This is a comment ‘upgraded’ to a post. The original was in response to an inquiry from a colleague in the US. She asked for some tips on using a class blog. My response got long, and by the end I thought it probably could do with a dust-off and a reshaping into a stand-alone post. So here it is in the hopes that you too might find it useful.
The first thing is to find out what your school’s policy is on blogging. Do this before you begin. If there are queries raised by any authorities (from colleagues, principal through to school board members), be ready to respond. Last year an Australian colleague (who was a genuine pathfinder in his use of blogging in education) ran into difficulty with a state education authority. The potential for child abuse weighs heavily on the minds of all people of good will, and bureaucratic organisations sadly have little choice but to wave over perfectly innocent projects like this one with a ‘stop’ sign. Subsequently educational bloggers here debated the issues which revolved around the banning of that particular class blog: perceived bureaucratic heavy-handedness, professionalism, pedagogy, the use of children’s images online, the open-ness of the blogging platform and so it went. It was a good if at times emotive discussion, and one that had to be had. It began and ended with everyone fully supportive of the teacher in question, and his approach to class blogging.
What platform should you use for a class blog? I’d use Edublogs, which has built in administrative capacity for large numbers, and which has been designed for educational use. It’s bolted on to WordPress so you know you are getting a great ‘back-end.’ There are built-in widgets and an online help + great community of fellow educators to help out if you get stuck.
Next thing sketch out how you see the blog being used by you and the class and design accordingly. Will it be an all-in, everyone-respond with you (or an assigned student) leading the topic discussions? If so, you are not going to need individual pages or blogs. I’m using the term ‘class-blog’ to mean a blog that provides individual students with an opportunity to contribute to a class-focussed project or theme.
If you require each student to have his/her own page, then you could go the way I did with a reflective blog on a group project. I set up the blog, assigned an individual page to each student and they wrote their own entries as they went. Individual pages can be password protected for confidentiality with students sharing their passwords with you. This approach is a tad more complex in terms of organising entries, and you will need to spend some time teaching students the difference between writing in their ‘pages’ rather than creating entires as ‘comments.’ This might not matter to you.
Edublogger gives the teacher as blog administrator the opportunity to create individual blogs for each student. These can then be linked to a class ‘home-room’ page via the sidebar. Each student has the freedom to design his or her blog to suit … a great exercise in aesthetics, design, and organisation in itself. Students can password protect their blogs as they wish, and each blog is just a click away. Meantime you as the administrator can keep the focus on the main page with your own posts and general comments to everyone. Student blogs have the potential to become a student portfolio over time, or a precious journal or photo-album. This is the way I’d go next time I set up a class blog focussing round a group project.
You should also organise how you want students to respond in terms of style and frequency of posting: text, photos, videos etc., but I guess this is no different from the way we’d set up expectations in terms of material assignment submissions.
Lastly, I’d take the students step by step through the process you have used. Show them how you went about choosing which approach to use and why, and introduce them to how the whole business of blogging works. Demystify the whole back-end thing, so that they are confident about the tools they are using as well as their content. We tend to take pencils and paper for granted, but there is still a lot of mystery and anxiety aka digiphobia hovering around e-learning and its tools.
Add-ons like widgets can be used as you and the students see fit or find useful. You probably don’t need any to start, but there are plenty already available in Edublogger if you want to play. Blogging etiquette including commenting and other bloggy practices like tagging are learned as you go. And that’s how it should be.
I’m sure others will join in here with their tips. Check out also Sue Waters’ Edublogger site. Sue is a prolific and supportive e-learning mentor, and the site is full of great, easy to follow and above all practical support with lots of ‘how to’ information.