It took a year to understand why I should blog after being shown a blog (2006) to starting my own blog (2007). Prior to starting my own blog, I shared my learning via podcasts and wikis; it wasn’t until I reached the point where I wanted to reflect on my learning that I started blogging.
For me it was a combination of not understanding, 1) what is a blog, and 2) the importance of reflection, sharing, connected learning and learning as part of a community.
I’m passionate about blogging because it:
Helped me become a better writer — I passionately believe that if blogging can help someone like me who continues to struggle with language it can help others that are like myself.
Gave me a voice and mechanism to share my thoughts and help others.
Changed my life — blogging resulted in changing my career from an aquaculture lecturer to employment as the Support Manager for Edublogs and CampusPress. Many of my fellow edubloggers have had similar life changes as a result of their blogging.
What’s even more incredible with my blogging journey is I’ve battled writing and processing language my entire life. While my English teacher and I would agree that my expression continues to be rather odd at times — blogging helped me become a better writer.
It’s not perfect — and continues to be a work in progress — but I can’t imagine any of my English teachers or I would ever thought that one day I would be paid to write.
Blogging Turning Point
Looking back on my blogging journey one of the key events that made me a better blogger was participating in Darren Rowse’s 31 Days Project in 2007.
We formed our own community and worked through Darren Rowse’s 31 Days Project as a group. It was an intense month — where we read each others posts and learnt together — and collectively improved our blogging skills. Commenting and reading each others posts was as important as writing our own posts.
My advice to those participating in the weekly #EdublogsClub is make it a goal to read and comment on as many of the posts as possible. You learn as much, if not more, by reading/commenting as writing your posts and it helps generate ideas for things to blog about.
Remember blogging isn’t about writing. It’s about connecting, reflecting and sharing. Mix it up with video, audio and embed cool tools into your posts.
And don’t forget — what is Obvious to you is amazing to others. Don’t assume others know what you know. There is always someone who will be grateful of what you shared — even if they don’t necessarily tell you.
We will be inviting participants in our session to share what they would like to learn during the session so we can personalize it to their needs.
Before the conference I’m trying to crowd source what you would like to know about student blogging — if you were able to attend a session on student blogging — to help us prepare as many answers as we can!
I’ll be publishing follow-up posts after the conference to provide the information we shared in the session and to answer any questions readers left on this post.
How you can help
Please leave a comment below to answers any of the following questions!
If you are new to blogging with students, or never blogged with students, we would like to know the following:
What you would like to know about blogging with students?
What grade(s)/subjects do you teach?
Your class blog URL (optional).
For those experienced with blogging with students we would like to know:
Last weekend at our local WordPress Meetup some members suggested we share the plugins we use. Plugins can be very personal depending on the type of site you’re developing however I thought others would be interested in the plugins we use on Edublogs and our CampusPress networks.
So here it goes!
Here’s a summary of the plugins we provide for our users on Edublogs and our CampusPress networks as well as insight into the process we use when looking for new plugins.
About Edublogs | CampusPress
Here’s a bit of background on Edublogs and CampusPress to help provide insight into our plugin usage.
Edublogs is the largest education blogging platform on the web and hosts over 3 million blogs since 2005. CampusPress is our white-labelled WordPress for Education solution for Schools, School Districts and Universities that want us to host the service on their own domain. We host hundreds of WordPress Multisite networks customized specifically for education on CampusPress.
Edublogs and CampusPress are part of the Incsub which is also behind WPMU DEV. WPMU DEV is the largest premium WordPress site on the web. Our team has more than 60 WordPress experts.
Edublogs and WordPress.com are both hosted solutions but have been customized specifically to meet the needs of their users. WordPress.com includes the more popular plugin functionality within their sites automatically. Users don’t see a plugin menu item and can’t activate plugins.
We use a different approach to plugins on Edublogs. Plugins that provide key functionality are automatically activated on all sites. Examples of these types of plugins are the Classes plugin (powers My Class) and Reader plugin (powers the Reader). Classes and Reader plugins were developed specifically for Edublogs by our developers and you’ll only find them on Edublogs and CampusPress networks.
