Well, its been a long haul, but I think that I’m finally ready to post my evaluation of some blogging platforms that can be used by teachers and students. There are literally *tons* of platforms available…this is just a few….(not an exhaustive list by any means) and some of the benefits/rationales for their use.
I have used blogging extensively in my secondary classes and have mostly opted to use Blogger (most in part to its simplicity). Blogger does, however (and unfortunately) have some “adult oriented” content on its site – these are indicated by “Mature Warning” screens (but only if the user sets it to do so). If questionable content is discovered without a warning, Blogger does ask that they be informed (as do most hosts). Whereas this is not a huge issue for secondary, elementary teachers and parents may not approve of this. This is not, however, to say that the questionable content is easy to find, mind you. It is, however, there. For ease of use and integration of other Google applications, it is excellent.
Click Here for a step-by-step guide for setting up an account on Blogger.
Audience: Google Blogger is easy to use and understand. I have always found it to be a great place for new bloggers to start. The skills learned in this platform are easily transferred to others. Inserting YouTube clips can be a little challenging for some as the embed code needs to be pasted in the HTML view. WordPress has a more intuitive system. Blogger is easy enough for elementary students to use (keep in mind that some Google blog sites feature inappropriate content, but these are not easy to find and is really no different than the rest of the www). This is a great starting platform for secondary students. Keep in mind that students must set up a Google account to use Blogger (alternatively, teachers can do it for them). Google Accounts may need to be unblocked if it is in your board (usually the result of Gmail being blocked as an email platform).
WordPress is a wonderful blogging platform. It looks and operates beautifully – very professional in appearance. As with other platforms, WordPress has a number of templates that can be applied to suit the tastes of the blogger. One HUGE benefit, at least to me, is that you can change your template at any time and all of your material is retained and reformatted. This is not possible with Google’s Blogger. The internal interface of WordPress is a bit more intuitive than Blogger’s, yet more complex at the same time (this is partially due to greater abilities to customize). WordPress provides statistics of daily visits and a ton of “widgets” that can be added to customize.
WordPress also has a hosted version of their software (Click Here) that allows you to have your own domain (hosted by companies such as Go Daddy or BlueHost). Domains usually cost anywhere from $1.99-$9.99 and you can get a hosting package for about $6.99 per month. This feature is for more advanced users but can be customized as a virtual classroom where each student gets a unique email and access to the site).
Audience: The learning curve is a bit steeper (especially for the blogging newbie) and I would consider it more advanced to Blogger’s novice/intermediate levels (suited more for secondary students).
Both can be as accessible or as restricted as the user wishes.
For more elementary students, easier to use platforms would be preferable.
In this case…
No need to create an account – post directly from your email account by sending to firstname.lastname@example.org. After sending your email, you will receive a message with a link to your new blog. Messages sent to Posterous via email from the same email initially used will appear on the same blog that was created with the first message.
Audience: This platform would be a great starting point for someone new to blogging or for those of younger ages where simpler is better (elementary). I don’t think that secondary students would get much out of this platform – it would, perhaps, be suitable for simply posting information with very little customization.
My New Favourite
http://www.tumblr.com is similar to Posterous in that you can email your posts directly to the site (one of the few that support this).
In essence, it is a hybrid of Twitter (microblogging) and more traditional Blogging – you can post short messages (longer ones, too) and can do so from a multitude of sources (i.e. text, video, audio, email, etc.). Tumblr even has an app. for the iPhone. Log into your Tumblr account and from the dashboard you can post photos, text, quotes, links, chat, or audio messages. There are a ton of 3rd party Tumblr apps. as well (Click Here).
Why Everyone loves Tumblr – http://www.tumblr.com/why-tumblr
Additionally, Tumblr has a web browser add-on (Bookmarklet) that allows you to share things you find on the web quickly by clicking a button (similar to Evernote – a virtual online notebook service)
Tumblr also has a Facebook App, the iPhone App previously mentioned, and a call-in service that allows you to send an audio post directly to your blog (1-866-584-6757). Click Here for the Tumblr “Goodies”.
Tumblr will easily allow students to contribute to their blog while they are doing research or simply surfing the web. They can add a brief comment of analysis, question, concern, or conversation, and then move on. It wouldn’t even feel like they are doing work or contributing to their assignment. Allowing posts from a variety of platforms (i.e. email and phone), and allowing sharing in other platforms (Facebook and other Blogs) increases versatility to blogging and takes the “work” out of it.
Audience: I see this as suitable to both elementary and secondary. It is fun for both levels of student and injects a new dynamic to blogging. The ability to post a variety of different message types (text, image [still & moving], and audio) serves multiple-intelligences and learning styles perfectly!
