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I was wondering where to start in setting up a class blog for a group of distance education (primary) students. Despite having my own blog, there were issues I was unsure about. Knowing that there was a wealth of wisdom and experience out there, I decided to tap into my network, oz-teachers listserv. The advice I received is reprinted below for the benefit of other educators who may be feeling a little hesitant about how to start or where to start. Many thanks to my friend Anne and to John, Rob and Frances, who replied to my plea for help.
Q1. I am wondering whether it would be better to have one blog that the
students can contribute to rather than a blog each.
Response:- Initially I would have one blog that students contribute to. This would mean they save their files on a drive and allow you as teacher to grab them either by email attachments and upload them onto the blog post. More work for you, but when confidence with the system grows, revert to individual blogs if all goes well. Or, they could all be added as users rather than administrators. What is role of tutor parents? I would encourage parents to comment back on posts as much as possible.
Q2. Wondering whether to start off with a ‘closed’ network so that students
can freely post images of themselves, family etc?
Response:- Except in exceptional circumstances, I would never advise closed blogs as this destroys the very nature and potential powerful learning outcomes that can arise. One reason our student blogs are so successful, is that they are ‘out there’, students love them online, comments come in from global students and teachers and this encourages them to continue writing more effectively. The connectedness with other global citizens is something that needs to be experienced to understand the amazing increased learning outcomes. Sharing, connectedness and social networking is what kids love and thrive on. If parental permission is provided, wallow photos of students, groups etc as long as they do not name who is in the photo. You can use software like www.befunky.com to disguise quite well the actual individual photos. After 10 months there have been no cyber safety issues at all.
Q3. What subject strand to follow?
Response:- I would start with just general topics and themes, for everyone to get comfortable, confident etc eg Set five goals for the remainder of the year. Describe why the area you live in is unique. Prompts are great and students may be responsible for providing some of the prompts each week. A general literacy or English area would be the easiest or civics and citizenship. Geography might be a good one due to the nature of the blog.
Q4. Cyber safety issues:
Response:- A page linked added to the home blog with some valuable links. I like some of those linked on the global teacher page.
Q5. Understanding copyright issues.
Response:- This is a big issue. Students and even some staff feel that anything on the internet is free for all and it needs to be constantly ‘drummed in’. There are some great little videos on youtube and teachertube. Be prepared to keep commenting back when issues arise. It is another learning activity.
Q6. Anyone who is running a class blog envisage what I may need to prepare/have missed?
Start simple, then add to it as it evolves. Students themselves will drive the direction and indicate other things that can be added. An about me page is essential. Links to other global class blogs will encourage students to read other’s work, and see the potential of blogging. Encourage them to add comments on other student work. Other keen global students will then return to the blog, comment and the connections start. I have started getting students from other areas and countries coming to my blog and commenting on post prompts, so my class is increasing in size all the time and this makes it so exciting for teachers. Add the clustr map as that is a great motivator. If students have individual blogs, get them to add a photo a week with a brief description (one they have taken of course) Encourage the addition of multimedia to cope with multiliteracies. A voicethread for students to introduce themselves would be great on one page (avoiding any personal details.) Photo manipulation and resizing needs to be taught as well.
Footnote: Initially, the biggest issue will be teaching them how to use and drive their blog. This will take some coordination and tutuorial type activities. Being distance education students, I assume that they are savvy with emails and other technological equipment, which means they are comfortable and confident with technology.
Given that you are working with junior distance ed students, like Anne said my experience is that when introducing blogging to students it is easiest for a number of reasons to set up a class or group based blog. Class blogs take the pressure off of all students to write all of the time yet have the blog continue to grow. It also means that you, the students and parents have only one webspace to have to focus on initially and that things are easier for you from an administration point of view.
Especially in your situation with Distance Ed it would be relatively tricky I would have thought to set up a closed blog. That apart, at the schools I have worked in, and that is in excess of 300 blogs, we have always had the blogs completely live to the web. Part of the process of working with blogs is educating the students about the fabulous opportunities as well as the many pitfalls that can occur from using the internet. This can only be done by working live to the web. Students draw so much encouragement when they embed maps such as Clustrmaps which show where their readers live.
As far as personal images go, as Anne says there are a number of ways in which these can be altered. It can also be useful for students to discover ways of showing images that don’t include facial features. Again this is part of educating the students about being aware of the pitfalls of using the internet, Most parents also, once they realise what the images are to be used for are only too ready to allow appropriate pictures to be inserted into the blogs.
Like Anne suggested, I would definitely start out with just a general blog probably with the aim of telling about what is happening. In the class situation, this is relatively easy, and probably in the distance ed situation where students maybe doing lots of diverse things, there will also be lots of things to talk about.
One thing you might like to take account of the is the fact that blogs, especially into blogs allow you to set up categories. This is a powerful way of allowing individuals to access just their work. In the case of Middle P Prattlings, http://mrpbps.learnerblogs.org/ ,you can see down the left-hand side the list of all the students in grade, listed as categories. You can also see in the posts, the name of the post-author and the category in which the post belongs.
As far as safety goes, there are lots of resources out there that may help. On all of our later blogs, we have included a set of rules that you can access and copy at http://mrpbps.globalstudent.org.au/the-rules-rule/ . The Commonwealth government cyberquoll site http://www.cyberquoll.com.au/hub.htm is also worth a look at. As far as Copyright goes the smartcopy site http://www.smartcopying.edu.au/allright/index.htm is well worth a look at especially to yourself and you might also like to consider the copyright for kids linked on my test blog http://mrpbps.globalstudent.org.au/ .
To get some idea of the other tools, and which it is in things it you can use to spice up your blog, you might like to have a look at http://saltysolutions.pbwiki.com/ and http://projectingpassionately.pbwiki.com/FrontPage which both have short discussions and examples of a range of other add-ins some of which Anne has mentioned in her post.
Are there are a number of blogging portals out there, the one that I like use edublogs http://edublogs.org/ . To help get you started with edublogs, you can find a tutorial handout http://www.box.net/shared/mhta5gtc0c , that you can download at my blog http://johnp.wordpress.com/ at under the tutorials tab. On my blog, you’ll also find a link to a new book that I and a colleague have written as an introduction to blogging and lots more elements of Web 2.0.
As Anne suggested once you start blogging there are lots of other skills, and things to learn about, which will no doubt be challenging but also very exciting.
One option would be to start with the teacher posting the main articles
(blog posts) and allow students to comment … so they can still express
themselves straight away …but with some control.
You could set it up so only your students could comment to start with if
you wanted, even if it was publicly visible – and/or could set up
moderation so there was a little delay between writing comments and
seeing them (ie you approve each comment) … could also do that on an
open blog where all can comment … would allow you to catch anything
that needs editing or deleting, from your students of outsiders, before
WordPress (eg edublogger) allows this sort of flexibility, and pretty
sure blogger does too.
Then could move to individual blogs – I know wordpress (and therefore
edublogger) has a ‘multiuser’ option designed for ‘class sets’ of blogs
(edublogger calls it ‘campus’ I think), but I’ve never used it –
But standard edublogger blogs are ok as well … then kids can choose
their own design style, and publish both posts and comments ….
We have grade blogs which are used for various purposes. These, and
years blogs are listed on my staff PD site:
We actually use the blogs to help us teach cyber safety & copyright
awareness. Have a look at the Year 5 & 6 blogs for examples.