Showing posts with label classroom blog. Show all posts
Showing posts with label classroom blog. Show all posts

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Comparison and Explanation of Classroom Blog Services

On Friday I shared ideas for managing academic blogs. If you haven't started a blog yet, choosing the right blogging platform can help you manage your classroom blog in the long run.

Before we answer the question of which blog platform to use we need to understand some terminology commonly used when talking about blogs. Understanding the terminology will help you make an informed decision about which platform is best for your situation. I wish I had known some of this when I started blogging.

Hosted Blog: A hosted blog is one whose software is maintained by a company for its users. Services like Blogger, WordPress.com, and Tumblr are examples of services on which you can create hosted blogs. The advantage of using a hosted service is that you don’t have to worry about installing software, software updates, server maintenance, or bandwidth capacity. The disadvantage of using a hosted service is that you don’t have access to the servers hosting your blog, the service may limit some customization options (WordPress.com in particular does this), and if the service closes you will be looking for a new place to blog.

Self-hosted Blog: A self-hosted blog is one for which you own the blogging software, you install it on a server or shared server, and you are responsible for all technical maintenance and updates. The advantage of having a self-hosted blog is that you can customize it to your heart’s content, you have access to the server(s) hosting your blog, and you can move your content from one hosting service to another if you choose. The disadvantage of a self-hosted blog is that you do have to feel somewhat comfortable installing the software on a server. Fortunately, most hosting companies have good tutorials on installing popular blogging software. Another disadvantage of self-hosting is that you are responsible for performing all updates and other maintenance tasks. This can be time consuming for new bloggers. Finally, to have a self-hosted blog you will have to buy a domain and pay a monthly or annual hosting fee for your blog. I pay roughly $200 annually to MediaTemple.com for hosting and I have eight domains on my plan. If you decided to go the self-hosted route, Media Temple is my recommendation for a hosting service. They offer excellent 24/7 customer service and I’ve never experienced any downtime since I started using them in April of 2012.

The best blog platforms for teachers.
Blogger: This is Google’s free blogging service. It takes just a minute to start a blog through Blogger. Blogger offers a nice selection of colorful themes and templates to choose from. Customizing the layout of your blog is as easy as dragging and dropping elements into place. You can add additional authors to your blogs. If you have a Gmail account you already have a Blogger account. Just sign into your Gmail account and in the top menu select Blogger from the “more” drop-down menu. G Suite for Education users can have Blogger added to their domains too. The drawback to Blogger is that the only customer support that you’ll find for it comes in the form of Blogger product discussion boards and some YouTube videos.

Edublogs: Edublogs has been around for quite a while and is well known in the educational technology community for offering good customer support. The free version of Edublogs got a huge upgrade last year and it's now my preferred choice for student blogs. Edublogs lets you create and manage your students' accounts, moderate all of their postings, and generally be an "eye in the sky" over your students' blogging activity. But perhaps the best feature of Edublogs is the customer support that they offer even to users of their free plans.

Self-hosting a blog with WordPress:
WordPress is free blogging software that you can install on a server. You can get the software at WordPress.org. As mentioned in the “self-hosted” section above, you will have to purchase a domain and a hosting plan to create and maintain your blog. Once you have your blog set-up you can do whatever you like with it including creating and administering accounts for your students to use to write blog entries and comments on your blog.

Just as a point of clarification, people sometimes confuse the WordPress software available to download at WordPress.org with WordPress.com. WordPress.com is a hosted blogging service that uses the WordPress software, but it does limit some of your customization options because you don’t actually control the software. WordPress.com will also insert advertising on your blog unless you upgrade to a paid account.

Comparing other options:
Here's my chart comparing seven popular blogging tools for teachers and students. You can view the chart here as a Google Doc or as embedded below through Box.com



Friday, February 16, 2018

Managing Classroom and Student Blogs

One of the questions that I am frequently asked about blogging and have included in my webinar on the topic is “do you recommend that I have just one blog or should all of my students have their own blogs?” There is not a clear cut answer to this question because the answer depends upon how you envision using blogs in your teaching practice.

If your use of blogging is going to be limited to just distributing information about your class(es) to students and their parents, one blog is all that you need. Even if you teach multiple courses, one blog is sufficient if you’re only using it to distribute information. Simply label each new blog post with the name or section of the course for whom the information is intended. From a management standpoint it is far easier to label each blog post on one blog than it is to maintain a different blog for each course that you teach. That is a lesson that took me one semester to learn.

