Function over form

I’m quite proud of my school blog. For something that is only 14 months old and for someone who hadn’t owned or commented on a blog prior to that, I believe it has quite a settled feel about it. It wasn’t like I was pushed into creating it either. I’d been wanting to set up something similar for a couple of years, but didn’t have either the  confidence or knowledge to know whether that could or should be a wiki or a blog or a moodle or one of the other plethora of platforms out there. It wasn’t until I came to Japan that I found in YIS the perfect environment to experiment and in Kim Cofino the perfect teacher. It was also at YIS that I learnt to distinguish between the different platforms and appreciate that blogs really are the jack of all trades.

From the start I was more concerned with function over form. I wrote down a list of what I wanted my blog to do and to be. I can’t find it anymore (ironically it was on a piece of paper), but it went something like this:

  • Student portal – a place where students can go to find information as well as be directed to other blogs/websites that I have vetted and deemed appropriate for their level of learning.
  • My wiki – a place where I can keep class notes / power points / articles etc for future use.
  • Student communication – a place where I can post class assignment due dates, notices of tests and generally inform the students what is happening.
  • Postings – a place where I can post my ramblings on economic or history topics and allow students to comment and engage in discussion. I try to do so once every ten days or so.
  • Paperless teaching – a place that will become the centre piece of my paperless classroom.
  • Audience appropriate – a place that is for my students, most of whom are grade 11 and 12 IBDP students.

With respect to form, I wanted the blog to be both accessible and have a mature, almost professional, feel about it. With that in mind, above is the top part of my homepage. In its current state it meets most of my form and function objectives. There are, however, three key aspects of my blog’s look I am considering changing.

First is the slightly crammed feel. I was interested to read Anne Aula and Kerry Rodden’s blog on eye-tracking about how we scan web pages. Although their work was largely based on search engines, it got me thinking that there is little that draws the eyes on my blog. I imagine it can be a little intimidating for students. Below is a another screen shot of the homepage from a little further down. There are too many words and links. My blog needs cleaning up – a good spring clean. I like having the three columns, but that might have to go. As the saying goes, three’s a crowd.

Second, my postings could be more user friendly. The Micheal Agger post on blogging suggests that blog posts should be approximately half the length of ‘conventional’ writing. That is a skill I am yet to acquire. My posts are far too wordy – this post being proof enough. My average post is 600-700 words, but many are far longer depending on the topic. I believe I am getting better and the average length is coming down, but there is still some way to go

Third, in my quest to make it age appropriate and appeal to my grade 11 and 12 students, I can see how the blog is perhaps too clinical in its overall look. Apart from the pictures, it is a sea of blue and black writing. I believe that blogs such as Rebekah’s and Alex’s make much more effective use of colour. Essentially our layouts are the all the same – theirs just look a little more fun. It’s something to which to aspire.

Similar to how I see myself, my blog is a work in progress and I’m comfortable with how it looks, but that’s not to say it couldn’t do with a little nip and tuck here and there.

3 Comments

  • Carl Knudsen
    February 6, 2012 - 8:45 pm | Permalink

    It is a funny world we live in. Some things can’t change fast enough, such as technology. If it doesn’t change quickly and constantly update itself, it then risks becoming obsolete. Other things seem to change on a regular cycle like automotive design; with most car models on a 3 to 4 year cycle. Others are very slow to change as we can see with some aspects of education. Some things like blogs are easy to change, but are there consequences for doing so?

    Blog design, as I am finding, out is a very personal thing. I want my blog to the best it can be. I want its form to compliment its function. I want it to represent me, but I also want to eventually attract regular followers. Right now I am thinking about major changes to my blogs. As I understand blogging and blog design I think I can do better. I wish I was far enough along in this process to give a light overhaul to my blogs as you seem to want to do with yours. My concern is that if I ever get a decent number of people following me, would changing the design of the blog lose followers? I know when I read my hometown newspaper online it drives me crazy when they redesign it.

    I read 2 articles about the effects of changing the design of your blog. One is called How Often Should You Change Your Blog Theme? by Jonathan Bailey link to bloggingtips.com and the other is called How Often Should I change My Blog Layout? by Troy Rutter link to asktheblogger.com Both articles go over the consequences of changing your blog design too often and what you can do to minimize or get around it.

    The most important things I will need to remember as I continue to blog is that a blog is inevitably about content and not about how it looks (though this helps). It is also about consistency. If you are changing your design too often you are affecting your brand and confusing your readers about what your blog is about. I think as my blogging develops, changing things thoughtfully and with specific purposes in mind (like you have in yours) will only make my blog stronger and more appealing to readers. It will be very interesting to see what happens.

    • February 7, 2012 - 4:29 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the comment. I really liked the bloggingtips article. Some great stuff in there. I’m glad they are not suggesting themes should be changed too often – as otherwise you spend more time on appearance than content which, as you say, is hardly the point and really breaks up any consistency.

  • March 17, 2012 - 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Superstar! I’m so impressed with your school blog (and this one)! You took to blogging like a duck to water and even though you might have some design improvements on the agenda, overall it’s fantastic how much you’ve accomplished in such a short time. I love that you actually write blog posts about your subject which demonstrate your passion and depth of understanding – this is what helps make your blog so engaging. Can’t wait to see the redesign!

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