Every K-12 classroom should have a classroom blog to interactively share student work. Classroom blogs offer a virtual space for teachers as well as students to provide “windows” into the learning which is taking place in the classroom, and are ideal for sharing photos, brief summaries, links, and other updates related to classroom activities.
A variety of options are available for classroom blogging, and I’ve linked several of these on the “Text” page of the TalkWithMedia.com website. In Spring 2009, I had my approximately 45 students in two sections of “Technology for Teachers” at the University of Central Oklahoma set up their own, personal blogs on Blogger.com. I tried to aggregate student blogs in several ways so students could “find” each other and comment on peer blogs. These methods included creating a “Google Reader bundle” of our blogs (to which students could readily subscribe) and also creating a NetVibes portal for our class. Dr. Michael Wesch at Kansas State University uses a Netvibes site as a “project basecamp” for his students. (If you haven’t seen his announcement for this semester’s #VOST2011 project, take a few minutes to view his introductory video. Wow.) For my students last Spring, they did a great job with their Blogger sites but found it frustrating that they couldn’t readily “find each other” in the blogosphere, even with the Netvibes and Google Reader resources I provided.
To remedy that shortcoming, last fall when I taught “Computers in the Classroom” at the University of North Texas for pre-service teachers, I decided to utilize a class blog (as a “team blog”) instead of having students setup individual blogs. This proved to be a GREAT decision, from the standpoint of everyone in our class being able to more readily “find” and comment on peer posts. I setup our class blog on the website 21classes.com, which unfortunately was NOT free. I paid $7 per month for the account. It worked ok, but for some reason it was not compatible for video embedding with Internet Explorer on Windows. FireFox, Safari, and Chrome worked fine, but not IE. (This provided a very practical reason to encourage my students to ditch IE and embrace an alternative web browser.) I definitely want to encourage my students to continue blogging on their own following our class, but I found the benefits of “blogging together in a shared space” with a class/team blog outweighed the potential benefits of having students setup individual blogs initially for our class.
This Spring semester I’m again teaching two sections of “Technology for Teachers” at the University of Central Oklahoma. I’m using class/team blogs for each class, but to learn the benefits as well as drawbacks of using different tools we’re using Kidblog.com for one class and EduBlogs for another. Four weeks into the semester, we have 67 published posts and 75 comments on our KidBlog site, and 60 posts with 67 comments on the EduBlog site. (Each section has a different blog.) These are a few of the differences I’ve noticed so far between KidBlog and Edublogs:
- Password management works differently on both sites. For KidBlog, I can’t enter an email address for my students, so they can’t recover their own account password via email. They also can’t readily change their passwords, but I can as the teacher / site administrator. In class the second week I ended up letting all my students temporarily become admins on the site so they could change their passwords, but that’s not a workable solution for a K-12 student class blog. Edublogs lets students individually manage their accounts and change their passwords, as well as use an email address for password recovery.
- KidBlogs automatically creates ‘contributor’ links to everyone’s blog posts on our site. The themes available on the free EduBlogs sites don’t offer this feature. (Or I haven’t found it yet.) I’ve started to create a contributor list on our blog using the WordPress “blogroll” link option, but it’s unnecessarily time consuming to have to do this manually.
- The homepage of KidBlog is great for a class/team blog, since it shows the titles of the most recent 25 posts. The EduBlogs WordPress theme options for a free account can’t do this. Recent posts can be shown as a sidebar widget, but I really like the KidBlog homepage interface better. I also like how it shows comments on different posts, making it easy to identify recent posts which haven’t received comments yet.
- EduBlogs lets users create their OWN blogs, in addition to joining a class/team blog like the one we are using. This isn’t a readily-available option for KidBlog. Several of my students have been confused by this and initially posted on their OWN EduBlogs site rather than posting to our class EduBlog site. We’ve worked through these issues, but these problems didn’t happen with my section using KidBlog.
- KidBlog has native support for posting via a 3rd party blogging client like Mars Edit which uses XML-RPC. EduBlogs doesn’t support this on their free version, you have to pay and upgrade to the “pro” version to use this feature. This isn’t something any of my students probably care about, but since I compose 99% of all my blog posts in Mars Edit (including this one) it’s an important feature to me.
- I find the presence of “pro version” options/links on my free EduBlogs site which are not available on the free version a bit irritating. I understand EduBlogs wants to show these as an enticement for the “Pro” upgrade, but I’d rather not have them as part of my dashboard if the options are not available. I realize complaining about this is like a homeless person complaining that the free lunch they are eating isn’t hot enough. I’m thankful EduBlogs does provide a free blog option, and I know the monetization scheme they are using is very positive since it will hopefully ensure their continued financial solvency / existence in the future. (Like VoiceThread.com.) I still feel compelled to mention this in a comparative review, however. The cleaner interface of Kidblog (which provides all available functionality free) feels better to me at this point than the free EduBlogs version.
- There are not ANY ads on Kidblog sites. Free EduBlogs sites have ads.
One of the most important skills I’m hoping my students will learn this semester is how to effectively write blog posts with hyperlinks and embedded media. Today we had an “open lab” meeting for Q&A with students in both my sections, and I created / recorded the following two screencasts during our discussions to review the processes for linking and embedding videos on both KidBlog and EduBlogs.
This screencast demonstrates how to create a link and embed a video in a post on a Kidblog site. Run time is 11.5 minutes.
I shared both of these screencasts on my T4T Class FAQ blog. (On Blogger)
If I hadn’t been recording these screencasts with students I probably could have made them both shorter and more concise. At is was, however, having a screenrecorder available (Screenflow for Mac – a GREAT $99 software product) made it easy to record these on the fly. Afterwards, I did minor post-production editing adding some video effect zooms as appropriate. I LOVE using Screenflow when it doesn’t make sense or isn’t practical (as it wasn’t today) to use Screenr.
One of the reasons provided by EduBlogs for upgrading to a paid/pro account is to embed videos in posts. When you use the VISUAL post view, “iframe” tags for video embeds are stripped out on free EduBlog sites. If you stay in the “HTML” view, however, and publish your post from the HTML view without going to the VISUAL view, embedded videos like those shown above CAN be posted with a free EduBlog site. This is NOT as user-friendly as the GUI tools available for embedding video on Pro accounts, but it does work. This is the method I’ve taught my students to use in “Technology 4 Teachers” this semester.
EduBlogs runs a modified version of the multi-user version of WordPress, and embedding rich media content can be tricky with WordPress. I’m not sure if more recent versions of WordPress have changed this requirement, but at one point users had to disable the default visual post editor in their profile to be able to post embed code. I’m delighted it’s possible to still embed videos in a free EduBlogs site, since I consider this a “core competency” for hyperlinked writing and I want to let me students EXPERIENCE the powerful things which can be done with free blogging tools this semester.
If you work with pre-service education students or are a pre-service education student, what are your views about class blogs versus individual student blogs? If you’re a classroom teacher, which option do you prefer for students at the grade/level(s) you teach? Both options have benefits as well as drawbacks. Do you have a favorite blogging platform for a class/team blog? Is that answer different if the blogging students are pre-service education students?
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