In the fall of 2005 I was teaching five sections of the same ninth grade social studies course and even though the content was the same each class always seemed to be in a different place than the others so I tried to maintain five different blogs. Before long I found myself either posting to the wrong blog or my students were going to the wrong blog because they had forgotten the blog’s URL and asked a classmate from a different section of the course for the blog’s URL. After that semester I decided to create one blog to use as the central online hub for all of my students. All students who took a course with me would have the URL for my blog and go there whenever they needed an update about their courses. I found it very easy to say to students, “go to my blog and click on the label for your class.” Even when I started to have students contribute to group blogs they started out by going to my blog and clicking the link to their group blogs.

If you envision having all of your students write blog posts, proper planning of the blogging process is critical to being able to keep track of your students’ work. Teachers who have twenty-five or fewer students might be able to have each student maintain his or her own blog and keep track of all of them, but even twenty-five blogs is a lot to keep track of. The solution that I recommend is to create a group blog for each class that you teach. Create the blog using whichever platform you like then make each student an author on the blog. To track who wrote what on the blog make sure that the author’s name (first names only or use pen names with young students). Alternatively, you can have students label or tag posts with their names or pen names to sort out who wrote what. As the creator and owner of the group blog you will be able to see who wrote what from your administrative panel, but that doesn’t help parents who want to check the blog to see what their children have been sharing.

Keeping track of individual student blogs
Teachers who want students to use blogs to experiment with web design and coding will have to allow each student to maintain his or her own blog. Likewise, if the goal is to have each student showcase work for college or internship applications then each student will need to be the sole author on that blog. Keeping track of all of those blogs is a challenge, but a manageable challenge. One quick management method is to create a spreadsheet of all of your students’ blogs. Another quick management strategy is to create a list of links to the blogs then post that list in a side column on your own blog so that you or anyone else visiting your blog can quickly jump to a student’s blog. Finally, you can use a service like Feedly to subscribe to all of your students' blogs.

On a related note, if you're trying to convince a teacher to start a blog, this slideshow that I made ten years ago still illustrates one reason to have a blog that every teacher can relate to.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

5 Topics to Cover Early This Year On Your Classroom Blog

The new school year is here and you might be trying to get a new classroom blog rolling or get your old one going again. Either way, one of the best ways to get parents to read your classroom blog early and often is to give them the information they need at the beginning of the school year. I'm not talking about things like "who do I call for early dismissal?" but the kind of information they might not even know they want. Here are five topics that fit that description.

1. How to supervise your child's web use at home.

2. Privacy settings on school-provided laptops/ Chromebooks/ iPads/ tablets. Consider adding screenshots or a screencast video illustrating those settings. Screencast-o-matic.com and Nimbus Screenshot are great tools for making screencast videos.

3. Tasty and healthy snacks to send to school with your child (Pinterest is a great source for ideas, just make sure you give proper attribution).

4. How to talk to kids about bullying. You might consider linking to some of these resources from Common Sense Media.

5. A glossary of Tween/ teen slang vocabulary. Consider posting this as a Google Doc that automatically updates as you update it throughout the school year (we all know how quickly Tween/teen slang evolves).

Need help developing more blog post topics? Take a look at my secret method for developing blog post topics. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Do You Have an Online Hub?

Social media and text messaging is great for sending quick updates about things happening in your classroom and in your school. But when you need to write a longer explanation of your announcement or reminder, a blog is your best friend. Use social media and text messaging services to direct parents and students to your blog posts. In that way your blog serves as an online hub for your announcements.

When you start a new online activity with your students do you give them a different link for each activity or do you direct them to the same place over and over again? If you have a blog you can just tell students to go to your classroom blog to see the link(s) they need for the activity that you're doing that day. In this case, your blog is serving as your online hub for activities.

How many times do you answer the same questions? How many times do you give out multiple copies of the same handout for students or parents? If you have a blog, you can post your handouts there and ask students and parents to print the copies when they need them. Likewise, put an FAQ section on your blog for those questions that you feel like you're always answering. Again, your blog becomes your online hub.

If you have started a blog before and it didn't work out the way that you wanted it to, join me next Wednesday for my Practical Ed Tech webinar, Winning Blog Strategies

Sunday, September 13, 2015

15 Topics for Your School/ Classroom Blog


Whenever I talk to teachers about blogging I field questions about developing blog post topics and or maintaining a posting schedule. My suggestion is to come up with a list of topics that you can write about every week. I have fifteen suggestions below to help you get started with your blog this fall.


Student-written posts:

  • Three favorite moments from the last school year. 
  • Favorite part of summer vacation. 
  • All-time best moment in school. 
  • Three questions they want to find the answers to this year. 
  • Favorite book or movie and why. 