We also provide plugins that our users can activate in Plugins > All menu in the dashboard of their sites. We don’t automatically activate these plugins because not all users want access to all plugins. There is no need to add extra menu items, features or functionality by activating a plugin if it isn’t needed.
Plugin Review Process
Edublogs and CampusPress is powered by a customized version of WordPress multisite. Plugins are often designed to work on a single installs of self hosted WordPress and may not work or can cause problems on WordPress Multisite.
All plugins we install are thoroughly tested to ensure they won’t cause issues such as compatibility problems with other plugins and themes or impact server performance.
Does the plugin provide a feature or functionality that many of our users would want?
Does the plugin have potential to cause compatibility problems with other plugins and themes or impact server performance?
Is the plugin user friendly? The less user friendly the more likely the plugin won’t be used.
New plugins are chosen based on requests for specific plugins or functionality from our users; or functionality we know our users would like. Where possible we try to provide a plugin that provides the functionality our users want rather than provide several plugins that have similar functionality.
For example, we’re currently looking at adding a Slider plugin as it is a common request. We start by looking at the specific plugins users have requested and compare them to review articles to see what others have said about the plugin.
Our testing process once we’re identified suitable plugins is:
Test on a single install of WordPress (to confirm the plugin is user friendly).
Test on Edublogs (Super admin user activated only as sometimes we need to make additional customizations for our server set up or to make it more user friendly).
Change to Edublogs Pro so users can use.
Upload to CampusPress networks once tested on Edublogs.
Below is a summary of the plugins users can activate in Plugins > All on Edublogs and CampusPress networks. Occasionally we change the plugin name to make it more meaningful for our users so where possible I’ve linked their plugin name to where you can download the original plugin.
You may also find out Edublogs User Guide documentation helpful. Most of it is applicable to any WordPress powered blog. We try to provide very detailed instructions with screenshots since our users range from very young students across all educational sectors.
Edublogs Help link
3D Rotating Cloud
Adds the Wp-Culumus widget to Appearance > Widget which you use to add a beautiful rotating and animated representation of all your tags and categories to your blog sidebar.
*Modified to check a banned word list to make safer search.
Easy tool to quickly find, add Creative Commons images to your posts with attribution. Once activated it adds a Compfight icon to your visual editor which you use to search and insert images using Compfight.
Jetpack is a single plugin that provides a suite of different features including post by email, ability to control which pages widgets are shown on, slideshows, extra image gallery option, auto post to your social media accounts, social share options and more.
Allows you to embed video and audio files inside an embedded player so your visitors can view them directly in their web browser. Enhances WordPress’ existing podcast support by adding multiple iTunes-compatible feeds, media players, and an easy to use interface
If you don’t lay the groundwork by building a community of trust, risk, support with your kids they fail big.
Reading and commenting have to be the core, or else a blog is just a digital bulletin board.
Being an expert at Grand Theft Auto on the X-box doesn’t mean you can jump in a car and drive it without being taught how to drive a car. We teach our kids to drive because we know they need lessons to scaffold them from needing driving instructions to becoming independent drivers.
By doing so we’re hoping this is less likely to happen:
It’s the same with our students when it comes to using technology in an educational context. They might have grown up with technology but this doesn’t mean they’ll know how to use it in an educational learning context.
Almost all educators who blog well with their students use scaffolding – regardless of the age of the students. It’s like teaching someone to drive a car. They break down the process into key steps from learning to blog to becoming independent connected learners.
Here’s an example:
Bianca learnt to blog in Grade 2 in 2010 (in Kathleen Morris’s class) where she progressed from learning how to write quality comments, to writing posts on the class blog to having her own student blog.
Bianca has been in non blogging classrooms for the past 2 years and has continued to blog independently on her own student blog.
Below are the key scaffolding steps when using blogs for connected learning:
Digital footprint and your role
But before talking more about blogging we need to discuss digital footprint and your role in your student’s digital footprint.
Digital footprint is becoming an issue for us as students become more aware of their own digital footprint and how to check it. We’re being contacted by former students, or their parents, regarding posts, comments or photos made of blogs back as far as 2008.
