Five Steps to Starting a Class Blog

I have revised the posts I have written in the past to create a nine page, five step guide to beginning a class blog. Feel free to view, print or download the document to help you get started on your blogging journey.

Five Steps to Starting a Class Blog

If you’re having trouble with the Scribd document, you can access the PDF here Five Steps to Starting a Class Blog

Good luck!

Blogging and the Ultranet

Note: this is not a critique of the Ultranet, rather it is advice on choosing the best platform for your students to get the most out of blogging.

Over the past few months I have been approached by countless teachers asking for help and advice with the same issue…

Their school leadership has told them to use the Ultranet for blogging rather than platforms such as Global2, Edublogs or Blogger and they don’t know what to do.

I believe this advice is fuelled by a lack of understanding of how the Ultranet works, how blogging works and what the benefits of blogging are.

People who are advising others to use the Ultranet to blog probably aren’t bloggers themselves and I am hoping this post can help them realise what teachers would be missing out on if they chose the Ultranet as their blogging platform.

As I highlighted in this post, there are many benefits of blogging, most of which cannot be achieved with a blog on the Ultranet.

What is the Ultranet?

For those readers outside of Victoria, the Ultranet is a multi-million dollar online portal released in 2010. The Ultranet is a state-wide, secure site that students, parents and teachers in government schools can access via the internet. A large number of security guidelines means that students and classes are very limited in who can view their Ultranet spaces and who they can connect with. The Ultranet has an application called a blog, however it has its limitations which I will discuss further.

What’s wrong with blogging on the Ultranet?

I like to call blogging on the Ultranet, “pretend blogging”. To me you may as well be writing a “blog” in a Word document or in an exercise book. The Ultranet is a closed space with limited features or audience.
My main issues with blogging on the Ultranet rather than on a regular blogging platform are lack of global connections, lack of classroom community, lack of authentic audience, lack of features and lack of opportunities to authentically teach about internet safety.

Lack of global audience

I have found the global audience to be one of the most exciting benefits of blogging. Real blogging can help flatten the classroom walls and the benefits of these connections are incomparable. A sense of understanding and tolerance develops and students learn a lot about the world in which they live. My class has connected with classes from all corners of the globe through our class blog and the learning has been priceless. A day doesn’t go by in our classroom where we don’t have some form of interaction with our global blogging buddies. This would not be possible with an Ultranet blog. There would be no chance of any visitors outside of Victoria seeing the “blog”.

Less sense of classroom community

A real sense of community has developed each year through my class blog. We have a class mascot, Leo the Lion, who features prominently on our blog and we have established a place in the global blogosphere. We could not have developed our identity with a blog that had no real audience. Our class blog is a place where students, parents, teachers and classes around the world come together and interact. They can learn about who we are and what we are up to while sharing their own experiences with us. With the restrictions placed on accessing the Ultranet, this would not be possible with an Ultranet blog.

Lack of authentic audience

In the traditional classroom, the only audience of student work was the teacher and sometimes classmates and parents. (Real) blogs provide a much larger audience for student work and an avenue for feedback and self-improvement through commenting. I have found students are more motivated by knowing they have a large and genuine audience for their work. The Ultranet does not provide much more of an audience for student work than traditionally existed when students did all their work in exercise books. How many people would be looking at a student or class Ultranet blog?

Lack of features

The aesthetics and features of Ultranet blogs are extremely basic which adds to my claim that Ultranet blogging is “pretend” blogging. There isn’t overly much you can do with your Ultranet blog. To provide just one example, we start each day looking at the Clustrmap of our global visitors on our class blog. This is such an authentic way to learn about maths and geography. There are no Clustrmaps or many of the other wonderful web 2.0 tools out there available for Ultranet blogs.

This image demonstrates the appearance of an Ultranet blog.

Blog Ultranet

Limited opportunities to discuss internet safety

Real blogs are on the internet for everyone to see. Through being heavily involved in blogging, my Grade Two class has opportunities almost every day to discuss cyber safety issues and appropriate online behaviours in an authentic setting. We establish blogging guidelines that help students understand how to behave safely online. With the Ultranet being so heavily protected, how can teachers and students have genuine discussions about how to connect safely with others and how to protect their identity?

Use your time wisely

Someone once pointed out to me that while they realise all these arguments are valid, teachers could use the Ultranet for blogging with a local audience and another platform for blogging with a global audience. My question is why? Blogging platforms such as Global2, Edublogs and Blogger are far superior and incomparable to what the Ultranet has to offer. They cater for local and global audiences while offering many other features and benefits. As a teacher, I don’t have time to dedicate to “pretend” blogging on the Ultranet as well as real blogging. Do you?

The Ultranet may have other valid uses in the classroom but to me, blogging isn’t one of them.

What do you think?

Five Steps to Starting a Class Blog

The school year began in Victoria, Australia last week. Many teachers have been thinking about the benefits of having a class blog and are keen to start their own class blog.

