Developing blogging as a department

One of the most exciting changes I’ve had to contend with recently is that I am now a Head of Department – in Media. This (pretty much) ideally fitted the work I’ve been developing in this blog, so the opportunity to take some of the matter contained in here and begin to develop it more closely amongst colleagues is proving to be really interesting.

One of my first aims was to develop a departmental approach to using blogs – i.e. to actually build it into the actual SoW and assessment of our teaching Media, rather than just trying to make it an optional, or ‘bolt-on’ extra.

We’ve started this by doing it Key Stage 5 (or A-level – 16-18 yrs). It made particular sense with Media because the syllabus for A-level strongly encourages teachers delivering the course to use blogs (forward thinking from exam boards for a change!). Setting up a blog proved more difficult. As alluded too many times, blogging sites (including this very one) are all blocked by Local Authority internet filters. This draconian measure means those of us who see the potential in blogs can sometimes not even get started. Luckily though, the very helpful IT guys at my school worked out that the mac server that our computers runs off also came with a blogging/networking facility, that, until now, had gone completely unused. Fantastic!

First step was to set up my own blog which would act as:

  • A conduit for students to find work for lessons and for independent study
  • A place for other teachers within the department to see how I was using the blog and hopefully, gain ideas from it.

As well as this, I created a ‘student’ blog, to model what kind of things students should be producing in their blog. So far, I have really underused it, instead focusing on just getting my own blog in order, but I plan to use it much more once blogging as a system is established. I wonder, if, in part the idea quickly became defunct – as students quickly became more used to the blog, they naturally started looking at each others’ work – a handy feature for encouraging students to think about their own work and adjust it accordingly.

This was one of my own blog posts. As well as more typical ‘how to do my lesson’ type posts, I tried to post tutorials for neat little tricks they could do, such as taking screenshots. What I found good about doing this particular post is that when one student looked at my own post they showed me an even quicker keyboard shortcut to doing what I was talking about. Excellent – so I was able to very quickly edit the post and put that in as well, thereby showing how the collaborative nature of the blogs could be both ways rather than just one. The blog itself looks like this to students as they click into it:

Attaching files is fantastic – instructional ppts are the mainstay, but also something as simple as having a picture on the different blogs means that students can find the appropriate blogs for their class that bit more quickly. I am also training students in the use of tags – and have tried to make my own blog reflect that. Once my blog gets into the 30+ posts mark, it will be interesting how quickly students get into the habit of clicking on the correct tag as opposed to spending ages trawling through the pages.

Conclusions

Currently, both AS, A2 and OCR national students are using the blog – roughly in excess of 40 students. Also 2 other members of staff are using them to set and mark their own work in their lessons. One member of staff has also created a youtube channel for the department, then linking it to their blog, creating a great way of linking different multimedia together. The intention is to continue to get students to look at good and bad blogs – and use these to generate discussions on standards and allowing for improvements. As a final aside, I am just wondering if anyone has any experience with using these MAC-servewr generated blog – one issue we seem to be having at the moment is that embedding video (i.e. from youtube) just doesn’t work. Although (and I think this particularly cool!) my students figured this out, got annoyed by it, but then some managed to download the videos (*cough*TOS*cough*) and insert them into their blogs that way. And that’s my favourite thing about using the blogs across a whole department so far – it seems to be encouraging resourcefulness – from both staff and students.

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Developing blogging in the classroom

Introduction: As part of my ongoing work in collaborating with colleagues I have been trying to develop blogging with other colleagues within my school. This blog post is therefore co-edited by another of my colleagues within the school and is a combination of points developed in a meeting we had and a reflection on how we can use them next:

Richard’s noticing

Richard started off by showing how he had been using blogging with a couple of the Year 7 classes he teaches. Both Richard and Andy had previously worked out how to create blogs (which is detailed in this post) and so at the end of their last meeting they had decided to start trying to use it with one task on a few of our classes. Andy was interested in how the approach of using blogging for homework out of the lesson as a starting point for using it, had worked. This was different to Andy’s approach of using it firmly within the context of the lesson and showed that they already had developed different ideas about how the idea of blogging with a class could be used.

The responses from Richard’s homework blogs were promising; a number of students had completed the homework already and were now queued for Richard to ‘approve’ or ‘reject’. Richard again highlighted that this was an interesting option because it places increased emphasis on the value of what appears in the blog: if the students work was not quite up to the standard expected, then it could be sent back to the student for redrafting. This means that the final product of the blog post is given more value to the students, as they can see that the piece of work that have produced has met or exceeded the required standard.

Andy’s noticing

Andy showed Richard the way he had been using blogging with his Year 8 English class. Essentially the blog was being used as an opportunity for students to post their creative writing pieces. There were different examples available on the blog – some the ‘bite-sized’ mini-sagas they had produced (which must be exactly fifty words), and some postings were of the students Horror stories. Andy remarked that an issue with using blogging in class is that the teacher can quickly move away from being a facilitator to an administrator – especially with only being able to approve one blog post at a time. Nevertheless, what had been achieved was a blog that contained both further comments from the students on blog posts that weren’t just their own and some students had recognised the instruction to begin categorising their posts in the ‘Gothic Genre’ area; easier to find for future for reference.

Ideas for further development

  • Richard was interested in exploring getting students to comment on other students’ post, and categorising posts. Andy showed him how to do this and then they both discussed why both could be useful – Andy had used commenting as a way of encouraging peer assessment between the students’ story and had begun to try categorising because he wants to be able to keep using the blog throughout the year and wanted a way for students (and him) to organise and easily find the rapidly increasing amount of blog posts.
  • Andy was very interested in the idea of setting a blog post as homework. This could really help develop students’ reflective learning. It also places more value on homework, as the blog is something that could then be reflected on in another homework by other students, or within a classroom lesson.

We intend to meet soon after Christmas to further explore the issues raised in this post. Merry Christmas everyone!