Teacher-written posts:
Think about what your students' parents want to know about. What do they ask you about at open house night or parent-teacher conferences? Think about that for a few minutes and you'll have a some good blog topics. I did that this spring as I prepared to teach a course on blogging. Here's the list of blog post topics that I developed.
  • How to manage your child’s web use
  • How to talk to kids about web use
  • How to prevent the summer slide
  • 5 fun, free educational activities to do at home (think Maker activities)
  • 5 local field trips to do on rainy days
  • 5 local field trips to do on sunny days
  • A glossary of Tween vocabulary
  • 5 things parents should know about Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram/ Snapchat/ YikYak
  • 5 tasty and healthy snacks to send to school
  • How to talk to kids about bullying

Join Blogs & Social Media for Teachers & School Leaders to learn how to develop a great school or classroom blog. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Use Vocaroo to Make Voice Recordings to Post On Your Blog

Vocaroo is a free service that you can use to create short audio recordings. Creating a recording on Vocaroo is a simple process that does not require you to create an account or have any special browser plugins. Just go to the site and click record to get started. In the video below I demonstrate how to use it to create a recording and post in on your classroom blog.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Collecting & Sharing Examples of Classroom Blogs

In just two days A Complete Guide to Using Blogger In School has been downloaded nearly 3600 times. In those two days I've had quite a few requests for more examples of classroom / school blogs. I have a few examples, but I know that many of you have excellent examples of your own to share. If you're willing to share your examples with others, please consider completing the short Google Form that is embedded below. I have enabled the form to show a link to the submissions. Next Friday, I'll publish the complete list too.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How to Embed Interactive ThingLink Images Into a Blog Post

Yesterday, in Four Good Ways to Use Media In Your Classroom Blog I mentioned embedding ThingLink images into your posts. Tara Weegar just asked me on Twitter how to do this and I'm sure there are others wondering about the same thing. Since it's kind of hard to describe in 140 characters I've put together some screenshots of the process. (click the screenshots to view them full size)

Step 1: After signing into your ThingLink account and uploading a picture, hover over the corner of the image and click on "share image."

Step 2: Copy the embed code and paste it into your blog post.

Step 3: If you want visitors to your blog to add pinmarks to the image open the "edit" menu on the right side of the screen.

Step 4: Choose the permissions for your image.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Four Good Ways to Use Media In Your Classroom Blog

Watching videos and commenting on them or looking at a picture and commenting on it are the most common ways that teachers have students use media in blog posts. There is definitely value in those activities as they do get students to think, write, and share. These are some other ways to think about using media in your classroom blog. 


SoundCloud is a great tool for creating short audio recordings. Those recordings can be embedded into blog posts. The feature of SoundCloud that makes it worth using instead of just embedding a recording from another service is that listeners can tie their comments to an exact moment in a SoundCloud recording. This means that if something twelve seconds into the recording triggers a thought in a students’ mind she can tie that comment to that exact moment. I’ve seen SoundCloud used by world languages teachers who have students make short recordings and post them on a classroom blog. The teacher then used the comment tool to give feedback to students.

ThingLink is a free tool for creating interactive images. To create an interactive image upload an image from your computer to your ThingLink account. After uploading the image you can add pins to the image. Each pin that you add to your image can include a video clip, a link to another site, a SoundCloud recording, a block of text, or another image. You can make your images collaborative by allowing others to add pins to the image. Images can be embedded into blog posts for students to view and or add their own pins. A few of the ways that I’ve seen ThingLink used by teachers is to have students add multimedia labels to diagrams of cells, to label geographic features, and to label historical images like that of the signing of the declaration of independence.

VoiceThread and Narrable provide platforms for uploading images and hosting discussions around them. VoiceThread offers more commenting options than Narrable, but I find Narrable easier for new users to master. Both tools allow you to embed your image-based stories into blog posts where students can comment on those images. Students will have to have an account to do this. VoiceThread allows three free projects before requiring you to upgrade to a paid plan. Narrable gives you one project before requiring you to upgrade to a paid plan.

Your classroom blog doesn’t have to be serious all the time. In fact, one of the ways that I used to make one of my blogs more appealing to students was to embed a game and or entertainment news widget into the side column of my blog’s homepage. One semester I had a group of students that enjoyed playing simple games online so I would grab a free game embed code from Novel Games and put it on my blog. A couple of years ago I put a news widget, a sports stories widget, and a TMZ feed on my blog. My goal in doing these things was to give students another reason to visit the blog besides just, “Mr. Byrne said we have to visit the blog.”