A major component of the course is participation on the blog. At the start of the semester, we want to begin by thinking about the blogs each of us reads. What makes them good? Why do we return to them again and again? What features about them are convenient and enable the easy exchange of information? As we write and participate in class, we should think about blog features and incorporate them into what we create. Here’s a list of guidelines to keep in mind.
Technical Guidelines: Top Ten
Each person is a contributing writer to what I hope will be an interesting and informative resource for people who are interested in the social creation of America’s national parks. In order to make the product we put out as learned and visually appealing as possible, please adhere to the following guidelines when writing.
1. Come up with a creative title for each post. This is self-explanatory. Generate a title that will pique interest in what you write and will generate attention.
2. Tag and categorize your post appropriately. When writing and after writing, be sure to use categories and tags according to the logic we’ve established in class. This is called ascribing metadata to your posts. I will develop the blog categories; please adhere to them. However, tagging is also important, as it helps other people find the blog, and it is a conceptual map of what each post is about. You are free to use established tags or create new ones, if they make sense to you.
3. Use images and embed YouTube videos. Most blog posts should have at least one image somewhere, but preferably near the top of the post, “above the fold.” This is particularly true if you are making connections between landscape paintings and our discussions of the national parks. In order to upload images, use the “upload/insert” toolbar at the top of the writing panel. The best way to add an image is to download something from a website, save it to a folder on your hard drive, and then upload that file onto your blog post. From there, you can edit the size, add a caption, and even alt text. When appropriate, you are encouraged to add a caption that describes the picture or adds to the reading experience. Try to have the text of your article wrap around an image in a way that looks visually appealing when the post is published; you may have to fiddle with the dimensions of your image after you load it into the post.
YouTube videos are even easier to handle. Simply click the video icon on the aforementioned menu, copy the YouTube “share this” URL, and hit “insert.” Images and videos are a great way to synthesize multi-media content to the blog or just provide nice decoration.
4. Link to other sources, and embed links in your writing. Linking is a way of engaging with other ideas while writing online. In order to do this, simply highlight some text, and then click on the link button on the control panel. Copy and paste a URL. If the address is from another blog, or even a blog post by someone else from this blog, link to it as well. It will generate a pingback, which lets other bloggers know that you’ve interacted with their work. For instance, the other day, I read an interesting article about the possibility of a former atomic bomb test site becoming a national park. What does this mean?
5. Set off block-quotations of other sources, especially from our primary readings and from secondary sources, as you write. In all your writing, do get into the habit of actually quoting the words of other people. This is a particularly good idea when the text in question is from a novel, play, essay, or poem that we read in class. WordPress has established a feature to do this: the quotation mark button on the dashboard. For instance, when talking about William Cronon’s ideas about wilderness, you may want to quote his essay directly:
No less important was the powerful romantic attraction of primitivism, dating back at least to Rousseau–the belief that the best antidote to the ills of an overly refined and civilized modern world was a return to simpler, more primitive living. (76)
Simply highlight the quoted text, separate it with a new paragraph, and then click the quotation button. Then follow your quotation with some analysis.
6. Use the “More” tag. Since all of us in this class will be writing posts, myself included, we won’t want a single post to dominate the entire home page. In order to give each post approximately equal space on the page, use “more” tag, the fourth-from-left button on the top row of the control panel. Or just hit alt+shift+t. Try to have your image above the “more” tag.
7. Comment liberally. One of the features of blogging and online writing is instant response from other interested readers. Read an average article on the Alabama.com website, and you’ll see what I mean. Here on the ART 327 blog, everyone should use the comment feature liberally. Share ideas with classmates. Commend good writing. Critique ill-thought ideas. Complicate things. Respond to brainstorms. Laugh out loud. And most importantly, provide good feedback on posts that build toward larger projects.
