Learning how to create blogs for students can be the catalyst for untold learning opportunities.
Why Use Blogs in the Classroom?
Teachers asking how to create blogs for students should first consider why they want students to use blogs in the first place. Blogs allow students and teachers to:
- Publish instantly.
- Share their thoughts with the world.
- Take advantage of the ability to edit and adapt.
- Begin a conversation.
- Showcase work.
- Use a familiar framework. Students growing up in the age of MySpace and LiveJournal will see blogs as a familiar and comfortable platform.
- Encourage cross-curricular learning. In addition to subject-area-specific knowledge, students can also gain computer skills.
How to Create Blogs for Students: Choosing the Platform
When choosing a blogging platform, teachers should work to find an ad-free, easy-to-use option for their students. Edublogs is a blogging site created especially for teachers and students. Blogger is a free blogging service with free hosting on the Blogspot domain. WordPress is another free blogging software provider. Social networking services like Facebook and MySpace won't be the best option for this kind of project because the other aspects of the site will likely detract from your educational message. Your school's website may have space available to host classroom blogs, although using another program like Blogger or WordPress in conjunction with school hosting will likely lead to a more user-friendly experience. The actual process of setting up a blog will vary from service to service. However, in general, users need only create a profile and select from a menu of options to be ready to publish in minutes. Teachers can choose to guide students through the process of creating individual blogs, or set up an account for each student ahead of time.
Areas of Concern
Teachers should take the following concerns into account when creating blogs for students.
The more details you put online, the more identifying information can fall into the wrong hands. Consider the difference between these two descriptive statements:
- "I'm Mindy K., a ninth grader at Longview High School in Longview, Minnesota, and this is my report for Mrs. Kinney's fourth period English class."
- "I'm Mindy, and this is my report for Freshman English."
How easy would it be for someone to track Mindy down after reading each example?
Privacy concerns also make it unwise for students to post personal photos on their blogs. As an alternative, ask each student to choose a unique avatar that shows his or her personality.
Following School Policies
Make sure you are following all school rules and policies concerning posting student work, identifying students online, and using Internet resources. For instance, some school servers block social networking sites, seeing them as a potential distraction for students. This doesn't mean you shouldn't figure out how to create blogs for students, but it may restrict your options. Before starting classroom blogs, discuss the project with your principal, department supervisor, or technology coordinator.
Inappropriate Comments and Contacts
When you make a blog post, you want comments. Part of the fun of blogging is engaging in conversation with readers. However, you want to shield your students from obscene and otherwise inappropriate comments. This isn't to say you should shield them from disagreement. Learning to respond politely to a critical comment offers yet another learning experience.
When setting up blogs, choose to moderate comments. This will typically be a simple check box in the settings, but it can vary by service. If you're going to place a contact email on the blog, link to your own account or an email address set up specifically for your blogging project. Acting as the first line of defense for your class will keep the project flowing smoothly.
Asking students to read and comment on each other's blogs is a great way to share information and begin a discussion. However, online anonymity can cause people to say hurtful things they would never say to the other person's face. If students make inappropriate comments to each other, treat it the same way you would if those words were said in the middle of class. Cyberbullying is a very real concern, and should be treated seriously.
There's a pervasive attitude online that any image is fair game, and your students may come to the project with this mindset. While fair use provisions do allow for the limited use of copyrighted materials in educational materials, online publishing can still stretch the limits of these allowances. This provides an excellent teachable moment. Discuss copyright and attributing sources with your students before they begin working on their blogs. If you'd like to learn more about the specifics of educational fair use, Education World offers "Applying Fair Use to New Technologies" as part of a larger series on copyright in the classroom.
What is the availability of computers in your school? Having ready access to a computer lab will make any blogging project work more smoothly. If students will be working on the blogs outside of class, make sure all students have computers and Internet access available to them, whether at home or through school and community resources. You don't want a lack of access to prevent students from getting the most from your blogging project.