For me, blogs have become essential elements in almost all of my classes. I previously used in-class journals extensively, but often found myself with some questions when it came to evaluating the class-set. How often should I check them? How could I realistically provide helpful feedback? Should they stay in the classroom or go home with students? These were small issues, but they still prevented the journals from achieving all that I hoped.
Then I discovered blogs, and quickly learned that they could expand the journal in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. Instead of me having to collect 20 notebooks daily or weekly, I just had to hop online. I could comment on students’ writing when I wanted, but in reality they had better people offering feedback: their peers. As a result, the quality of writing and thinking improved overall, and students were integrating other media into their work. They could more easily use their posts and discussions as the basis for essays.
Blogs provided a whole lot of learning value for a relatively simple set-up process on my part. I was hooked.
Ways of Using Blogs in Education
I’ve found that I gravitate towards three main ways of using blogs.
1. Single Classroom Blog
For Grade 9/10, I often use a single blog for the whole classroom. In this situation, the blog becomes a semi-discussion board (I post a question, and students comment on it), as well as a place to showcase student work. Some teachers choose to make this a place that parents can drop in on to learn about what’s going on in the classroom. (I prefer to have parents come to a class website first, but that’s just me.) In a single classroom blog, the security is high and the teacher can very closely moderate student writing. There are many free blog services for this type of blog: EduBlogs, WordPress, and Blogger are some of the most popular and I can vouch for them all being easy to use.
2. Blog Portal
I like senior high school students to have their own blogs where they self-publish their ideas and then leave comments on their peers’ writing. This type of blog pushes students to see themselves as both authors and critics. With these students we practice citing sources using effective hyperlinks, using creative-commons licensed images, and developing a voice in writing and blogging. I have used 21Classes with great success, but other options for supporting a blog network would be a Ning, Moodle, or Edublogs Pro account. It’s harder to find a completely free option for these tools now, so it’s probably worth checking with your Board to see if they’ve got a similar service. If you really enjoy this type of thing, you may want to self-host a blog, in which case BuddyPress offers some interesting options.
3. Professional Reflective Journal
I’ve been blogging about teaching English on The Lamppost for over 2 years. What started out as a means to self-reflect has morphed into something more valuable to me. People comment on my ideas and refer me to other resources that might help me. They critique what I have to say and offer fresh insight. The blog has become my hub of a global professional network. I’m humbled and grateful all at once.
Steps to Starting an Educational Blog
My suggestion would be to start by identifying your students’ writing level and determining what skills you’d like to see them develop in the course. You’ll also want to consider what types of privacy levels you want in place (I tend to make mine as private as possible). From there you can decide if you want a single classroom blog, or a blog portal, or a personal reflective blog to begin with.
Next, select a service that is going to work for you. If you want it to be free, then you may have to put up with some advertising. (Check, though — some services will remove ads for educational sites.) Play with a couple of different services and select one that YOU find easy to manage. Try posting, commenting, and moderating comments before you commit to one for your classroom.
Draft some policies to share with students. How will inappropriate material be dealt with? What constitutes inappropriate posting or commenting? Post these policies on the blog.
Decide how you will invite students to the blog. I’ve made it a personal policy to never collect student email addresses, so I often use the gmail trick to assign them classroom email addresses and passwords.
Before inviting students to your blog, do some preparatory work in talking about the tone of a school blog and the type of language that should be used. Demonstrate hyperlinking to credit sources, and show them how to find and credit a creative commons licensed image in a post.
Post an introductory and welcome post, and launch the first warm-up blog assignment, which should probably be something as simple as “Post a paragraph introducing yourself.” I find it’s important to provide very quick feedback to the first few posts, after which students are often relaxed enough to take the online discussion in hand.
Finally, I have found that self-evaluation is essential for students to improve their writing.
Blogging may be one of the simplest tools for teachers to implement in the classroom, and by having students learning effective, safe, online communication, perhaps it is one of the most important tools available.
Image by Anonymous Account
Series image from ryan_franklin_az