8. Use the built-in features to rate each blog post and/or “like” posts. With WordPress, you can express your reaction to a post with the click of a mouse; you hardly even have to register a coherent thought. Seriously, “liking” or rating a post on a scale of 1-5 is important for a couple of reasons: first, it lets the people who write know that they are being read and are doing a good job (or a not good job) and it helps me know which writers are resonating with people. There also may be grade bonuses for writers who achieve high ratings and whose posts generate the most hits, so there is an incentive for writing well, interesting multiple audiences, and getting page views.
Another good way to enliven the site visually and solicit feedback is to create a poll via the PollDaddy feature, located on the left hand tool bar. Again, this is intuitive. You’ll be surprised how easy it is.
9. When you see particularly good content, including your own, spread the word. WordPress has features installed that will help us circulate our content and put it on the screens of like-minded readers. By linking sites to social media and bookmarking platforms, you help increase your reading audience. So do your part to get the word out. Share a good post via Twitter, Facebook, or any other bookmarking site. Link to the writing of your peers. Link to other blogs in your writing. Cite the writing of other people in the class.
10. Strive for excellence in design, appearance, and writing. This blog is a creative space that you can make your own. As a class, we will take control of this blog collectively, and it is my goal that it will serve multiple roles as we move on. Not only will this blog be a portal for information about the class, but it will also be a place where people who are interested in reading about art history, landscape art, and the national parks will come for like-minded conversation and ideas. That being said, do good work.
If you have any questions about WordPress or blogging, feel free to visit the WordPress help pages, or just ask Andrew or Kelly. Throughout the semester, we will cover some blogging basics in class. Anyone can blog!
The above video is a great talk by Josh Jones-Dilworth, who spoke at the University of Texas-Austin’s Digital Writing and Research Lab. I’ve also compiled a list of observations and advice about blogging on my own site.
The first list instructs us on how to blog and how to use the WordPress interface. This next list sets some guidelines on what to write, where to get ideas, and what kind of content you can create and include in your posts.
1. Get some sense of what other people are saying about the national parks today. Read articles from the sites listed on the course research guide and link to ideas that seem interesting to you. Develop robust lists on Twitter and Facebook, do Google News searches, and otherwise put yourself in the position to synthesize relevant, timely information.
2. Supplement your reading of our primary texts (landscape paintings and the national parks themselves) and our secondary critical texts with any content you come across that will help everyone else understand the national parks and their place in our culture more deeply. See a video on YouTube that relates? Read an article on the Huffington Post that profiles an experience in Yellowstone? Listened to a clip on NPR? Bring them into the discussion.
3. Write with a purpose. Do you have an argument that you can back up by showing how at least 17 other bloggers are talking about? Demonstrate that in your posts. Have a question about something that came up in class that you find controversial? Write a blog post about it here. Use the blog as a space to explore thinking informally. What you write here may strike a cord with someone, and it may become the basis of a more developed project.
4. Create your own content that will supplement your writing. Perhaps you are an aspiring artist and you draw an illustration of some waterfalls in Acadia National Park. Scan it, and post it to the blog. Take a picture and upload. Brainstorm for an essay by talking in front of your web-cam or into a digital voice recorder and then post it here.
5. Quote the texts we are reading! This includes images of landscape paintings. Bring in sections of what other people have written and then engage with it.
6. Don’t feel bad if you take images from elsewhere. When in doubt, give credit. The Creative Commons is always a good place to look for images.
7. Think about writing in ways that will interest a broad audience. The more interesting something is, the more likely a wide audience will read about it. Try to imagine that you are writing to an audience that may or may not be in this class.
8. Reference discussions we have in class. Follow up on them, or return to them when appropriate.
9. Respond to the questions Kelly and Andrew pose in our blog posts. These questions are a starting point, but they are not the end of anyone’s exploration of the national parks. Rather, they will help frame our discussions.
10. Use your own blog posts as exploratory exercises for writing that may appear in a formal essay. Although it varies, your posts should be about 1000 words long, or at least long enough to develop some sustained thinking about a particular painting or article.