Thanks to a Wayland Public Schools Foundation grant, we were able to secure a subscription to edublogs, a service that, as the name implies, facilitates blogging for schools. The advantages to edublogs over more mainstream (and free) blogging services, e.g. WordPress and Blogger, is that edublogs facilitates teacher access to student blogs automatically and allows teachers better control over security and access.

I had heard about edublogs this summer during a two day TEC course on blogging. Maybe 4 or 5 sites were introduced / discussed, many of which I at least checked out if not tried out but none worked for my purposes. Blogging tends to have its focus at the elementary grades, so some sites were more geared toward that age student. So I wrote a Foundation grant and received it, which allows us 20 teacher blogs and unlimited student blogs under each of those teacher blogs. (You can see the price structure for edublogs here.)

Once the grant came through, it took a bit of time, especially with the holidays, to get our account up and running but it is and I have launched edublogs with my classes (and in the interest of full disclosure, launched means introduced it to them, had them start a blog, and write an About Me page; but more on that below).

So here are some first impressions of edublogs, some good, some not so good / jury’s out, in no particular order.

  • It was more difficult than I expected / anticipated for students to set up their blogs / accounts, especially if you want them to use a formulaic name for their URL (more on that below). After doing it three or four times, I finally settled on a system that seemed to work better: have a student come up to the front of the room with his/her computer, hook into the projector, and make their account for the class to follow along with.
  • Jury’s still out on the dashboard. The dashboard, of course, is where you manage the aspects of your blog. On edublogs, one of those aspects is the number of student blogs that you sponsor / oversee. Initially, I have my security settings on relatively tight, such that any post or comment must be approved by me. The problem so far, though, is that to approve posts, it seems that there is a(n unnecessarily) multi-step process. It would seem to make sense that the post itself would show up on the dashboard to make more efficient the process. Instead, you use the dashboard to click to the student’s blog / dashboard, then click on the post itself, and finally on the approve button. I’m hoping there’s a more efficient way to do this.
  • When I first conceived of how I wanted to set edublogs up, especially in terms of managing all of those student blogs, I wanted my dashboard to be organized. To do this, I wanted a standardized name / approach for my students’ URLs. The right naming convention would allow the order that my blogs appeared in my dashboard to mimic the order that they appear in my gradebook: alphabetical by class. What I came up with was this: course|year|period|lastname. So if I were a student in my Medieval Lit course, the end of my URL would be med134dehoratius. This seemed like a good plan. Until two things. One, in the midst of my discussion with one class about privacy, cyber-etiquette, web security, etc., as I was saying that they could put out as much personal information as they wanted, one student pointed out that their last names were part of the URL (as per my instructions….). Not a huge deal, I suppose, especially since these are seniors, but it seemed like an easy enough fix. So the formula was slightly altered to, rather than last name, first three letters of last name (med134deh). Two(a), students that didn’t follow the directions closely enough made their URL something other than the formula, which can’t be changed. Two(b), I realized that students who have multiple teachers that use edublogs wouldn’t be able to follow two different naming conventions. As far as I can tell they get one blog on edublogs rather than one blog per teacher (their account with edublogs is tied to their email address). So the naming convention sounded like a good idea, but I might, especially in the future, just have to deal with a disorganized (or less organized) dashboard.
  • The students seemed more into setting the blog up than I expected. They seemed to enjoy being able to customize the blog (edublogs uses a WordPress interface, though does not make available the variety of themes that WordPress itself does). I also like having them have an easy place to write. So I’ve done one assignment using the blog, and it was very nice to be able to say to them to answer it / write it on their blog, rather than setting up an assignment in ItsLearning (now the reading of those posts might nullify that efficiency; see managing the dashboard above).
  • I wrote out guidelines for blogging that focus more on cyber-etiquette than grading or writing (that will come later). You can check them out here if you want. I also used an ItsLearning survey as a way for students to ‘sign’ off that they had read them / to ‘sign’ the contract.

Finally, my blog, which I’ve not done much with yet, can be found here. Hopefully, especially if I can make more efficient the reading and approving of student blogs, it can be a place for parents, teachers, students, admin, and others to go to see what’s going in my classes.