Thinking of starting your own blogging class? Here are some of the lessons I learned.
Starting a new library program from scratch can feel intimidating. Will people show up? Will evaluations show at least an average level of engagement? These were the thoughts creeping into my head when I decided to develop an introductory class on blogging.
Like most great ideas in the library world, my spark to teach this class was ignited by another librarian. In 2015, I attended Diane Cordell’s workshop, "A Thousand Voices: The Power of Storytelling at Computers in Libraries." Her introduction to online storytelling tools made me reflect on how many of my library’s patrons could benefit from having a place to share their own stories and passions. After research and (many) revisions, Blogging Tips and Tools was born.
While the class now enjoys a small but invested number of patrons, my earlier attempts at teaching this topic were not successful. The first version I taught, called Telling Your Story Online, was — without mincing words — a mess. The class introduced a wide range of mediums, such as blogs, podcasts and essay-writing websites like Medium. Without a centralized focus, the class felt scattered, and attendees were confused about what exactly I was teaching. I realized I needed to scale back my enthusiasm, and I returned to the drawing board to create a single-focus class on blogging.
Thinking of starting your own blogging class? Here are some of the lessons I learned:
Blog search engines are a thing of the past.
While Blog Search Engine and Best of the Web might work well for some, I found they weren’t very helpful for beginning computer users. In class, we spend about 10 minutes browsing for blogs, and when we used a blog search engine, attendees spent some time scratching their heads over some of the results. I found that a Google search worked just fine. While it may not search the Deep Web for hidden blogs, it suited us for our purposes.
Create a basic blog to show in class.
One piece of consistent feedback I received was about seeing the internal workings of the blog. So, I created a very basic WordPress blog to show them the administrative side. Many patrons had no frame of reference, and it boosted their confidence to see how easy it was to create and post content. The refrain I use throughout class is, “If you can write an email, you can create a blog post.” (Even those who have yet to tackle email are encouraged by the simple interface.)
Keep your class as focused as possible.
After we covered blogs, I used to offer an introduction to creating eBooks. However, trying to differentiate between the two only created confusion. My explanation of copyright left much to be desired, and attendees would ask a lot of questions I could not answer. Plus, having never created an eBook, I had difficulty explaining how the mechanics worked. I found this component only divided the class’ attention, so I eventually scrapped that portion in favor of a shorter class session.
Our classes have no prerequisites, which means that anyone can show up to learn. This means patrons with different levels of familiarity — both with blogs and general computer skills — attend this class. Maintaining a balance between different experience levels is tough. Concepts need to be simple, but valuable. The best mix I’ve found includes a basic introduction to blogs, a behind-the-scenes tour of a blogging platform (in my case, Wordpress), and discussion of other key concepts such as marketing and privacy.
I also leave time at the end of every class for those who want to set up a blog. So far, even those who have expressed interest in starting a blog opt to do some further research before getting started. I’m hoping to see some of Baltimore’s newest blogs on horticulture, photography, and jazz music soon.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from creating your own class from scratch? Share them in the comments!