Google cache’s all websites so Google doesn’t need to constantly index webpages. We can remove comments, posts, images from a blog on our servers and it can take a looooong time for it to disappear from Google Search results.
This is why it is really important to educate students on digital footprint and leave it for them to create their digital footprint when they are older (or if they are University students let them decide if they want the blog to be part of their digital footprint).
Our recommendations are:
Never use full names for students.
Use only their first name or a pseudo name and apply this rule to their username, blog URLs, any photos (including file names), documents, comments.
Educate their family e.g. encourage family to leave comments such as Matt’s mum or Samantha’s nana.
If commenting skills are not taught and constantly reinforced, students will limit their comments to things like “I like your blog!” or “2KM is cool!”. While enthusiasm is high with these sorts of comments, students are not developing their literacy skills or having meaningful interactions with other members of the blogging community. Conversations in the comment section of a blog are such rich and meaningful learning experiences for students. Conversations begin with high quality comments.
Blogging is an authentic avenue for developing student literacy skills. When you invest the time in teaching, modelling, revising and promoting high quality writing of comments, students can make great gains in their overall literacy development.
Start with a paper blogging lesson which includes commenting using Post-it notes. We stress that you comment to keep conversations going (check out Learning to blog using paper).
Use an offline snowball activity. Teacher provides a writing prompt and students write a post. The paper is crumpled and tossed around the room until about 3 students have responded to their writing. It is then returned to the original writer and the class debriefs the process.
Tour of blog comments may be helpful to showcase how it is done (here are some blogs to check).
Connecting with other classes can have a huge impact on your class blog because:
Your students benefit from having an authentic and global audience
You gain from being supported by other educators — increasing your skills and developing new ideas that benefit your students
An authentic and global audience is important because:
When students are writing or publishing for an audience other the teacher, it impacts how they view what they doing and the intrinsic motivation they have.
Students love seeing their work on the Internet and adore getting comments from people. It motivates them to write as it gives them an audience that is real. The blog opens up a whole new world of people who can offer encouragement and feedback.
Blogging provides an authentic educational experience, where what they write is not only seen and commented on by their teacher, but by their peers and the “public.” For most students, it’s a bit of extra motivation knowing their peers will see their work.
There is an authentic audience – a global audience – one that is willing to connect, share, challenge, discuss and communicate with classes. This audience can provide further information, opinions, suggest resources, seek answers to questions and so on which pushes blogging further.
Provides real world problems and solutions to share.
It’s important to have a shared vision of what is blogging and what it can be when engaging in projects with other classes. Worth taking the time to research the other class (aka spy on them) to see if you have similar shared visions).
You can’t leave parent participation to chance. Parents needs to be educated and regularly encouraged and invited to be part of your class blog.” If you want to get the most out of your class blog you need to help parent and students connect with and easily find your class blog.
But there’s nothing more frustrating trying to find your teacher’s website and not being able to find it — make it too hard and they’ll quickly give up.
It’s quite common for educators new to blogging to assume their class blog is easily found using Google or that students will write the blog URL correctly in their notebook. These aren’t good approaches and decrease the chances they will be able to find your class blog.
Experienced educators use several different methods to help parents and students:
Understand what is a blog and how they can participate.
The final key ingredient in student blogging is to make sure you monitor your student blogs.
It’s important to know what is happening on your student blogs and be able to act quickly if necessarily. Some educators do this by moderating all comments and/or posts so that only those they approve are published while others don’t and monitor student work using Google Reader.
Here’s what we recommend:
Add yourself as an admin user to all student blogs so you can easily log into their dashboard to make changes if necessary.
The Advanced blogging session was a blend of what participants wanted to know mixed with skills they needed to know (Refer my Blogging questions Storify to see how this session was planned and the blogging tips shared by my network — thanks to all who helped plan this session!).
This is a long post! Feel free to scroll down to the sections that interest you!
I’ve kept it in the same sequence as the recording so you can use it to supplement the information covered.
I’ve also added some quick videos to demonstrate some ”how to’
You can download it as a PDF by clicking on the PrintFriendly icon at the top of the post.
