After our schools closed mid-March because of the virus, one of the assignments that I gave my students was creating their own blogs. Even though participation was not required, many students chose to try it out. It was interesting to notice what was similar and what was different in the choices they made. And it helped me to stay in touch with them and see how they were doing when I couldn’t actually see them every day.
The assignment was very open-ended; I provided a link to an article that discussed different blogging platforms, but I allowed students to choose which ones they wanted to use. Likewise, while I gave a list of possible topics and encouraged them to write about their experiences during the closure, I didn’t assign specific topics. This gave students a lot of freedom, but also provided some challenges.
Overall, I think the experience was a positive one, both for me and for the students, and so I’ve decided to incorporate student blogging in the traditional classroom. I want to pull from what I’ve learned through this experience. Hopefully I can minimize the challenges that students face due to the use of technology. Writing is challenging enough by itself!
So the first major decision I’m considering is what sort of platform I should have students use. While allowing them to make their own choices is important, it also created difficulties, because each platform worked a little differently. Students who blogged on WordPress had to create a different account to leave comments for students on other platforms. Additionally, not all platforms allowed comments. And that’s not even looking at what ‘categories’ or ‘tags’ are, or what the layout looks like or how to format text or … Oy. It’s a LOT when you’re not familiar with it!
As this will be the first experience with blogging that many of them have, I want to streamline the setup process. Having all students use the same platform will make it easier for everyone to get started writing, and that’s where I really want the focus to be. I’ve been debating whether it would be more effective to have their blogs be publicly accessible or restricted.
- Benefits to public / open platforms (Blogger, WordPress.com, etc.)
- authentic audience
- can build digital footprint
- writing with audience in mind
- Benefits to protected / closed platforms (Edublogs)
- free from judgment / less pressure to ‘perform’
- reduces concerns about student safety online
- more authentic to self
- students have different levels of comfort
- “seed posts” – can be developed into public content as desired
One of the reasons that I initially leaned towards public writing is that a closed platform wouldn’t be truly private writing. These are assignments, after all, and so while there isn’t the sense of sharing with everyone, it still doesn’t provide the full benefits of independent personal writing.
But after coming up with my pro/con list, what pulled me toward using a closed platform is that semi-private writing allows and even invites students to move in either direction. Students are used to writing for a teacher. We can then have “writing community” sessions for which students select a post they are comfortable sharing with their classmates. This would give students a scaffolded introduction to sharing their writing, and give them some experience with what it’s like to take that sort of risk.
I could also encourage students to keep a private journal, which would not be submitted. Students could use journal-writing time to draft writing for their blog posts, but they could also choose to use that time for more personal writing that they don’t want to have others look at.
The challenge with that, I think, would be to ensure that students are actually using the time as intended, since it “doesn’t count.” Especially in Honors classes, there is often such a focus on course averages that I can imagine a student deciding to use the private writing time instead to study for a test in their next class.
So it sounds like I have my answer about the sort of blogging platform I want to use – as well as a topic for another blog post! ;D
Have you had your students create blogs? Are they public or private? And what challenges have you faced?