I’ve been toying for a while (a few years now) with the idea of having my students blog. There are plusses and minuses to this idea (some unique to me and others common to all educators). I’d be interested in other peoples’ considerations and thoughts.
So, why do I want my students blogging? I like the idea of collective thoughts and ideas in a single place that the class and I can access. I feel like blogging can replace homework assignments that I currently have, the traditional “answer this question or write a reflection on this idea and turn it in.” Not only is it wasteful in terms of paper, but (due to my peripatetic nature being sans classroom), it lends to more frequent “lost” assignments (I’ll put it in quotes as this is an easy claim to lob at me) and allows for very little reflection or consensus. And having them email or dropbox them to me doesn’t really solve the issue as, well, have you had 90 kids emailing you their assignments (all entitled “homework”) over a series of a few days? Trust me, it’s a nightmare – especially when you don’t have ready access to a printer.
What I would like to do is provide them a safe space where they can write up their thoughts, synopses, answers to critical questions and then respond to the work of their classmates. I feel that not only would this give them the traditional reading/writing/analysis exercise, but also give them a ‘safe’ place to learn to read and constructively critique their classmates’ work (a much needed lesson in Digital Citizenship).
So, a few potential problems, hiccups, and issues that I see for me – many educators have other speed bumps.
- No classroom sets of computers. I’m a floating teacher and most of my rooms do not have a classroom set of computers. Out of five classrooms that I had last year, only one had a true class set.
- Heavy filtering. My school has a heavy filtering system. I’m sure that our amazing technology administrator would be willing to work with me, but this would require a lot of work on both our ends.
- Addressing parent concerns about their child being online. I was surprised last year that I had a few students who were not permitted online in their homes without a parent present. While I understand the parents’ motivation, this can be a problem for homework.
- Students can only do this exercise from a stable location (home or school). A lot of our students participate in sports or extra-curriculars and (during their sports season for example) are not at home until 9 or 10pm. Homework is usually done on the go – on the bus to/from a game, in a hallway waiting for an activity to begin, and so on.
- Student “buy in.” Believe it or not, teenagers are not always as excited about their education as I am. I find it shocking that they are not as interested in History or ancient peoples as me – I mean, it can’t mean that I’m a nerd can it? Surely not… Students don’t always ‘buy in’ (at least initially) to what we are trying to convey to them and don’t always respond to a rational argument. Shenanigans. Think of all the times you called your Biology teacher’s homework “stupid” or questioned how you would use your grasp of analogies in the real world?
So, I’ve identified a few of the potential problems and now I have plans on how to tackle them:
- Because of the limited classroom time, most blogging activity would have to be limited to homework time. Other classroom activities, computer lab time would have to be booked well in advance. This will require a lot more planning on my part.
- Meeting with the tech administrators and outline my exact needs.
- Educating parents about what their children will be doing online and how their privacy will be protected (e.g. blogs set to ‘private’)
- Limiting blogging to a regular, weekly activity that students can plan in advance – e.g. every Wednesday your blog entries on ‘xxx’ topic will be due and three meaningful responses to your classmates’ work due every Friday.
- In terms of student ‘buy in,’ all I can do I think is explain to them what we’re doing and why and show them the products of their work. I think I need to accept that this won’t be an overnight thing.
Tools – what are the best blogging tools (hosting and writing) for students? I’ve been examining this quite a bit. Key features: multiple authorship, privacy settings, and ease-of-use.
WordPress – Clearly I like WordPress (as I host my blog here). I like that it has an iOS and Android application (even though they’re not the best). Also, the UI is excellent. Also, I can have 35 users per blog for free ($29.97 a year after that). If I set up one class per blog, this is more than enough. If I want some cross-class platform, then I can talk to my administration about the $30/year. Heck, we would spend more money printing their homework. I can also set blogs to private.
EduBlogs – I’ve played around with EduBlogs but am not the biggest fan of their UI. Still, the fact that they are entirely devoted to an educational platform helps in terms of weeding out potentially problematic blogs (considered graphic, adult, etc). They also have extensive privacy features and do not require email addresses to create a blog (key for those teachers who have students under 13). However, you do not have the management features that you find in WordPress unless you have the paid features. To see an outline of the features and cost, click here.
Blogger – As blogger is tied in with Google, there are a lot of benefits and draw-backs here. One it is tied in with your Google account. This can be an issue with privacy. However, it can also be immensely convenient in terms of tie-in with your Google Reader, YouTube account, etc. Blogger also has free Team Blogging, highly conducive to a class blog feature. Also, you can set your blog to private.
So, these are my thoughts right now in a nutshell. Still toying with it and may not implement it – or may do it with one class as an experiment…. I think that there is a lot you can do with it but there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. Right now, it’s still an idea and a toy…
Added on: Here is another great post about How to Organize a Class Blog (to help manage the logistics).