More and more educators are discovering the importance of having their students build some form of digital presence. Blogging is an excellent way for students to create their own online space, but what do you call this?
- Simply a student blog?
- Digital portfolio?
- Learning showcase?
When I first started teaching in 2004, each of my grade one/two students had a scrapbook where they would paste their work samples each term. The goals of this process were: documentation, reflection, assessment and sharing with parents.
Often the same goals apply to the online equivalent of this scrapbook. But if we aren’t doing things any differently than 10-15 years ago, why are we bothering with student blogs? Why aren’t we still cutting and pasting in a scrapbook?
When blogs are used as more than substitution, they offer many advantages.
- Research tells us that student work is of a higher quality when it involves an authentic audience.
- The opportunity for feedback and discussion through an online presence is greater.
- There are many skills to do with writing online, using technology, understanding digital citizenship etc. that are not only useful for students to know, but required in most curriculum standards.
- Influencing your own digital footprints from a young age can be a powerful experience.
This post explores a range of approaches to student blogs and digital portfolios. We have included classroom examples, and encourage you to share your approach to student blogging in the comment section.
When To Set Up Student Blogs?
When I first started blogging in 2008, I didn’t really know what sort of blogging framework would work for me, but along the way I came up with a model that suited the age of the students, our combined experience, our objectives and our equipment.
The model I adopted was as follows:
- I established a class blog and wrote the posts, while teaching the students to write quality comments.
- As students became more familiar with blogging, some students start publishing guest posts on the class blog and learned posting skills.
- When I was teaching grade two, had limited computers and was new to student blogging, I didn’t think it was practical for all students to have have blogs. Instead, certain students who had demonstrated enthusiasm, parent support and blogging skills, earned their own blog. This added a new layer to the skill set of commenting and posting: maintaining a blog.
- When I was teaching grade four, had a one to one netbook program and had experience managing student blogs, I set up blogs for all students, as digital portfolios.
Many teachers begin their blogging journey with a class blog and perhaps progress from there. However, you can jump in at any point of this framework.
You might only be comfortable with having a class blog initially. There is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, although keep in mind that aiming to have more student involvement at some point in the future can be advantageous.
At the other end of the spectrum, you might have the confidence, experience and equipment to set up student blogs from day one. Go for it!
Whatever your approach, a class blog always complements a student blogging program. It provides a home base where you can post assignments, showcase student work, publish recounts, communicate to parents, establish community/global connections and more.
How To Set Up Student Blogs
We have many resources in our Edublogs Help Guides that will walk you through the process of setting up student blogs. Sue Waters’ five step guide to setting up student blogs is a good starting place.
One really useful feature on Edublogs, that takes the hassle out of the logistics of student blogs, is called My Class. This is a tool that allows you to:
- Easily create your student blogs after you’ve set up your class blog
- Control the privacy of the blogs and control moderation settings
- Read and/or moderate student posts and/or comments right from your own dashboard (no need to open up 25 tabs in your browser to keep track of what your students are up to)
- Install a widget to the sidebar of your class blog and student blogs which links to all the student blogs in your class. This means students and readers can easily visit all the blogs, without searching, bookmarking, or adding links individually.
Digital Portfolio Expectations and Frameworks
Many educators refer to their student blogs as digital portfolios.
Academics and thought leaders often debate the meaning of the term digital portfolio. What does this mean? What does it look like?
Perhaps an useful alternative term is ‘blogfolio’ which Silvia Tolisana describes as the glue that can hold it all together in learning.
Blogfolios are the glue that can hold all curricular content, goals and objectives as well as support school initiatives, observations, assessment and accountability requirements or personal passions, interest and projects together.
For the purpose of this post, we are less concerned with semantics and more concerned with exploring the different frameworks that teachers adopt. Hopefully considering how other teachers approach student blogs will give you some ideas on what would work for you and your students.
I have observed differences in how student blogs work in a variety of areas. There appears to be a spectrum in at least six key areas:
Some student blogs are only active for a year. The student might move up to a non-blogging class and their individual blog remains stagnant. This can be frustrating for teachers who invest time in establishing an effective system for their student blogs. It can also be disappointing for students.