Ning is a hybrid of a blog (with a website feel and interface) combined with Facebook.
With Ning, the owner of the site can invite members (i.e. students) who then become part of the Ning community (i.e. a virtual classroom in this instance). These members can upload photos of themselves and participate directly in the learning community by posting blogs, joining discussions and chats, and creating their own “walls” within the environment (much like Facebook). In fact, the interface of Ning is so similar to Facebook, and therefore familiar to students, that they can’t help but be engaged.
The Ning platform could serve really well as a place to create a feeling of belonging to a true learning community.
The benefits for the teacher is that all student’s contributions to the Ning are contained with the teacher’s community. There would be no need to seek out the student’s separate blogs to follow them as they would be present within the class Ning itself.
Audience: The Ning interface is relatively easy to use and would be suitable for both elementary and secondary. One downfall for using this interface for elementary students is that all members must be over the age of 13 in order to have an account. Ning is a US site and, therefore, must comply with the FTC (Federal —) and COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), which restricts the online collection of personal information of children under 13 (Click Here). The FTC’s web site has extensive information on COPPA. See especially FAQs at www.ftc.gov/privacy/coppafaqs.htm and FTC’s “Kidz Privacy” pages at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/kidzprivacy/index.html.
Canada has no laws relating to children’s privacy and the Internet. In spring 1999, the CRTC (the government agency charged with regulating Canada’s broadcast industries) ruled that they would not attempt to regulate the Internet. Instead, Canadian companies are expected to follow voluntary guidelines.
In Canada, the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) has created a voluntary privacy code for the Internet. Although these principles don’t specifically apply to children, it’s assumed that kids are covered by them. The Canadian Marketing Association’s Marketing Guidelines for Children(which are also voluntary) includes a few stipulations that relate to the collection, transfer or request of personal information from kids by marketers.
From the great lesson plan, Online Marketing to Kids, from the Media Awareness Network.
Want to use Ning with Middle School Students?
Check out http://education.ning.com/forum/topics/1027485:Topic:40246
A great Ning for Educators is http://education.ning.com/
…is powered by WordPress!
A number of teachers use Edublogs, but they automatically embed advertising in the text of your blogs (single lined hyperlinks are user created, double line hyperlinks are generated advertisements) if you don’t pay their fee (Read my analysis of Edublogs Here).
Edublogs is powered by WordPress and has a “Campus” feature that allows schools to sig-up (and pay) for a solution for teacher and student blogging within the institution.
The Free Edublogs version is the one that inserts advertising into the posts.
Like Ning, Edublogs enables the users to create a class blog (a learning environment) and then invite users to it.
Audience: As Edublogs is the WordPress interface, much of what I posted earlier in this blog pertains. That is not to say, however, that younger students can not use it (just that it may be a bit difficult). Keeping the tasks simple and only using parts of the interface will help with the initial learning curve. Here are some student examples as posted on the site, The Edublogger:
Check out these Class Blogs (Secondary & Elementary)
That wraps up this analysis, but by no means provides the final word. More and more blogging platforms are showing up each day and the amalgamation of one social network with another continues to grow. Needless to say, children of all ages are spending more and more time on the internet. They think, learn, and socialize through a natural interface with technology. The most recent research from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life project indicates that 93% of teens go online regularly, and that portable and wireless devices are preferred (CLICK HERE to read the “Social Media and Young Adults” report).
Two Pew Internet Project surveys of teens and adults reveal a decline in blogging among teens and young adults and a modest rise among adults 30 and older. In 2006, 28% of teens ages 12-17 and young adults ages 18-29 were bloggers, but by 2009 the numbers had dropped to 14% of teens and 15% of young adults.
Even though the most recent research may suggest that teens are not blogging regularly on their own, it remains a wonderful interface to use with student in an educational setting, allows them to read, write, evaluate and share their ideas in a collaborative setting that is both digital and dynamic. From The Edublogger:
Important parts of the blogging process include encouraging students to:
- Read each others posts
- Interact and comment on each others posts by challenging each others thoughts and views
- Write posts in response to each others posts
For all of these reasons, Tumblr takes my “Coolest Blogging Platform” award for this week. It has multiple posting options, plugins, and apps and integrates a microblogging aspect with an easy to use customizable interface. With the growth of Social Networking sites for teens, the integration of these with blogging platforms (i.e. Ning) will be the hook that engages and stimulates our students and their learning.
What do you think? Use a different blogging platform? Like to share what you are doing with your students?
I’d love to hear what other educators are using and how they are using it. I constantly get questions from curious teachers and the one missing link is the practical application.
That’s all for now…..
Share your thoughts……