I’ve been getting lots of questions about the process of starting a blog so I thought I would write a post to help get new bloggers started (note, the views below are all my own).

1. Choose Your Platform

If you are working in a Victorian Government School, I recommend you head straight to Global2. This is the new platform for 2011 and replaces Global Teacher and Global Student. Global2 is an Edublogs Campus Site. That means you get all the best features that Edublogs offers for free! Support for Edublogs Campus subscribers is extensive.

If you are not in a Victorian Government School, you will need to choose another platform. There are many blogging platforms out there but my personal favourites are Blogger and Edublogs.

I have found pros and cons for both.

Edublogs has a free version but to access an ad-free blog with better features and support you will need to pay for a subscription. Click here to find out about costs.

Blogger is Google’s blogging platform (also known as Blogspot) and is totally free. Blogger has a good range of theme templates and sidebar gadgets available however I  have found the overall features to be more simplistic than Edublogs (not necessarily a bad thing for some teachers and students). Specific support is also much more limited than Edublogs although because of its large worldwide usage, there are a lot of Blogger forums, help sites and videos on the web.

One important point to note with Blogger is there is a navigation bar at the top of each blog that allows you to “go to the next blog” among other things. This could potentially cause safety issues for your students if the “next blog” is inappropriate.

Click here to find the instructions on how to remove the navigation bar (I haven’t tried these instructions yet so please leave a comment if you’ve tried them!)

Still not sure what platform to use? Check out these blogs to see the difference

BLOGGER BLOGS

Mrs Yollis’ Classroom Blog

Ugandan Global Project

Open the Door to B4

EDUBLOGS BLOGS

2KM and 2KJ @ Leopold Primary School

Mr Salsich’s Class Blog

Mr Avery’s Classroom Blog

2. Find Support

Whatever platform you choose there are avenues for support. Make the most of these to help you learn about blogging.

General:

  • Twitter (I am @kathleen_morris there are many other fabulous helpful bloggers on Twitter).
  • Read other class blogs for ideas (check out the list on the Edublogger site). *Note: do not directly copy other people’s work. That is a breach of copyright, etiquette and a form of plagiarism.
  • Are there any other teachers interested in blogging at your school? Buddy up with them and learn together.
  • Sign up for the Blogging Teacher Challenge or Student Blogging Challenge, both are free professional development to help you and your students to become better bloggers.

Edublogs:

  • Read the Edublogger Blog by Sue Waters – a mine of information!
  • Visit the Edublogs support page for a extensive range of videos and written tutorials.
  • Follow Edublogs on Twitter (@Edublogs)

Blogger:

  • Visit the Blogger support page for getting started guides and tutorials.
  • Follow Blogger on Twitter (@blogger)

3. Set Your Guidelines

Before you start blogging with your students you need to think about what sort of guidelines you want to have in place. There is no right or wrong answer here. Decide what will work best for you, your students, your parents and your school.

Questions to consider:

•    Will you include photos of the students’ faces?
•    Will you select the option (in Edublogs) to include you blog in public searches like Google?
•    Will you ask parents to not use their surname when they comment so they don’t identify their child?
•    Will you select the option to have all comments sent to your email for approval before appearing on the blog?
•    Will you set up protocols with your class so they know not to reveal too much about themselves on the blog and use courteous language online?
•    Will you read all students’ blog posts before they are published?

Click here to find the 2KM and 2KJ blog guidelines.

*Reminder: it is okay to look at other class blog guidelines but it is not okay to copy them without permission and acknowledgment.

4. Introduce Your Blog to Parents

Parent permission is crucial. Our school has a simple permission form which I accompany with an explanation letter about the blog and blogging.

Blog permission form

2KM and 2KJ Blog Information Note 2011

I also create a  handout to help parents navigate the class blog.

10 Steps to Navigating the 2KM and 2KJ Blog 2011

I include a “Learn About Blogging” set of pages on our class blog.

On the parent information night early in the school year, I talk to the parents about blogging, commenting and answer any of their questions.

Ongoing support for parents is provided via email newsletters throughout the year.

5. Introduce Your Blog to Students

I start the school year by introducing the students to the concept of blogging and familiarising them with the terminology.

Introducing my students to their blogging community is done from Day One. We have established many “blogging buddies” over the three years I have had a class blog and each year my students and I continue these relationships.

It is so important to teach students to write quality comments if you want to improve their literacy skills and help them to engage in meaningful conversations on the blog. Last year I wrote a post about how I teach commenting skills. Find it here.

In my class, students have the opportunity to earn their own blog throughout the year and I make them aware of this early in the school year. Find out more about how I set up student blogs here.

Throughout the year, this is the process I use to introduce students to blogging (note some stages are longer than others ie. commenting is a huge focus where as only a small amount of time may be spent of whole class/individual writing of blog posts).

class blogging progression

What advice would you give to new bloggers?