Director of Teaching and Learning, Adrian Camm, explains the philosophy:
…each student from Year 4 to Year 10 at our College will have a digital portfolio that follows them throughout their time at the College and has a unique identifier accessible on the web.
The ability to export their content easily when finishing Year 12 to be used in the tertiary admission process or in future work endeavors has also been a key point…
Consider: If you’re investing time in establishing student blogs, how can you showcase this to the wider school community and motivate them to establish a school wide plan?
Should blogs be public or private? This is always a contentious issue.
Ronnie Burt raised some excellent arguments about the advantages of public blogs a few years back, including the power of an authentic audience, ease of access, and the potential for collaboration. Ronnie noted,
If you hide student work behind passwords, then you might as well have them print everything out and hand it in the old-fashioned way. You are losing out on connections, extended dialogues, and the motivating factor of working for an authentic purpose.
In the comment section, there were some well considered opposing views.
J. McNulty argued the consequence of permanence,
Try to imagine that every stammering oral presentation, every 5th grade writing sample and every stick finger drawing you ever made in a classroom was permanently posted online, forever. As a teacher how would you feel if your class of iPad toting students were surfing through your complete “virtual portfolio” while you were trying to assign them an essay? … Blogging is great but this new information era needs educators who fully appreciate the long term consequences of posting everything publicly.
There is a middle ground. At The Geelong College, students are encouraged to decide for themselves whether their blogs will be public or password protected.
Another option is to create a public blog but password protect certain posts or pages.
Consider: What are the pros and cons of having student blogs as public? Some schools seem to default to the private option if in doubt. Does this mean you’re giving up all the powerful advantages of posting publicly?
What will form the content of your student blogs? What will they actually publish?
At one end of the spectrum is total freedom where teachers are less concerned about what the students are writing about, and more concerned about the students simply blogging and finding a voice.
At the other end of the spectrum, some teachers see the blogs as a space that must be in line with the curriculum and demonstrate what is happening in the classroom.
Certainly not always, but sometimes the age of the students influences this issue.
Julie Moore in Tasmania, Australia, teaches grade 2/3. The students begin by contributing to the class blog before some students establish their own blogs. Julie says,
Mostly – the children have a free spin on what they would like to write a post about. It gives them an outlet for writing about their passions/interests, and it then gives me an “in” for feedback and improvements to their writing.
She also finds this approach opens up a very wide range of possibilities to meet certain individual’s requirements.
- JinWoo uses the class blog as a space to share his travel tales.
- Gifted students are able to expand on talents and interests, like storyteller Mira.
- Any passions can be explored. Penelope has a passion for plants which she researches and shares with others.
Julie understands that the students do require some explicit teaching around blogging. She finds The Student Blogging Challenge a great way to achieve this. In addition, she runs a lunchtime club and a weekly timetabled blogging session.
Heather Alexander in Florida teaches year 9-12 ceramics. Her students use their blogs purely to document and reflect on their own art work, and respond to the curriculum. Teaching the same class multiple times, Heather has come up with a logistal framework to organize the student blogs,
What I have done is name all the students’ blogs with their class period prefacing the name so they appear in order on the page.
Heather encourages students to comment on classmates’ blogs and set up an effective system after finding students were taking too long to find a post to comment on.
I have students work in “peer blog mentor” groups. They self-select a group of 3 -5 peers and then I match their group with a group in another class. I moderate the comments so I can check for accuracy and completion before they are published.
This idea touches on the additional issue of feedback. Who will provide feedback to your student bloggers? Will you set up a peer system like Heather? Or will you personally visit blogs? What are your goals for feedback? Simple encouragement and conversation? Or scaffolding to reach learning goals? All questions to consider.
Can your blogging framework involve set tasks and freedom?
Somewhere in the middle of the freedom/structure debate, is the approach adopted by Adam Geiman, an educator from Pennsylvania. He used the first 30% of the school year to provide structure around tasks for his fourth grade students.
