Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A numpty's guide to classroom blogging

An anonymous student left a comment on my More classroom blogs post asking how to set up classroom blogs. I decided that this was too big a topic to deal with in a reply. Sorry to Anonymous for taking so long to respond.

The comment was:
I am really interested in using a blog to help pupils benefit from peer assessment for critical written work in art during my next placement. Can you tell me what site would be the best to set up a blog with? and also im worried about any problems that might arise of asking pupils to go onto the internet at home as homework etc - how do i pitch it to the school and teachers? thanks.
My new I'm blogging this T-shirt
My new I'm blogging this T-shirt,
originally uploaded by inf.
Firstly then, "Can you tell me what site would be the best to set up a blog with?" Hmm! How long's a bit of string? (Twice the distance from the middle to one end as any fool know... but that's a different story.) In part the answer will depend on what you want to do with the blog. Are you writing the blog and inviting pupils to make comments? Do you want the pupils to set up their own individual blogs? Do you want a classroom blog with multiple pupil authors? Different blogging tools have different strengths and the use you envisage will help determine the choice. Also, you say it is for art classes, so do you want to be able to show images in the blog? Some tools make it easier than others to include images.

I use Blogger. This may not be the best choice for schools (see the MFLE's advice on Creating a weblog) but many schools make effective and appropriate use of it. I have found Blogger easy to use with a range of helpful features.

A brief summary of some blogging tools can be found at LTScotland's ICT in Education - Blogging pages, however, I would add Class Blogmeister, Elgg and Learnerblogs to their list of free blogging tools. These three tools are interesting since, unlike Blogger, they are intended for use in an education environment (although Elgg isn't specifically aimed at schools). My advice would be to create an account and then make a couple of posts in each to try them out. You should then get a feel for which will work best for the way you want to use it. For example, are the image sharing features of Elgg useful in an Art blog?

Secondly you ask, "im worried about any problems that might arise of asking pupils to go onto the internet at home as homework etc - how do i pitch it to the school and teachers?". Schools and Authorities are concerned about Internet safety, and rightly so. You should therefore take time to consider these issues so that you can help reassure the school that appropriate steps can be taken to minimise risks. As a first step, you should try to find the school's policy on Internet use. If you can show that what you are doing is covered by existing policy, it should be easier to get approval. Also, read the advice on the MFLE's Responsibility in blogging pages. You should also read Mike Hetherington's excellent advice on How to set up a student centred classroom blog. His guide covers Learnerblogs but also deals with some general issues such as the pre-moderation of pupil comments.

Finally, I suspect the thing that worries schools the most about blogs is comments. In my opinion, the possibility of getting comments from anyone and everyone is one of the things that makes blogs such a powerful educational tool. I would therefore fight tooth and nail to make sure that comments are allowed on any blog you create. I have no strong feelings about moderated verses unmoderated comments, but I suspect that, if a school is nervous, pre-moderated posts and comments will be an easier "pitch"!

That's my tuppence worth. I admit to having limited experience of any blogging tool other than Blogger, so it's over to the readers of this blog - all comments and suggestions for Anonymous will be gratefully received. Share your experience of other tools here. Also, a good way to convince schools of the value of blogging is to show them good examples of classroom blogs, so any comments pointing us to good school Art blogs would be very much appreciated.

And a reply from Anonymous revealing his or her secret identity would be good too!

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Stuart Meldrum said...

This is pretty interesting, I just last night sat down to look at using edublogs.org which provides free wordpress blogs for anyone to do with education.

I'm planning to do something along the lines of what your anonymous student is planning involving blogs and peer-assessment in my final year project.

I'll have to sit down and read through these links sometime. Thanks David.

David said...

Hello Stuart

I'm glad the timing was good for someone because I suspect it's a bit too late for Anonymous!

I'd be interested to see what you and your pupils come up with if your peer-assessmnet blog gets off the ground. Will you let us know if and when it starts?

ab said...

Hi David,

we have been using Blogger for quite a few sites in Argyll & Bute, but I, like you, had little experience of other tools before recommending it to others. Edublogs.org seems to offer a great deal of functionality in a nice and easy to use 'WordPress' interface.

I was worried about using Blogger because of the 'next blog' button on the NavBar at the top of the screen, but Ewan McIntosh tipped me off about how to get rid of it. I made a wee Flash Movie explaining how.

As an Education Support Officer, blogging is the most inspiring thing I have seen in education recently. So for all your students that read this, then give it a go with your classes - the increase in motivation, enthusiasm and interest you will see with your pupils is quite marked!

David said...

Hello Andrew

There have been quite a few student blogs started in the course of this year (a subject for another post I think...) and at least two students (not counting Mr/Ms Anonymous) have spoken to me about starting blogs with their classes. It will be interesting to see what comes out of it.

It has convinced me of one thing though - because the third placement is so short, any blogging activities would barely get started before the student has to move on so I need to get more students blogging earlier next year! If the students start earlier, maybe the pupil blogs will get started in placement two. Now that would be interesting. It would allow the students to continue working with the pupils in their placement school while they are back at Jordanhill. Now, that would be interesting.

John said...

