Blogs are great ways for students to express themselves, share their ideas easily with the class, and students can do it anywhere at anytime (provided they have an Internet connection). On top of that, it is a great way to integrate a little English into any subject. This semester was the first time Omar and I tried it with our students and it worked pretty well. While it seems like a no brainer of why creating a class blog is beneficial; there were a lot of details that Omar and I needed to consider before creating our class blogs. Read on past the break to find out what those details were and what we discovered.
Detail #1 – The platform
When considering this, there are only two real options: Blogger.com (same as blogspot.com and owned by Google) and WordPress.com. There may be others out there, but these are the two most popular sites to create blogs, they’re free, and they don’t seem like they are going anywhere anytime soon.
Blogger.com is very simple. You can create as many blogs as you like, there are plenty of themes to chose from, and you have a lot of options when it comes to adding widgets and such. Students will need a Google account to officially join or create a blog. In other words, it is good.
WordPress.com offers more or less the same thing. Creating a blog is easy, loads of themes, easy to join or create, and you can customize the theme with whatever you want.
There are other options you may find, such as Edublogs, or Kidblogs, but both of those use the WordPress software, it is just hosted elsewhere, and Omar and did not see any real advantage to using either of those two.
Omar picked WordPress.com and I chose Blogger.com (since many of my students have a gmail, but this was not to be. When they tried to create a blog, Google wanted to send them a text message with a verification number. Being overseas, this can prove to be a problem and really bothersome. Some students actually received the text message, but the code did not work, so I was forced to go to Wordprss.com and I’m glad I did.
Detail #2 – One to rule them all?
I admit, it’s a dorky reference to the Lord of the Rings, but I just couldn’t help myself. We next had to consider whether to create one blog for the whole class and have students create their own. If students have their own, it certainly promotes them to keep blogging after the class, but man, that is a lot of URL’s to keep track of, and we have no way to monitor/censor inappropriate content. While this is certainly restricting free speech, we decided a school blog will have the school rules applied to it, and we needed a way to monitor and enforce them. Also, students can easily create their own blog and write what they wish without associating it with the school.
For me, I was creating a blog for one grade and it made it easier to put more than one class together.
Detail #3 – Ease of use
I’ve used both Blogger and WordPress.com, my wife is currently blogging away with Blogger.com so I can assuredly say that both are very easy to use and to get started. Adding people to the blog is also very easy, and while WordPress.com took a little longer to get everyone on the blog, it was accomplished quite easily and with a few exceptions, it was not a problem.
Like I said, my class did have some problems with Blogger and so we abandoned it, but after a little research it turns out it is just as easy to add someone to the blog as an author as it is with WordPress.com.
Adding posts is also super easy on both platforms, as one might guess. One reason that I liked the WordPress.com platform, was that I could create my own categories and then add a widget to the blog that listed all the categories. What Omar did (and I followed suit) was to create a category for each student and as they posted, they selected their name in the category list. In other words, on the blog itself, it was easy to find out who posted what. This was much faster than gong through the blog post by post to read everyone’s thoughts. Especially when a few students turned their posts in late.
Also, with more than one post, WordPress.com made it incredibly easy to switch between my two blogs. I didn’t have to go back to a main page and select a different blog. With WordPress.com, there is always a menu bar that floats at the top of the page. There you can switch between blogs, even start adding new posts to a different blog right away. It is very handy.
So there it was. Omar used his blog a little different than I did. He used his as a container to submit work (a good option for digital photography). Overall it was a success, but there were somethings I would have done differently, well, I will do differently this semester. One, I would hold more discussions about the posts afterwards. To help bring some closure. It didn’t seem I was doing enough of that in the class.
Second, I would post as well. At first I thought that my thoughts would . . . lead my students too much with their ideas. That may, but I need to model what I teach. I can’t just tell them “blogging is important! You need to be contributors, not just consumers,” and then not practice that. I will definitely be blogging with my kids this semester.
Third, I required my students to write one meaningful comment on five different blog. I did not give them any time in class, which was a mistake. I should have given them a little time to encourage this. While the comments ultimately got better and better, there were a few people who did no or few comments at all. Those students missed out on something. I am not sure if they knew it or not, but they missed out on the beauty of sharing an idea and having people actually respond to it. I did post comments and I felt that helped encourage my kids.
OK, i“m starting to drone on here. The point is, if you’re on the fence about blogging with your kids, get off it and start doing it. It is a super flexible way to get students to express themselves. In a semester we had seven blog posts, so it is not as if we were blogging constantly. Just pick a platform and get to it. To help you out, Omar and I are going to have some how-to get started blogs coming up in the near future so stay tuned!