I just taught a community education class at the Redwood City Public Library, “Start Your Own Blog”. Ten people pre-registered and showed up to the small computer lab in the Teen Homework Center. None had ever started a blog, but everyone had basic computer literacy and a personal email address. The blog-starters were all ages — from middle school student to senior citizen. Roz, a librarian, and Michele, who does IT stuff for the library, helped out. I believe Roz also started a blog, “Gardening by Flashlight,” as she followed along with the steps of blog creation.
Before the class began the librarians showed me their page for The Big Read, a community reading series happening in March, co-sponsored by Villa Montalvo. You can get a free copy of Farenheit 451 from the library. Some students from Mission College set up a very fancy web page with forums and a way to participate: load the page and click on “Confess” to answer their amazing questions about self-censorship. How many times today did you stop yourself from saying something? Did you pause before sending an email, or leave one unsent or unwritten? Good questions like that, and space to answer in. (I’m going to ask my English Composition students at Evergreen Valley College to participate for class credit.) You too should go and confess your moments of self-censorship to the Redwood City Library. Give them some love!
I began the class by explaining what a blog was: a web page you can update very easily, using web forms. We used Blogger. Two students had difficulty signing in, though they were using valid email addresses. The librarians helped them sign up for new gmail accounts, but that was pretty distracting for the other students!
As with any hands-on computer class, I sometimes had to pause, walk around the room, and get everyone back on the same page again. I also had to remember to say, at times, “Everyone please look up here at the screen…” to get people to look at my demonstration, rather than what they were doing.
What I didn’t expect was for people to be so excited that they wanted to write lots of long blog posts! That was cool! I thought people would write “First post” and “Um I don’t know what to write” and things like that. But no! I stood at the head of the room hearing the soul-warming sound of clickety click click of industrious typing, seeing the beautiful deep concentration on people’s faces. It did help to ask people at some point to stop, hit publish, and remember that they could go back and edit later. I busted loose with a speech about how you could edit stuff, disinhibited, empowered and freed by the control you had over your own words. Yay, that was fun! I saw some lightbulbs go off in people’s heads at that thought.
At the point where we logged out and in again, people were confused by the choice between “New Blogger” and “Old Blogger”. They thought they were now Old Bloggers because they weren’t New anymore – they’d already gone through the process! That made sense, but I hadn’t expected it. So if anyone from Blogger/Blogspot is reading this, free user feedback for you, though you’ve probably already heard it.
Here’s what I would do differently for the class:
– Emphasize the step during creation of the blog of writing down on paper:
— Your login name (which is the gmail account that’s being created!)
— The URL of your blog
— The address you will go to in order to edit your blog in future (http://blogger.com)
– add a step for telling the instructor the blog name and your login name!
– Making a link. I’d write out instructions on how to do that with the “link” button rather than typing a href etc. etc. etc.
– Log out, quit the browser completely, and start from scratch to log in again, find your blog in one window, and open a new editing window.
– I’d consider making it a 2-part class, perhaps over 2 weeks, but better yet, Monday/Wednesday or Tues/Thurs.
— The instructor will have the list of everyone’s URLs and login names, in case someone forgot on the 2nd night.
— It could also work well as a 3 hour class with a coffee break in the middle, on a Saturday.
— It really does need a followup to help people have continuity and a little extra practice. It’s a lot of information to absorb all at once.
– An added note at the end to suggest that people go home and teach someone else, a family member, friend, or co-worker.
— That spreads whatever cool empowerment people can get from blogging
— Trying to teach someone else is a really good way to learn something in depth
– I forgot to mention other blogging services, some free and some not: Vox, WordPress, LiveJournal, Typepad, and for Spanish speakers Blogalia or Blogalaxia. With a longer class or 2 classes, I would do a quick tour of those sites. Blogger is lovely, but there are other options!
Maybe the students from the class will come and leave me a comment, so I can link to them. The ones I remember are:
Philip, who wrote a mystery novel, and who used to work in TV news, and who I think I know from past meetings of the Redwood City Not Yet Dead Poets: Philip’s Code.
Richard, who looked like he was in maybe 7th or 8th grade (but I could be wrong) and who came with his mom, and who is a huge star wars fan: Star Wars Freak.
A very lovely person whose name I have forgotten but who is a technical recruiter… I can’t remember her blog name
A dad and his high school or college-age son, and the son was super good at it all already, and the dad was starting a blog on his personal finance business for long-term care
Esperanzamj, who started a blog about hope and creativity
Gina, who was blogging in Spanish, ¡espero que me di su blog url aquí en los comments!
The woman who has a craft business and teaches classes and makes soap and beauty care products
And everyone else. That was really a lot of fun.