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Posts Tagged ‘wordpress’

Famous last words in my previous post about using tried and trusted platforms for senior assessments. You would think having used WordPress since 2010, guiding six Year 9 classes through the process of blogging on Taieri Hot Reads and administering two sites that using this format for my Level 2 Media Studies recent Design and Plan a Media Product assessment would be a walk in the park.

Sigh.

I’m not sure if it was because they were working on streams rather than laptops/PCs but despite me projecting the entire set-up process and talking them through it, students had no end of problems setting up blogs with four separate pages representing each stage of the assessment.

Once again, I’m left worrying that the use of technology simply added to their angst when they should have been focussing on the content more – planning a film trailer using their knowledge of various conventions and feedback from me and their peers (hello comment function – seemed ideal?!).

In the worst case scenario, when the clock is ticking and no amount of creative thinking solves an issue for them, it pays to go back to basics so I suggested they avoid trying to add pages and simply put all four stages on the home page with clear headers so external agencies 😉 can follow their planning. Having just had a quick check of some of their sites, it appears even that threw them.

Anyway, here’s a couple of the ones that are currently working to plan. They were due to submit them on the last day of term but were in such a tizz, I’m letting them tweak over the holidays and submit first day back – yay, lots of Week One marking for me.

Student X

Student Y

Student Z

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Earlier in the year, I posted about my attempt to encourage wide reading with junior students via the Taieri Hotreads blog. As the year thunders to an abrupt halt, and after sharing this information at a recent Educamp session in Dunedin, I thought an update was timely.

Firstly, I used wordpress! No surprises there. I chose WordPress because I have experience using it for on c21learners for personal reflections. Anyone interested in using this platform just needs to visit WordPress online where online tutorials take you through the basics. I find it easy to post to, add links and tags and embed images and videos.  I’m aware that other schools have blogging facilities available through LMS systems, Google and Onenote. These would be great if you want/need to keep your site private and could well be easier for students to use if they are already familiar with those systems. I opted for a public site in the hope that it might attract comments from a wider circle of people than myself and classmates to further inspire/motivate reading.

I started by introducing students to the concept of blogging, discussing how blogs differ from other formats, showed them examples and discussed in groups acceptable rules for commenting. Those rules were then displayed in class to ensure we were all on the same page. This seemed to work well as there were no silly/nasty incidents (phew). I also created a handout summarising the steps in how to write and submit a post which they referred to while blogging (happy to email that to anyone if you are interested, just leave a comment here with your email). I know handouts are old school but when you’re working with 30 kids in a lab and they are all asking the same question three times an hour, “refer to handout” is the way to go!

Students were invited to join the blog via their school email accounts. Initially I set deadlines (2 posts and 2 comments per term) and displayed their progress on a chart in class. We used our school labs and library for blogging but ideally, my aim was to get them blogging independently.  Some did and are still happily blogging away, others have struggled to complete blogs for a number of reasons. These include lack of familiarity with using digital tech, literacy issues (writing is not a forte for some) and the fact that some of them are not reading independently beyond set class texts. At all.

Successes have included:

  • students who have become engaged in blogging and are writing good posts on their own
  • students making links between texts
  • students engaging in conversations about books
  • students learning how to be good digital citizens
  • students having an opportunity to write in a new (digital) format
  • students discovering new books to read through the site
  • Students loved getting personalised feedback on their posts, I’d always comment before publishing a post
  • Encouraging critical analysis of texts and introducing the making links concept is a good way to prepare students for NCEA tasks and terminology
  • Using tech angels – students who had successfully set up posts, added links or pics were able to help others
  • Encouraging problem solving – when there is one of me and lots of them, sometimes they have to work things through
  • creating a culture where the importance of reading is regularly, passionately and unreservedly promoted and rewarded

Downsides have included:

  • students taking ages to sign up due to inexperience using school email accounts
  • students inadvertently setting up a blog site rather than accepting my invite (easily fixed by deleting the site in settings options)
  • students defaulting to visual texts (I relaxed rules to allow one each when it became clear some would never experience blogging at all if I was too rigid and stuck to novels!)
  • too many posts on the same text  – not sure if this is a negative in terms of my aims but it did make the site repetitive for our followers
  • cutting and pasting comments on novels/films from the internet into posts – Grrr. The old authenticity chestnut but again, good for junior students to learn about this issue now rather than miss a senior assessment later for trying the same
  • overly simplistic comments – “cool” “nice one Snoop Dog” “you rock” etc etc. Because I was the site administrator, I would  go back to the author and request better responses
  • students not having the confidence to experiment with the full range of functions available such as adding hyperlinks
  • having to moderate each post and comment – yes time consuming

What would I do differently?

  • ask students to supply the email account they know how to use – gmail, hotmail, whatever
  • ensure students are invited as contributors not followers
  • create credit card sized cards for each student to record their user name and password on – so much time was wasted having to rest passwords! Suggest they make it the same as their email accounts so this is less likely to happen
  • create categories together to ensure everyone is using same archival system
  • limit tags to text titles and authors to avoid tag cloud explosion

At the end of last term, the most prolific bloggers were rewarded with a book each in recognition of their efforts and next week, I’ve organised a pizza lunch for those who met the deadlines. It would be great if students continued blogging at the end of the school year (that’s my utopia!) but I won’t hold my breath. I will certainly keep sharing my (young adult) reading with them over summer and if it inspires even one student to pick a book they might not have otherwise read, I’ll call it a win.

