Saturday, March 10, 2007

Web blogs

Web logs, or Blogs as they are commonly called these days, provide a brilliant way to publish chunks of text, headings and links on the web. They can also feature pictures. There are several tools available to help with this but probably the simplest to get to grips with is Blogger, a member of the Google stable, and once it's set up, you can just type what you want or paste in text from existing documents. The particular advantage of this type of tool is that you need no web skills at all and all the design and linking is taken care of for you.


Go to the Blogger start page which has a nice 1-2-3 guide to creating your blog. You need to provide a name for it. This is quite important as it will feature prominently so use something like the course title or topic name. As it can cover several sessions or topics you probably won't want to be too specific. Another important name is the text that will become part of the blog url or address. This takes the form You may be lucky and choose a title that is also available as a web address but it's likely that you'll need to come up with a different one here. As you'll need to use the address for links (and maybe recall it for other use fairly readily) try and use something like course-initials, college-course or course-2007 if you find that others have already nabbed your first preferences. Spaces and most special characters are not a good idea, most will be rejected anyway. You'll find it may take a few tries to get an address but a bit of invention and creativity should get you over that hurdle.

Most of the questions you are then asked are either pretty obvious or have default answers you can just accept at this stage - but for the time zone and date display it is recommended that you set GMT and UK format. Once you have chosen a template and answered these initial set-up questions your blog is ready for your entries. It is called 'posting' so you'd use 'new post' for each article, set or section of notes.

Order of appearance

If you are publishing a series of notes that you'd like read in sequence then, as Blogger lists them with the most recent at the top, it can be a good idea to publish them in reverse, i.e. last one first, assuming you have them all ready! If you forget, or add things later, you can cheat the system by changing the date or time of your post before publishing it. Most templates include an Archive that lists them too and that does have a reverse list option. Go to Dashboard, Layout and Edit the Archive panel (or add one if it's missing).


To add a link to another web site within a post, highlight the text to be clicked and use the Hyperlink button. In the panel that appears enter the full site address. If you want to add a side panel with a list of links available wherever people are you can add a special panel. Go to Dashboard, select Layout. Add a Links panel then drag it into place.


Publishing is just a matter of putting a title in the box provided and then text in the big space below. There are wp-like buttons available on the toolbar but you shouldn't need them, except for highlighting certain text in bold or italic. Avoid underlining if you can as this can make text look like a link. The template you chose when setting it up will control the colours and font size and style for you so it's usually best not to fiddle.

Adding text

If you already have notes in Word or want to use text from elsewhere that you can highlight and copy then you can paste this into the text area. (you may have to use Ctr+V to do the paste bit.) There is a useful extra tool that can enable you to publish straight from Word to Blogger. It's the Blogger toolbar for word and is available from this link. This creates an extra item on the Word toolbar menu and works very well. You may not even have to leave your safe Office environment at all once it's set up!

Adding pictures

The other way to add pictures is to insert a picture rather like you would in Word. Use the Insert picture icon on the text area toolbar and hit 'Browse' to locate your image on your computer. Choose a size for the image and Blogger will do the uploading, positioning and resizing for you so that it loads as quickly as most users will prefer, maintaining the best balance of speed and quality. That process, in itself, would have taken quite a few separate steps (and skills) if you'd had to do it yourself every time!

RSS: what is it?

At this point it's worth explaining what RSS is. Now that you have pages of notes and material available on line wouldn't it be nice if students could see a list of headings either on their own sites or at a central point (like the one you'll create if you use the ideas in this project)? Headings and a short intro too, even? Well, Really Simple Syndication, which is what RSS stands for, does just that.Using Blogger means you get the tools automatically. On your blog dashboard (there'll be a link to that when you log in) click on the publishing tab for your blog. Tick the box to enable RSS feeds. Make a note of the url.