Okay, the Laptop Institute ended last month, but I’m still writing posts about it. This is actually the last one. I’m finding this to be a reflective activity for me so I don’t forget what I’ve learned, and so I’m sort of forced to follow through with what I said I was going to do. There was so much valuable information shared that I want to get to the last couple of points I learned while at the conference.
The last session I attended at the institute was led by Jeff Utecht, who was also the keynote speaker for the conference. In the session entitled “Using Blogs as e-Portfolios,” he talked about blogs as mediums by which students reflect on their own growth over time. Moreover, if students’ blogs are made public (which, according to Jeff, makes it blogging; otherwise it’s not), students will get an “authentic” audience, as opposed to the audience just being the teacher.
Basically what blogging does is help students connect to the world. And if the teacher (or the tech person in your school) has access to a network outside the school (such as with Facebook or Twitter), that network can quickly be notified of student posts (where appropriate), thereby giving the student an instant audience outside of the classroom.
Nonetheless, there are some obstacles to overcome. Am I inclined to read 65-70 blog postings on a regular basis, in addition to everything else necessary to my teaching practice? The honest answer – no! But Jeff provided a solution to that problem…
Having a group blog!
Jeff gave an example of a teacher who set up a blog that all students posted to each day. Every day, a student was assigned to write a blog post. Other students were assigned to comment on that post. Using this structure, the teacher isn’t reading everyone’s posts everyday, getting lost, and then losing momentum by having blogs in the first place. It’s only one per day (for the number of classes taught). If you integrate reverse instruction into the mix, each class can start with the student defending his or her post, and the post evaluated by the class. So in this instance, students provide the content for the class discussion, while the teacher facilitates that discussion.
So that was exciting for me. I’ve wanted to integrate blogging into my classroom not just for the sake of saying I’m blogging in the classroom, but to foster critical and creative thinking leading to authentic learning in which all students will participate, not just those who are vocal.
To that end, I want to make it easy for my students to participate with this medium. Because I’m familiar with WordPress, I searched the platform for a WordPress theme that would be suitable for group blogs. And I found a theme that I think will work. It’s Twitter-like (without the 140-character limitation), a little customizable (not much, though, at least not with the free WordPress platform), and students can post right on the homepage real time, so reloading the page is unnecessary. So I created four blogs, one for each of my classes, using the P2 theme.
With this theme, I can set it up where only students who are registered for the blog can author posts once I set up the students as authors or contributors.
So the problem with having to read 65-70 (or more) blog posts regularly has been eliminated. Moreover, I can keep track of my students’ posts through categories and tagging. And finally, I can empower my students to blog related not only to assigned readings, but to current events and personal interests.
So many possibilities…one blog – per class. I think this will be manageable. We’ll see when school starts.