What About Tumblr?

Of all the blogging services out there, Tumblr is maybe the one that’s least like a traditional blog. At times, it feels more like a glorified Twitter feed. Tumblr feeds off sharing links and media while also offering a quick way to get a written post published. It’s design is simple, but limited. This allows for immediate posting and reposting. Tumblr’s interface also encourages following fellow Tumblr users to follow and share each other’s work.

Tumblr’s emphasis on the social has made it less attractive to teachers hesitant to introduce social media to their classrooms, but this is exactly why Tumblr deserves a chance. Because of the immediate nature of this tool, teachable moments, classroom discussion, and all of the many great moments that happen in real-time can exist on Tumblr. Of course, one must consider how to best utilize this popular social media tool to support learning.

First, Tumblr should be embraced as a collaborative learning and community-building tool. Not only should students have their own Tumblr blogs for collecting thoughts and resources, but they should follow each other. Tumblr has a unique dashboard design where the blogs users follow are part of a feed they can read and repost. If a classmate shares resources, quotes, or media that help another student’s understanding, that post can be marked or shared again. The sharing of resources and ideas is effortless using Tumblr’s social nature.

Teachers should also keep close track of what their students are posting on Tumblr. This can be done by following students much in the same way I suggested above for students to follow each other. However, searching through a Tumblr feed can be a bit unwieldy. Since this is a blog, adding each student’s feed to an RSS reader such as Google Reader is an easy way to keep track of student activity on Tumblr.

One of the biggest benefits of using Tumblr over other blogging services is the ability to easily share media and other resources. The interface for composing posts allows for users to publish text, photos, quotes, links, chats, audio, and video. Additional text, media, and hyperlinks could be added to any post, but this design encourages quick collection of resources, advancing classroom discussions. Tumblr also offers a browser bookmarklet for instant posting whenever a great resource is discovered.

For additional tracking, it’s important to really promote tagging posts. Tagging allows posts to be organized in multiple categories. Tags make it easier to search for content where Tumblr’s enormity can seem overwhelming. Of course, if you’re familiar with tagging, you understand just how valuable this feature can be to organizing any blog’s content, particularly one that encourages more frequent posting.

What Tumblr encourages is discussion and sharing while not requiring so much writing that students grow burnt-out. It’s benefit lies in immediacy and community by simplifying its structure and interface. This makes for a fun, social tool for classroom engagement.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.