Edublogs extend classroom discussions through writing
A strong selling point for me is that this is a blogging platform built for teaching and learning. Edublogs has many features that allow a teacher to customize the experience, such as widgets that provide links, tags, author lists, text boxes, and searches. I also employ an available print-friendly button so that students can print or save clean copies of their blogs for their portfolios.
In the beginning, set up does take time. It can be a bit daunting at first to set up, especially if you have a lot of students and want to set up their accounts yourself, or are not familiar with blogging tools. Accounts require an email address, but Edublogs suggests a workaround using one teacher Gmail account. The dashboard can seem daunting at first--your really have a wealth of options and controls. Figuring out the layout and adding the widgets also takes an hour or so in setup. Edublogs offers a helpful blog, video tutorials on a YouTube channel.
Once you are up and running, students take well to the navigation and can add text posts easily. Adding images is a bit more tricky as students must work through the controls of adding images. A lesson on use of copyright-friendly images comes to the fore as students add the images to a media library and then insert in their post, giving credit to the illustrators/photographers. Knowing a bit of HTML and a few web tricks (e.g. like holding down the Shift key when you want to return but not add linespacing) can be handy. Many of these tips are included in the company’s support blog.
Overall, the settings and controls provided for teachers, the reliability of service, help features, free professional development, and responsiveness of support staff whenever I’ve run into a snag, have made Edublogs a staple in my teaching repertoire. So much so, I have used the paid version since 2010.
How I Use It
I’ve used blogs in high school English courses, since 2003. For the nearly a decade, I’ve used Edublogs as a class blog, one I maintain and students contribute to by making individual posts and comments to each other’s posts. My students are required to make one post and two comments every two weeks on average. For each assigned posting, I post an open-ended prompt that can be answered in a variety of ways to focus the conversation, while still giving students wiggle-room for varied and original posts. This extends in-class discussions. Likewise I encourage students’ reading of the blog not only by requiring them to make comments on peer’s thinking but also by referring to particular posts in in-class discussions. At the end of each quarter students create a portfolio of their posts, select their favorite or best for assessment, and I randomly select one for grading as well.
The dashboard on Edublogs allows me to set controls so that, although anyone on the web can view the blog, only students can post or comment on it. You can make blogs private, but, in my view, that defeats the purpose and motivation that comes from publishing. Of course, going public, you’ll want to teach digital literacy protocols of appropriate language, first-name references only, and no photos matched to names, and monitor student use (and there are settings for such moderation)
While perhaps novel at first, students come to view this assignment and yet another required written homework assignment. Each year a few students will really take to having an audience, but most merely comply. The power of online writing with Edublogs comes not so much from the assignment as the context. Having an audience of peers encourages students to proofread and thinking critically about their rhetorical choices. Lame responses are less likely when students are wary about appearing so in the company of peers. Thus, it is an effective means to motivate better quality writing. Finally, the activity of students reading peers’ work provides important models in composition that are difficult to come by otherwise.