Stop, look, link
Failure to link is a common mistake of all new bloggers! Linking to articles, websites or other blogger’s post when you write about them is an important part of blogging.
Your readers want to be able to easy check out the information without needing to Google.
Links are the building blocks of the web.
When you link:
You are crediting those who inspired your post.
Making it easy for readers to check out resources and information for themselves.
Building community, continuation of the conversation and reciprocity.
How to Link
Other common reasons why new bloggers fail to link include confusion on which words you link and which URLs you use.
It’s good blogging etiquette to link to:
A person’s blog if you mention a blogger
The post if you are talking about a particular post on a blog
Website or article if mentioned in your post
Here’s how simple it is:
Listened to Sue Waters’s session on Intro to blogging.
1. Copy the URL of the website you want to link to.
2. In the post that you are writing (1) highlight the text you want linked to the website and click on (2) Insert/Edit Link button.
3. Paste the URL into (1) URL box and then click (2) Add Link.
It’s good practice to paste the link; it’s less likely you’ll type the link wrongly.
4. When you view your blog you should now see the text is now linked in your blog post.
Commenting Etiquette and Tips
Commenting is as important, if not more important, than publishing posts. Besides all the learning you achieve when commenting — it is important part of being part of a learning community and developing connections with others.
Commenting etiquette and tips include:
Stay on topic.
Contribute new ideas to the conversation
Be polite .
Respond back to comments on your own posts.
Here are tips shared by participants in the session:
Digital Copyright and Fair Use
You can’t just use any image you like in a blog post.
Why? Because unless stated otherwise, the law automatically grants full “copyright” over any creative work a person makes.
I’m sure you’re probably thinking it is okay because as educators, we have a few more flexible rules, called “Fair Use”, to play by. Fair use, in some cases, if an image, text, video, etc. is being used for educational purposes, means you may have more flexible copyright rules.
The trouble is, most of the laws and rules that cover fair use and education were written well before the invention of the web. They don’t apply to use of copyright material on the Internet. Using copyright material leaves you open to copyright infringement.
So what does this mean?
You need to:
Learn what images you are and aren’t allowed to use, and why.
Learn how to attribute images you are allowed to use.
Educate your students that you can’t just use any images off the Internet in their blog posts, show them how to source and attribute images they are allowed to use.
Understanding digital copyright is an essential skill we need to understand and teach our students.
It’s a requirement of all Creative Commons Licenses that you attribute the original author. This means you can’t just use a creative commons image without acknowledging the person who originally created it.
Below the image or at the end your blog post you must:
Attribute the image
Link the photo back to it’s original photo page
Specify and link to the Creative Commons license used.
2. Complete the form to choose the type of license you want to use.
3. Copy the code.
4. Log into your blog dashboard.
5. Go to Appearance > Widgets.
6. Drag a text widget into your sidebar.
7. The widget will automatically open — just paste the code for your Creative Commons licence, click Save and then Close.
8. You should now see your license in your blog sidebar!
Post Sharing Etiquette
We’re far more social now and more likely to use social network sites like Twitter and Facebook as a buffet; consuming whatever we want at our leisure by selecting posts from links shared by our networks.
So whether we feel comfortable or not — we need to be sharing our posts on social networks. The trouble is how do we balance sharing our posts? What is the appropriate etiquette?
Here are tips shared by participants in the session:
Making posts visually engaging
If you look closely at blogs you’ll notice many of them add cool interactive tools to their blog post.
They do this because things like slides, videos, comic strips, quizzes, polls in blog posts grab attention, engage and create opportunities for interaction in ways not achievable using plain text and images.
How you embed, or if you can embed, depends on what blog platform you’re using.
Here’s where you’ll find more information on embedding on Edublogs.org blogs:
All participants have been ask to participate through their own blogs. Quite a few participants are new to blogging and it’s really hard to appreciate how you might learn through blogging as part of a connectivist MOOC if you’ve never blogged before.
So I’ve decided to focus my session on what they really need to know to get the most out of their blogging as part of #ETMOOC; as opposed to a more traditional introduction to blogging session.
More of an intro to the pedagogical aspects of blogging as opposed to the technical.