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If you’re reading this, you know what a blog is.  In simple terms, it’s an online journal or place where an author or group of authors can share information in a collaborative environment. similarly a vlog is an online video diary.

A blog is one of many applications reflecting the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. A blog ticks all the 2.0 boxes – it is participatory, collaborative and easily shared. Blogs put people in touch with each other, create communities (you’re part of one right now!), encourage conversations, enable knowledge sharing and promote creativity. They allow information/dialogue to be directed towards specific groups and communities.

Like many Web 2.0 applications, blogs are often established with niche communities in mind, they often concentrate on one narrow topic or present opinions from individuals with strong view points or specific interests. There are literally millions of blogs out there. In 2008, media research company AC Nielsen revealed that around 1.3milion New Zealanders had read a blog and 451,000 had created a blog.

Some blogs have large followings and the bloggers themselves become celebrities such as  Cameron Slater of the Whale Oil blog who has sparked public debate on name suppression policies for well-known New Zealanders – particularly after he broke a suppression order via his blog.

Politics aside, in the education sector, blogs can enable us to action many of the core underlying values of the National Curriculum. Consider the document’s vision of our role in “creating confident, connected, actively involved life long learners”, of the principle fo encouraging students to reflect on their own learning, of community engagement and of creating links across learning areas. Yes a blog can do all these things, and more!

Whatever your subject area, I would suggest there is a place for a blog in your class. This could be approached in two ways. You might help students, or group of students, to set up a blog around a particular topic and then disable it once they have completed the relevant unit.  Alternatively you might guide students to set up a blog as part of longer term goals of your teaching programme. Perhaps it has a place in developing their transactional writing, honing communication skills or creating a media product?

So how might you approach blog creation? Depending on your intention – is creating a blog the point or are you including a blog creation as one of several learning activities within a specific unit around a topic?  If you are going down the open-ended path, you might need to brainstorm with students and give them some writing prompts to get started such as books they are reading, their interests, current affairs topics etc.

Anne Davis and Ewa McGrail in their article Joy of Blogging (Education Leadership, March 2009, Vol 66, no. 6) reported that writing and replying to comments was a favourite part of the process for their student bloggers. To encourage students to make thoughtful comments on posts, they supplied starters such as “I wonder….”, “Another thing to consider is…” or “I don’t understand….”. They also recommend recruiting readers from outside the school who are happy to comment on student posts. This might include other students or other teachers in your school or perhaps affiliated schools.

Students were also encouraged to create their own unique voice, to quote and link to other blogs and respond to readers’ comments.  Through creating a blog students also learn about correct attribution of other people’s ideas (more on that in a future item!) which is sometimes a foreign concept to digital natives.

Other benefits for students via blog creation Davis and McGrail observed included:

  • introducing students to new words, concepts and points of view
  • providing links to further understanding
  • providing opportunities for students to clarify/elaborate on their opinions
  • helping students understand that grammar, punctuation, syntax, word choice and spelling weren’t just
    “a teacher thing” – yes these are skills needed in real life!
  • encouraging reflection  
  • allowing students to self-direct their learning
  • enabling freewriting which enhances metacognitive ability
  • making learning a creative, exploratory and joyful process

Of course with any online project, you will need to be familiar with your school’s Internet Safety Policy and make sure students understand those rules and their application to the blogging project.  In particular Davis and McGrail suggest:

  • Discussing Internet safety issues with students at the start of the project
  • Advising students against including personal details through their blog
  • Instructing students to minimise their screen and tell a teacher immediately if they receive anything that makes them uncomfortable

On reviewing these issues, it strikes me that before embarking on a blog creation project, it would also be advisable to inform parents/caregivers of the activity and give them the opportunity to discus any concerns with you. Once students leave your classroom and the school grounds, they will probably also want to log on at home and check posts and comments too. Your HOD might even insist that permission slips are needed to enable a student to participate fully in the activity…

 So there’s a lot you could do but don’t be overwhelmed by the logistics! Because blogs aren’t new, there are several well-developed and tested formats available. This blog is created on WordPress and I can vouch for its ease of its use. Other options are typepad and blogger.com.

To wrap up, here’s a quick checklist of steps for incorporating a blog into a unit of work:

  1. Test drive some of the applications above, make sure you can do the basics
  2. Get a copy of your school’s Internet usage policy, make sure it permits this level of online interaction
  3. Decide if the blogs are part of a topic or an ongoing piece of work
  4. Clarify how you will assess students work
  5. Make sure you have access to computer labs and book them ahead of time
  6. Inform parents/caregivers of the project and discuss any of their concerns
  7. Introduce the project to students ensuring they understand: your school’s policy on internet safety, the basics of blog usage and correct etiquette for posting material/responding to posts
  8. Get blogging!

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