In talking to teachers about class blogs I've found that a number of people have experimented with them, but that a lot of us have not had much success keeping them going. I've also found, in trying to come up with new names for my class blogs, that there are a lot of class blogs out there with one or two posts and a few scattered comments that have died an ignoble death and lie floating in cyberspace unloved and known only by those who wish we could take their domain names. I think that unfortunately this lack of success is causing many teachers to turn away from the technology before they realize that there is a better way.
One mistake that many teachers make is that they make the blog an out-of-class assignment and then they stretch the discussions out over a period of weeks, or even an entire semester. While I think that this can be valuable, and in the right circumstances it could work, I think that one of the keys to a successful class blog is instant gratification.
The thing that makes chat rooms, instant messaging, and text messaging so appealing to this generation is the instant feedback that you get when you're communicating live with another person or, better yet, a whole group of people. When you post a comment to a class blog as homework nothing happens other than your post going up on the page; it may be days or weeks before another student responds to you (if they ever do), and by then you've long forgotten about your comment anyway. And if the blog does eventually pick up some steam, when it's your turn to post there's usually a lot of reading to do just to get caught up with the discussion and it starts to feel like a chore to read all of the previous threads. Students end up just making up a random comment to fulfill the assignment that doesn't do much to further the conversation. That is a major reason that so many class blogs die in their infancy--they're pretty boring for both teacher and students and eventually everyone loses interest and gives up on them.
By setting up a silent discussion you can have thirty students in a computer lab all communicating in a way that allows for instantaneous feedback and no-waiting participation. You don't have to wait for the teacher to call on you, and you don't have to wait days for someone to respond to your message. You can have five or six conversations going on in the same class, all at the same time. It's all instant, it's all online, and perhaps best of all, it's all silent.
Despite the lack of activity on this page my class blogging project rolls on. I've set up another silent discussion this week for my Pre-AP Sophomore English class. We'll be discussing Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities on the 21st and 26th of March.