A couple weeks ago, my daughter’s first grade class started blogging. They were doing a unit on the pilgrims, and had written some journal entries. They took turns typing these into blog posts on the classroom blog. They’re taking baby steps at this point. They’re not accepting comments or linking to other blogs or anything of the sort. Right now, they’re just typing their journal entries, and Mom and Dad can read them at home. The rest will come later.
We’ve known for a long time that student work improves when there is an authentic audience. A decade ago, my eighth grade students were doing research projects on world leaders. At the end of the project, they had to make web pages (using a text editor!) about their leaders. I left these pages online for a couple years, and later found that there were university professors and libraries and K-12 teachers linking to their reports as authoritative sources. While none of us were quite as critical of the information we read online then as we are now, these web pages were at least good enough that some serious people took them seriously. That’s a lot better than the written reports that were just handed in for a grade.
The technological barriers to putting things online are gone. I’m writing this in a form on a web page. When I’m done, I can click “publish” and it’s online. I don’t have to know html. I don’t have to ftp files to the server. I don’t really have to have any understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes. I can just write.
What I do have to understand is that anyone can read this. I have occasionally been surprised by people commenting on something I’ve written. Once in a while, someone will make an offhand comment about some blog post I made, and I’ll realize that I have some teachers in my district or administrators or parents or family members reading this. Our students have to understand this too. Grandma might be reading what you have to say. Or maybe your ex-girlfriend is checking your blog. Or a potential employer may Google you five years from now and find something you’ve posted.
That’s all the more reason to take online writing seriously. And given the opportunity, our students will do just that.
All Right. I’m Sold. Now What?
There are no major technical hurdles. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t legal ones. If you’re going to have students blogging in your class, you probably should start by reviewing your school’s policies relating to this activity. In the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Schools, this type of publication would fall under policies 7540.02 – District Web Page, 8330 – Student Records, and 5722 – School-Sponsored Publications. While you can certainly read them for yourself, I’ll save you some time:
- District and building web sites go on http://www.bbhcsd.org, and staff web sites go on staff.bbhcsd.org. Staff web sites may also be hosted on external sites in some circumstances. Everything on www is “official” and represents the district. Everything on “staff” represents a specific staff member or group of staff members, and may not reflect the district as a whole. Class blogs would go on “staff” if they’re hosted locally. They could also be hosted on another site, like Learnerblogs.
- There are rules about the type of content that can be posted. Use common sense and good judgment. If you think you’re in a gray area, check the policy.
- In a classroom blog, where the teacher is supervising the activity, the teacher has the right to decide what is or isn’t posted. The EFF provides the legal basis for this, and it’s also in the policy on school-sponsored publications.
- Get written parent permission when posting student work online. That’s the last line of the District Web Page policy.
- Protect student privacy. Avoid associating student first and last names with student pictures, for example. At the elementary level, it may be more appropriate to just use first names and last initials. Your best bet here is to include the types of identifying information you plan to post in the letter to parents that you use to get permission. Then, you’re covered.
So How Do I Actually Do This?
- If you don’t already have a blog, get one.
- Set up some users in your blog. In WordPress, if you go to Users, you can create additional users. You can also allow people to sign up for their own accounts. Different users can have different roles, including:
- Contributor: Can write new posts, but can’t publish anything. Everything written must be approved before it is published.
- Author: Can write and publish their own posts, but can’t approve/edit/delete the posts of others.
- Editor: Can mange other people’s posts, including the approval of contributed posts for publication.
Using these roles, you might set up the students as contributors. That way, they can write their pieces, and you can still maintain control over what is ultimately published. If you’d like to loosen the reins (and your workload) a bit, you could delegate “Editor” status to a small group of trustworthy students or parent volunteers, who can read and approve the items. If you want to have an easier process, make your students authors. They can post their own work, but they can’t do so anonymously. Because they’re responsible for their own work, they’re probably not going to post inappropriate things. This is especially true if you’ve discussed what’s appropriate ahead of time.
- Another approach is to use the comment system. You can either leave the comments open, or require users to be registered before making comments. With this approach, you would post a writing prompt as a blog post, and the students would respond in the comments.
I Need Help!
Check out Blogging: A Teacher’s Guide, by Scott Walker. The Blogs For Learning site has great resources for instructional blogging, from both a technological and pedagogical perspective. If you want to get other teachers’ perspectives on student blogging, this is a pretty good discussion from Brian Crosby’s Learning is Messy blog. A couple years ago, Bud the Teacher created a wiki for classroom blogging. It includes collaboratively developed blogging rules, writing prompts, and assessment tools for class blogs.