Hopefully I’ve got the balance right –since I’m writing this post before the session –but if not this post should help them work through the concepts I covered (or wanted to cover).
And for those that haven’t interacted with me before —
My waking hours are mostly spent helping others use their blogs effectively with students or for themselves; in all educational sectors around the World.
Getting started blogging info
Here’s where you’ll find our step-by-step series to help you get started if you are new to blogging:
It’s an easy trap to focus too much on publishing posts while failing to appreciate that reading other people’s posts and commenting on posts are a very important part of the learning process as a blogger.
Blogging is a constant cycle of:
The idea of reflective blogging is you’re evaluating, reviewing, reflecting, revising while reading other people’s posts, commenting on their posts, writing your own posts and commenting back on comments made by others on your own blog.
By following this process you’re learning at a deeper level and differently from how you’ve learnt previously; and you’re doing it as part of a community.
For those using other types of RSS readers you will find the RSS feed at http://etmooc.org/hub/feed/
4. Click Add.
Benefits of using the ETMOOC blog hub RSS are:
It’s faster to quickly read recently updated posts.
The full post is pulled into Google Reader, unless the blogger has used the Read More tag, so you can easily read the entire post inside Google Reader whereas only the post excerpt is display on the ETMOOC blog hub page.
The ETMOOC blog hub is amazing work and even better than chocolate – if that is possible. Thanks Alan for making it happen!
If you’re using the Read More tag or set your RSS feed to Summary and not full text — DON’T.
Reader like me hate excerpts because it slows our reading down and means we’re less likely to bother reading your post.
It is faster to read the posts using a tablet than using Google Reader on your computer.
If you don’t have an iPad or an Android tablet it is worth having one. Feel free to tell your partner that Sue Waters said I needed one — if that helps! On my android tablet I use the Google Reader app and on my iPad I use Reeder. I prefer reading on my android using the Google Reader app.
How to quickly comment on participant’s posts
Now you’re able to time effectively read other participant’s posts adding a comment to their post is as simple as just click on the post’s title to visit a post to add a comment.
Commenting is as important, if not more important, than publishing posts.
Besides all the learning you achieve when commenting — it is important part of being part of a learning community and developing connections with others.
Goal is to make time to comment on other participants posts; and ensure you respond back to comments by other participants on post on your blog.
Make sure you’ve select the subscribe to email notification of new comments if they have this option.
And finally writing posts
Notice I put posts last? Deliberate 🙂
The idea of blogging as part of a constructivist MOOC is that you’re reflecting and sharing your learning. Ideally what you’re looking for is to learn from others while building on, and adding to what you’ve learnt. That’s why I’ve put writing posts last.
Sure they’ll probably give you some tasks to blog about — like they did for the orientation week activity but the idea is it is all about what you want to learn so you should also write posts about whatever else you’re learning or want to share.
The more you read, participate by leaving comments on other participant’s posts, engage in discussions and conversations — the more you’ll learn and want to share — and this is when you REFLECT on it by writing a post!
One of the best aspects of Alec’s course is that participants post reflections on their blogs. Wouldn’t that be nice if you could research and interact with participants before every presentation to be better prepared?
Get a feel for who they are as individuals and where they are at
Find out what they learnt in previous sessions
Target my presentation based on my perception of their needs
Most of the participants are fairly new to using social media and blogging so I decided to focus on what they really needed to know about educational blogging.
Here’s What I Covered
I created the following diagram to explain how through the process of writing posts and engaging in discussions in comments we are constantly evaluating, reviewing, reflecting and revising information. And that by this continual process we’re learning.
Unfortunately I don’t feel I adequately emphasized how this learning is very different from how most of us are used to learning.
Nik Peachey provides a great summary in his comment “With out this final stage of reconstructing information and turning it into knowledge that is useable by others in my professional community, much of the information that I read or see on the web would just pass straight through me”.
Community and learning as part of a community (or network) is one of the most important aspects of educational blogging and one of the key areas that most educators fail to appreciate.
The whole process of creating, connecting, communicating and collaborating as part of a community through the interactions of posts and conversations in comments is essential.
