I think all teachers should run a class blog. Here’s mine, iseroma.com. I like it. Please check it out and let me know what you think!
Class blogs offer students a place to publish their work and their thoughts. They also build classroom community. Some teachers prefer setting up individual blogs for each of their students, but I like class blogs because they make learning a shared experience.
But for a class blog to be successful, students must find it easy and fun to post to it. Otherwise, it’s just another ordinary teacher blog.
I’ve been investigating some ways to help my students post to our class blog. Here are my current thoughts:
1. Allow students to post without moderation.
Before this year, I moderated my students’ posts before they got published. This was to make sure my students would not post inappropriate content. But I changed my mind this year and decided to trust my students. The result: Many more posts, and no problems whatsoever (besides a few grammar mistakes). My students took the space seriously even when they were being silly. They even began to do a good job categorizing and tagging their posts.
To make this change, all I had to do was upgrade my students’ user roles in WordPress to “author” instead of “collaborator.”
2. Encourage students to tweet about the class.
Sometimes, writing a post just takes too much time. For quicker communication, Twitter is better. I set up a Twitter widget on the class blog’s sidebar that shows tweets that include #iseroma. Although not all of my students tweet, those who do like sharing their thoughts this way. Twitter is great for exit tickets, quick questions, and random thoughts. In retrospect, I could have improved this year’s nightly texting assignment had I used Twitter. In short, it’s a great way to build classroom community.
3. Make podcasting simple and easy.
Audio is great on blogs, and students love to create podcasts and to listen to their peers, but usually, audio is a pain in the butt. After all, who wants to record and then upload and then post? That’s just too many steps. Even though cell phones and services like Google Voice have made audio easier in the classroom, I’ve never considered making podcasting a significant part of my class blog.
Until now. Luckily, my friend and loyal Iserotope reader Wil suggested that I check out ipadio. Just like Google Voice, ipadio lets students record their voice the easy way: by calling a phone number, instead of messing with their own audio equipment. But here’s where it gets better: You can configure your ipadio settings so all podcasts get posted automatically to your website.
That means students can program the ipadio number into their phone and podcast directly to iseroma.com whenever they like. I’m going to try this feature out this September when my students go off to college.
4. Make video simple and easy.
Even better than audio is video. But uploading video to a blog is similarly complicated. But I’m working on a solution where students can automatically post videos from their phone.
The first step is having a shared YouTube account. That’s the easy part. With a common YouTube account, students can record a video and upload it to the class’s YouTube channel. If they have a smartphone, this process can happen without plugging the phone into a computer.
The next step is uploading the video from YouTube to WordPress. I found a plugin called YouTube Posts that makes the process simple. You can configure your settings so that the plugin automatically uploads videos from a designated YouTube account. It’s not perfect — you can’t upload huge video files, and you have to be logged in for the plugin to work — but it beats having to upload your students’ videos manually, one by one.
5. Encourage your students to post from their phones.
WordPress has excellent and free apps on iPhone and Android that allow users to log in to their blogs, write posts and comments, and add images and video. For many students, posting by phone is quicker than going to a computer. All they have to do is run the app, log in, and add a post. They can also post directly from their camera app. Nice and simple.
Next steps: I’m still trying to figure out a way for students to upload large numbers of photos directly to my blog. I could solve this problem by having a shared Picasa or Flickr account and then syncing it with a WordPress plugin, but they slow down my site. Too bad NextGEN Gallery, which I use, does not allow for public uploading of multiple images. If you have ideas about how I can allow students (in a safe way, with a password) to upload images from the front end, please let me know!