How I Use It
Instead of conventional practice-based homework in the co-taught science classroom, I decided to try out student reflective blogs for outside-of-school reinforcement of learning. Each student created a blog on Blogger using their Google Apps Account and maintained regular writing about what they learned in class each week. This achieved a far greater depth and focus on the applications of what we learned in class than would occur simply doing more drill-and-practice homework. Students wrote about what they were learning, what they did in class, and points in the lessons where they struggled. They could add images, links and video clips to enhance their writing, but ultimately they had to reflect on what it was they were learning and really think about how they would write about it. Blogger was easy to use for students and allowed them to get their thoughts into writing quickly. The draft feature of each blog post allowed students, at least those who wanted to do so, to add notes to their weekly blog post during class each day and then synthesize it all into a complete post at the end of the week. Students were encouraged to take pictures of their lab experiments and demonstrations done in class to include in their blog posts. This helped give them some signposts of the learning each week to trigger their memories as they wrote. The blog posts were a formative assessment for the teacher and students to guide areas in which the kids needed to focus more or inform areas where they were excelling. Blogger has a button at the top of any blog post called "Next Blog" that will take you to the next blog in order on their platform, regardless of who wrote it or what it was about. This poses a challenge for students when reading posts on Blogger that they could accidentally stumble upon a blog that they shouldn't be reading. The other challenge of using Blogger with students, at least dozens of students, is that it is tough to keep track of all the posts. Blogger doesn't provide a great way for a person to manage and navigate all the blogs they read. Teachers will have to use some other mechanism, like an RSS Feed Reader (like Feedly) to aggregate all the student blogs in once place and make them easier to read and comment on for feedback to students about their writing and learning.
Blogger is a great tool for students to start writing on the web and keeping a blog. While it doesn't offer tons of customization for the user, it does offer the basic features necessary for any teacher to get their students blogging. The learning curve for kids to get started with Blogger is minimal, and they will quickly pick up the way that the formatting works for crafting a blog post with multimedia embedded. It should give the user the ability to turn off a feature like "Next Blog" so that students don't stumble into the wrong blog reading environment by accident. The commenting features, however, are very nice and make it accessible for students to comment on one another's blog posts. I like that the interface of Blogger is minimalist and that a user doesn't need to know a lot of programming or HTML coding in order to get the most out of Blogger, unlike some other blogging platforms. If it had a text-to-speech feature, I think that would be a highly desirable functionality for student bloggers, especially those who are emerging writers or special needs students.