Hi David,
I think a short term blog can be a useful thing. I've created a few blogs that lasted for a week.
If I had enough machines (maybe next session) I'd be happy using a blog for one day. Or one event (with multiple authors blogging on one day and following the comment/reaction). Having said that, blogging rattles my already shaky classroom organisation pretty hard, might be hard to manage in a placement.

The blog tool we use:
allows me to set up a new blog pretty quickly. Pivot is not quite as slick as wordpress, but might be easier to footer with the templates given a bit of basic css knowledge and time. It also runs without a database. Pivot lacks the pre moderation of wordpress which might be a killer for some.
Hosting a blog on your own site (wordpress, pivot or quite a few others) has some advantages over using a service as you have more control over the look and feel, but I've set up a few edublogs.org blogs and the process is simple.
I'd be a wee bit worried about hacking blogger as I guess they could work around the hack sometime in the future. IMO wordpress is a bit sweeter than blogger, mind you as blogger is now owned by do no evil google it might be ok.

David said...

Hello John

The DIY approach has its attractions but I suspect it is beyond the capabilities of many teachers. ...I would have said "most" instead of "many" in the previous sentence but decided to hedge my bets. :-)

There are very few schools where it is possible to install any software on a school machine let alone set up a server. How do you do it? Is the server based in the school or is it somewhere else?

John said...

Hi David,
Well our blog is just on our web host's machine same place we host the rest of the site. I'd arranged that before Glasgow suggested the Gateway setup. I set the site up from home as we don't seem to have an ftp app on the primary network. You just need to upload the files for the blog and click a few things. As I test I installed wordpress on my isp webspace, following the instructions it took less than the promised 5 minutes.
Pivot is not as slick, but I've not tried a new installer package.
But I don't really think it is a teachers job to be installing a blog, unless they really want to. More fun than marking IMO.

ab said...

Good idea to get your students started earlier on in the session David, and John you are quite right that short term blogs can be really productive. The most important thing IMO (now that I've figured out what that stands for ;-) - I'm a slow learner!) is that a blog has focus.
The hack is a short term work-around. What we really need is productive discussion about Local Authorities hosting blogging software on their servers with the terabytes of HD space that probably isn't being used. This facility isn't going to be offered in this incarnation of SSDN - so we need to raise it on the political agenda now in time for the next round of SSDN discussions. That siad, maybe the blogging bubble will have burst by then? What was 'hot' in ICT 5 years ago - where will be in another 5 years time?

Stuart said...

I've only got as far as handing in a proposal, once the uni has gone through all of my classmates' I should have more of an idea of what I'll do.

Finding a school/authority that will allow it to happen is another struggle on the way, and could completely scupper any plans I have of carrying out the project on my next placement in September - November.

I'll keep you informed though.

David said...

Hello John

"But I don't really think it is a teachers job to be installing a blog, unless they really want to. More fun than marking IMO."

Hear, hear to both these statements... but then ANYTHING is more fun than marking in my opinion! :-)

Hello Andrew

I'm not sure if I'm miffed or pleased that SSDN isn't doing blogs. Miffed because it is such a useful tool for, "motivation, enthusiasm and interest", as you said, that it seems daft to ignore it. The easier it is for teachers to start using blogs the more likely they are to do it - and a single sign-on, nationally supported tool should make it fairly easy to get started. However, I'm pleased because I remain unconvinced that a one-size-fits-all solution is the best idea. As I said in the post, decide what do you want to use the blog for and choose the best tool for the job.

Hello Stuart

Hopefully finding a school/authority will not be too much of a problem. As Andrew implies, blogging is hot just now so if you ask you may find yourself pushing at an open door. The school may be toying with the idea of starting a blog and be happy to find a student who will start them off.

stuck_in_the_middle said...

Hi David! I admit I am the Anonymous blogger!! For some reason I wasnt signed on when I left that comment/cry for help!! Anyway, I am really interested in this and your info and help in this post has been really useful! As you said, I have left it too late to do much about it on this last placement - but I can see huge potential for this type of learning resource in art and design, and it is definately something which I plan to explore and look into next year!! I have resurrected my own blog this week and will definately be keeping it up next year! Thanks for you help! F

David said...

Hello Ms StuckInTheMiddle

Thank you for revealing your secret identity... and sorry that I didn't spot you'd started blogging again - I should have responded to your post on 9 May before now.

Although you are short of time, it might still be worth setting up a blog even if it is just a proof of concept thing. Perhaps pick a small group of pupils and have a go to see what happens. To paraphrase - you may think you don't have enough time, but you have no idea how much time you need... until you try. :-)

Barbara said...

Thank you...This is just the kind of nuts and bolts information I have been looking for to make the vision a reality.
I have been caught up in the why and building shared vision which are important but they are only of value if I can acess this kind of informaion. There is a definite learning curve between having a personal blog and setting up student blogs. As an administrator I have to be able to build an informed and solid case and you have set me on the path.Thank you

Anonymous said...

Hi David,

I found this article very helpful and while I am on this topic I found your notes on using del.icio.us very helpful as well.

One thing I'm not so sure about is the use of the word 'numpty'. I wonder how the SQA would view it!

All the best.
Kenny Stewart

David said...

Hello Barbara

Glad I could help.

Hello Kenny

If the SQA refuse to acknowledge the existence of numpties - on their own heads be it! :-)

Gordon will be miffed that you've reminded me of the numpties nonsense as I'd almost forgotten about it.