screen) and provide the email addresses for all of the contributors you wish to invite as co-authors to your blog.

For more information on getting started with either Blogger or WordPress, please consult the following resources:

Blogger: http://support.google.com/blogger

WordPress: http://www.wordpress.tv/category/how-to/

Sarah A. Curtis is professor of history at San Francisco State University.

Jason Lahman received his MA from San Francisco State University in modern European history in spring 2011 and is the author of a history-related blog entitled "My Eye in the Sky: Explorations in Art, Culture, History & the Powers of Vision."

Brian J. Griffith completed his MA from San Francisco State University in modern European history in fall 2011 and was president of the SFSU History Students Association in 2010–11. He also maintained a blog on digitized primary source collections.