Unfortunately educators often fail to adequately encourage the community and commenting aspects in their student blogging programs.
Here are a few examples of good approaches to student blogging:
It’s really important to experience how blogging changes your own learning to appreciate the impact it has and to understand how to use it effectively with students.
Here is the participants brainstorming of their thoughts, challenges and concerns based on where they are currently at with their blogging.
A key point I emphasized is their course provides them an excellent opportunity which is ideal for developing their blogging skills; they need to focus on working together as a community while gaining skills they can use with their own students.
My tips were:
Step 1: Change comment moderation settings
Currently they are all using the default comment moderation setting which means all commenters must have had a previously approved comment otherwise the comment is moderated.
Unfortunately in their situation this is negatively impacting in the comment conversations. New commenters don’t gain from reading older comments.
You change comment moderation settings by going to Settings > Discussion.
Step 2: Set up Google Reader
The best way to work as a community is to set up your Google Reader account so that you are subscribed to both posts and comments from all the blogs.
Alec asked me to frame a question for response by participants at the end of my session.
So I’ve asked them to write a post on “What are 3 questions (and why) you would like answered on educational blogging or building personal learning networks? so that I and the other participants could visit their posts and leave comments to answer their questions.
If you would like to ask me these same questions please feel free to write your own post and:
But I like the blogging questions and think others would be intrigued by my answers.
1. How did you get into blogging?
I’m sure lots of people that are very glad I’m blogger would be totally surprised by the fact that initially I really struggled with the concept of blogging — Why anyone would blog and why others read their blogs?
It took almost a year from being shown what a blog was to becoming a blogger.
The turning point were a result of:
Subscribing to blogs (which gave me a greater appreciate of blogs)
My strong desire to reflect on what I was learning.
2. What were (are?) the motivations?
My podcasts and wiki were excellent for sharing information but weren’t great for other aspects.
Blogging gave me what podcasting and my wiki lacked; the ability to reflect, collaborate, exchange ideas and connect with others. These aspects plus my strong motivation to help others motivates why I blog.
3. How does your “private” blogging relate to your work?
Well my ‘private blogging’ developed into my work.
And if you had told me when I first started blogging that within 8 months I would end up employed by a blogging company — I’d have said Get Real!’
Unfortunately it is very easy to misinterpret and/or mis-use any type of statistics.
People often look at the number while failing to consider how the statistic was calculated or what it truly means.
About Misinterpreting Statistics
Here’s an example:
Statistics show that 45% of the population can’t read the newspaper.
Shocking literacy rates! Or is it? How many included in that statistic were too young to read, didn’t speak English, had some form of disability etc? What percentage of the entire population was sampled, what method was used, did the method bias the result etc?
Using Statistics in Blogging
So where am I going with this? Well bloggers love statistics and they love to know how they rank against other bloggers. Since Technorati authority is no longer reliable bloggers have looked at other options.
So some bloggers are using PostRank. For example, here are the top blogs on education based on their ranking by PostRank. Trouble is bloggers are looking at the statistics and the number 1-10; not considering how it was calculated, how blogs are ranked against each other using PostRank or what these numbers mean.
Effective use of PostRank
Let me be clear! I love PostRank. It is an incredibly valuable tool for quickly analyzing and comparing all of your blog posts in terms of number of:
Bookmarked (Delicious, diigo etc)
All of which helps you reflect how the different post types impact how readers engage with the posts. For example, if your aim is a long informative post you would expect few comments but hopefully lots of bookmarking and/or linking. PostRank helps you work out if you achieved this goal.
But if you are using PostRank to compared your blog’s performance against another blog, or identify the best blogs for a topic than you need to look more closely at their statistics.
In particular look at those eye icons that represent views. What do they mean? Well they are the number of your readers that click the post title in the PostRank widget in your sidebar.
Should high clicking on the PostRank widget in a sidebar make a post (and blog) high ranking?
Below is a screenshot from PostRank. The example on the left is a perfect 10 from another blogger (educational) whose rank on that post is entirely based on click on the PostRank widget. While The Edublogger post had high bookmarking, linking and comments.