This week I did a training session on student blogging and our WordPress Multisite installation. I prepared these notes and background readings beforehand, although we spent most the time talking about projects that teachers were already envisioning and ready to rollout (which is always more fun!).
First, I highly recommend Jeff Utecht’s “Blogs as Web-Based Portfolios” (PDF article) as a place to start. With that in mind, here are four examples (from other schools) of student blogging that I think highlight some possibilities.
This is an example of one individual student’s blog. She’s included images and videos in her posts explaining her labs, experiments and concepts in Chemistry class. This site uses WordPress, which is a professional standard for building websites and blogs. Using WordPress has a lot of advantages, including a vast amount of control in the design and layout, plugins and themes which can expand the capacity of the site, and a global community of support and users. We host a WordPress server which can be used to build class or individual blogs using staff or student e-mail address and logins. Accounts are automatically synced with existing student accounts, so there’s no account generation to worry about.
This site shows a few different features of WordPress which you can use when you think about your own class:
- Comments are turned on. This means that outside viewers can comment on posts. We can customize sites so that comments are on, off, moderated or school users only.
- She has a page as well as posts. WordPress has two different types of content: posts, which are chronological and are the default type of content. In addition, pages are meant to be more permanent (they never get pushed down by newer content). Common examples are an “About Me” page, “Important Resources,” or anything else that you think will be useful at any time.
- Her page shows protected posts. These are posts which are marked private and need a password to access. This is a good way to have some posts be just between the student and teacher. While you wouldn’t want to do this with every post, there might be certain elements of a portfolio or student-led conference which shouldn’t be public.
Sarah’s full name is on this website. This is a little unusual for a student website, and not what I’d recommend as best practice. My personal suggestion and a common practice is to have students use their first names only. We set this as a default in WordPress, although students uploading their work to a digital portfolio may run in to trouble if their full names are on the work.
These posts are public. How many people access this site (and from where) depends on how it is shared and publicized, but these sites are searchable and accessible globally. Again, commenting can be restricted and individual posts can be private, but students are publishing their site for a real audience. Because of the public nature of the site, parent communication in advance goes a long way. I recommend sending a note to parents explaining what the blog is, why students are doing it, what personally identifiable information will be posted, and how they can subscribe to it or follow their student’s work. I’ve found that parent enthusiasm for being able to see their students’s work far outweighs concerns over public publishing.
This is an example of a different style of blog where the class creates one as a group. In this model, you can designate students to all be authors, while you retain the editing capacity, or you can appoint one or many students to be editors as well.
Writing online has some specific skillsets that you can embed into their work. These posts do a great job of demonstrating proper use of hyperlinks, for example– picking specific words or phrases which are supported by another webpage or external reference (instead of dropping the entire address into the text of the piece or the common “click here:”, which distract the reader and disrupt the flow of the writing). These posts use images to support their topics. Also, the “Scales of Justice” image is sourced, and from a site that provides images for free use. Proper use and sourcing of media is an important element of online publishing. We have lots of material to support this if you need help here.
The “Lady Justice” article has 3 comments, all of which model good discussion by asking furthering questions and referencing specific points in the article. In each case, the author has responded to the comments showing more depth of thinking.
Notice that the footer outlines expectations for the comments, reinforcing that blogging and online discussion should have expectations for quality.
Like with most of these sites, this site has a counter which shows the amount of traffic that a site has earned. There are a variety of these kinds of widgets which can show total traffic, current views in real-time, a global map of where readers are located, or other similar data. Since part of the appeal of blogging is publishing for a global audience, it’s really powerful to be able to show the “real audience.” In addition, WordPress has some tracking built-in which can show traffic for specific posts to see which articles get the most attention. We can also set up Google Analytics, which provides an incredible range of data regarding visitors to a website.
Under WordPress, there are a wide range of plugins and themes available to change the look and features of the site. These two pages have the same content and are from the same class, but have two different themes applied. Any themes and plugins that you want to use on your site have to be installed by the site administrator (me), but a quick search for free WordPress themes shows the incredible range of styles and designs available for your or your students’ sites.
Especially if you have students set up individual sites, you’ll want an easy way to keep track of all posts and comments. One of the reasons that blogs are so appealing is that you as a reader can subscribe and have updates go to you automatically as they appear– you don’t have to actively look to see if there are updates. If you use an RSS reader such as Feedly (free account), you can subscribe to both posts and comments from each of your students’ blogs. This way, you can take a quick scan through all of the recent activity and see what’s happened on all of the blogs in one place.