In my last posts I talked about the benefits of class blogging and shared my personal class blogging experience. Today I’ll be focusing on the next step: the challenges you need to take into consideration and the steps I recommend taking.
Choosing a Blogging platform
I would first recommend setting the criteria against which to evaluate a blog service. Among excellent blogging options available,blogger was considered ideal to my teaching situation for the following reasons:
- It is free of charge and easy to set up.
- It is not blocked by my school filtering software.
- There are security options available e.g. comments pending approval from the administrator to ensure that only appropriate comments are posted on the blog.
- Videos and pictures can be easily embedded.
- Students don’t need to have email accounts to leave comments.
Although I’ve been very satisfied with the service, I noticed a serious disadvantage; it may be blocked by parental control filters making it difficult for some students to work from home. So, I took the decision to move our class blog to edublogs, a platform which is never blocked by protective filters as it is especially designed for education. The only drawback is that in order to embed videos and use a number of widgets you need to upgrade to a paid edublogs subscription, but the price is fairly low. Other options include kidblog, WordPress and Posterous. They all offer a plethora of features and come with both free and paid plans. So, my advice would be: set the criteria first, devote some time researching and finally choose the platform that best suits your needs
Ensuring students’ security online
Issues such as Internet safety, cyber-bullying and lack of netiquette lead institutions to block social networks depriving students of the positive aspects achieved when collaborating as part of a global community. Therefore, raising awareness of online safety and of the digital footprint students leave behind is of paramount importance (Ward, 2004:7).
While there is not a consensus decision on what should be shared online (pictures, names, private versus public blogs), it is suggested that educators have clear guidelines so that students and parents are aware of what is appropriate (Burt, 2010). Actively involving students in creating these guidelines would be even more effective and would encourage greater ownership and motivation.
While students should be given freedom over their posts and the ideas they express, they should also be aware that you are the administrator of the blog and thus posts and comments should be first approved by you. This is to ensure that only appropriate content is posted on the blog and that nobody’s feelings are hurt. And as your blog will be probably public (an informed decision you also need to make), you should know that practically anyone on the web can visit and leave a comment. Would you like your students to read comments made by mean or impolite people? To my experience, this rarely happens (we have never received such comments) but I strongly believe moderation is of vital importance to protect your students from the potential risk.
Blog posting can become confusing as a blog expands making it difficult for readers to find their way to earlier contributions. Training learners to organize their work under relevant tags is therefore essential. Tags let writers classify their posts according to keywords by producing a link under each post. Clicking any of those takes visitors to an archive page containing only posts categorized under this label. To make scanning even easier, a list of all the blog tags can be displayed in the sidebar of your blog, sorted alphabetically or by frequency of use.
Promoting and teaching commenting skills is necessary if we are to transform our blog from a static space to an interactive community and help learners develop their literacy skills. According to Morris (2011) quality comments are:
- proofread for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.
- relevant to the post.
- complementing the writer, asking a question or adding further information to the post.
- do not reveal any personal information.
Devote one or two sessions to teach quality comments and as a follow-up, ask students to comment on each other’s posts. You can also ask students to create guidelines for quality comments and then post them on a blog page for reference.
The list can go on but I’d really love to hear from you first. Have you heard of or experienced any additional challenges regarding class blogging? Can you add other solutions to the challenges above? I would appreciate your thoughts
Ward, J. (2004). Blog assisted language learning (BALL): Push button publishing for the pupils. TEFL Web Journal, 3(1): 1-15