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!

An evaluation of using Diigo.com with students

Having used diigo with a class for a period of a few months (and now said class is off on exam leave and unlikely to be using it for a few months), I feel that now is a good time to reflect on how I’ve been using it in a classroom environment over the past few months, and to try and draw a few useful conclusions about it, for my own future use and for other people who are reading.

Initial thoughts/Contents

  • Diigo – its effect on my own habits as a practitioner of education
  • Tips/Tricks/Pitfalls of using it in the classroom
  • Where it needs to go in terms of development, to work better in the classroom
  • Final thoughts

 

Diigo – its effect on me.

Before I begin talking about the effect its had in class, I thought i’d reflect on how diigo has shaped my own practice. I have recieved so many fantastic links from the diigo in education group in the 4/5 months I’ve been a member, but with edmodo, glogster and netvibesstill to get to grips with, I think this is the biggest compliment I can play a group where some fantastic information is shared. It would be interesting, perhaps if we shared less technocentric articles as a group, but I suspect that I myself need to do some more investigating into this area.

I would reccomend all teachers with an interest in using web2.0 in their teaching to join this group.

 

Tips/Tricks/Pitfalls

Firstly, a bit of context. My students were A-Level ones, so reasonably mature (16/17) and the group was small (about 9) so I was on hand to support in a very intensive way that I suppose might not be available for younger, larger classes. What follows are some general thoughts on what went well, what didn’t go so well and things that you should absolutely do to make sure students use diigo properly:

  1. Always have a print out of the students’ username and password ready. Mine forget theirs. A lot.
  2. The first few times students are using diigo and its ‘sticky note’ feature, always start the lesson by reminding them that if they used this feature then they need to make sure that as soon as they start writing a note the select the drop down menu for the ‘privacy’ feature (see below). Students need to decide if the content they are writing is to be shared with the rest of the group (and most of the time with mine, it was), so they need to find the group you have assigned them to belong to and select that.diigoshare1
  3. Highlighting is fiddly! In its current state, a few students have managed to highlight whole parts of the website, rather than just the line or two I requested them to do. I don’t think this is deliberate: It’s the same when we get frustrated on word when the highlighter goes crazy. Remind students that if they make this mistake, they can right click on the highlight and an option should come up to erase it.
  4. Keep the diigo homepage open. It sounds silly, but a lot of mine forgot to and then sometimes had to go through a few steps to get back to. Remind them to open a seperate browser or tab when using the Internet.
  5. Making use of your group’s diigo homepage.My favourite tool is still this. I love the ability to review the annotations we’ve all made on one page, by clicking on the yellow box that I’ve highlighted round the red square below. It makes for a good plenary or start to the next lesson – challenging those sticky note annotations also increases their value and the respect you pay to the feedback students leave, something that leads into our next point.diigolesson2
  6. Moderating those pesky post-it notes. There’s nothing to stop students leaving inappropriate notes , publicly, but lets not forget that as long as a teacher is constantly refreshing the group’s homepage, its very easy to keep track of the sticky notes being left on the websites that have been bookmarked. I had one instance of a student posting an inappropriate sticky note, but because I immediately saw it and immediately asked the student to remove it, it seemed to be of little interest to the other students. Perhaps a more interesting notion to consider is the moderation of the conversation that can begin when students begin to respond to each others’ sticky notes…

An example would be when one of my students began to reply to other students’ sticky notes, without any prompting me (he had been absent and was techincally speaking a lesson behind us). ‘Great!’ I thought. But I quickly realised I didn’t like the replies he was leaving. Although they engaged critically with what they were replying to, the response was always on the negative side and came accross as not well balanced. One of my thoughts for the future then is how to continue to encourage discussion within diigo, but make sure that students recognise that rules of balance and discussion ought to be recognised in the same way that I always would expect in a classroom discussion.

 

Where next for diigo?

I was new to the whole social bookmarking thing, I admit. I completely skipped delicious, but it seems to me that a key difference between it and diigo is that diigo has more potential for taking the links found further. I know diigo is not a wiki and I think I have already shown ways in which the group’s homepage was used more effectively, but I would like to see more usability in the forum. As it stands, the forum feels limited. A good example would be that I wanted students to follow up on posts other students within the group. They hit reply and get the text contained in that post and the ability to reply to it. Good so far. But when they click submit then their new post gets dumped right at the bottom of the thread, sometimes mile away from the post they’re replying to. My students and I found it a bit confusing and I think a stranded approach to posts (plus the ability to easily add in some tricksy multimedia like this ‘ere wp), would continue to mean that you can use diigo in interesting ways to draw out deeper learning from students.

 

Final thoughts

I will be using diigo again next year. With slightly tighter e-safety controls (which I suspect we will get when the next round of changes arrives), I intend to try and use it with much younger students. I like that I can easily create accounts for students and I don’t need a long list of their email addresses first. I remain most impressed by how much diigo enabled students to vocalise their thoughts about poetry in a way that gave them more security and space to do it, without feeling pressured to call out the ‘right’ answer in class. My hopes as I continue with developing the use of diigo is that others (particularly in different subjects), might discover interesting and different ways of using it for something as idiosyncratic as poetry. This in turn will lead to more ideas for everyone involved.

Conceptually diigo addresses some big problems that face students today; put simply it enskills them to use the internet in an open way, where the debates that need to be had, on things randing from validity of information to building collective knowledge as a group are interrogated.

Eduism and Audacity – Open Source

 

So, as I see it, the term ‘Open Source’ seems to mean something that is free and can be developed and added to by anyone who downloads that. I find it remarkable and incredibly promising that such an idea exists. I know I’m sounding all airy-fairey and preachy there, but I do find it remarkable and affirming that such a culture continues to permeate the internet. Microsith still has the ultimate dominion, particularly over the ICT technology we use in school, and yet, this stuff is out there.

Do teachers really have the time, the inclination and the ability to find it and use it effectively,  though? I guess that’s why this is here and I guess I want to start meeting with that question on a regular basis.

My first two pieces of software that I have been curiously prodding are audacity and Eduism. Both are free and both are very different, but ultimately, I see them as very social uses of technology, that which at its core, I don’t see enough of in the use of ICT in schools. Over the next few weeks I intend to blog about my use of them and the varying degrees of sucess I have with them.

As this is my first blog I suppose I should end by saying something witty and erudite: How about something like, ‘using big words at the ends of sentences won’t necessarily endear you to others?’

Yes, I suppose that’ll do.

 A still from Eduism