The students were given guidance, yet also had some freedom of choice in how they’d present set tasks. Some would do a Google Doc, while others would present their task as a comic, infographic etc.
For the remaining 70% of the school year, students were given more freedom and many came up with their own ideas on what they wanted to publish. For example, Jackson announced the new school trout, while Brooklyn talked about her new glasses.
Consider: What are the needs of your students? Are you trying to engage them in the blogging process and help them find a voice? Or are you wanting the blogs to be a vehicle to demonstrate curriculum outcomes? Are these two things mutually exclusive?
Some form of reflection is often a key feature of digital portfolios or blogfolios.
Educator Jabiz Raisdana, has documented some compelling thoughts on student blogging. He advocates for freedom, stating that:
If you want your students to blog effectively, give them the freedom to experiment and write about what interests them.
Stay away from portfolios and forced reflections on their learning, at least until they get the hang of it.
Wait until they find a voice, find an audience… before you push your agenda of meta-cognition and reflective learning.
Perhaps on the other end of the spectrum is the argument from Matt Renwick in his blog post ‘Think You’re Doing Digital Portfolios? Think again’.
Of course, all of the posted artifacts of student learning are accompanied with reflection, self-assessment, and goal setting for the future.
Otherwise, it’s only sharing content. Nice, but not necessary for students’ education.
Many teachers use a mixed approach
Teacher, Lee Pregnell, from Moonee Ponds, Australia, described how they include some set tasks in their grade 5/6 blogging program. One of these tasks is a weekly 100 Word Challenge response (see student Carah’s example) and a report on a Behind the News article (see student Mariana’s report on dreaming).
While the Behind the News task has some element of reflection, there are other set tasks that involve more meta-cognition. One of these is based around term goals. Check out the example by Alexis to see the format of this reflective entry.
What about our youngest students? How can they reflect?
Using tools like voice recordings can offer students with emerging literacy skills the chance to reflect. Kathy Cassidy is well known for providing all of her six year old students a blog. The students regularly used tools like Book Creator to document their thoughts and learning. Here is Gus reflecting on his writing.
Another idea is to collate social media posts in a Storify like kindergarten teachers Aviva Dunsiger and Paula Crockett. Short student interviews and reflections offer a rich insight into learning. These innovative teachers have created a special section of their blog called ‘The Daily Shoot’. This is something Aviva has done with students from K-6. It is worth checking out.
Following in her students’ footsteps, Aviva even uses a blog of her own to reflect. What a mighty combination!
Consider: Most teachers agree that some sort of student reflection on learning is powerful. How can you incorporate this into your student blogs without making the process a chore or turn students off the enjoyment of blogging?
Would you like your students to document their learning journeys or their best work? Will your student blogs be process portfolios, showcase portfolios or hybrid portfolios?
This is a tough decision, but also one that can evolve as you go along. It also links back to the public/private debate. Do your students want every evidence of learning as part of their digital footprint?
Again, there is certainly middle ground. George Couros reflects on his dilemma about what end of this spectrum he would sit on: ‘growth’ or ‘best work’.
Since there are benefits in both options, it was tough to decide on one, so we ultimately went with the decision to go with both. The “blog” portion of my digital space allows me to share things that I am learning (like this article I am writing) while also aggregating my best stuff into solitary “pages”.
Consider: Is George’s approach something that could be worth exploring in your own blogging program?
Many of these five areas are underpinned by the question of control. Who is in control? The teacher or the students?
Can there be a gradual release of control as the students become older and more experienced?
Perhaps there are some aspects of their blog that even the youngest students can have some control over?
- Their title
- Choice of tool or post format
- Where they leave comments
Most teachers would agree that it’s important to consider how students can be in charge of their own learning. Digital portfolios and blogging offers a lot of potential for student-centered learning.
The My Class tool also allows you to hand over responsibility as you choose. You can begin by moderating all student posts and comments, and then turn off these settings as appropriate.
Are your student blogs igniting a passion for learning or are they just another chore to be completed?
How can you set up digital portfolios or blogfolios that allow for rich learning, creativity, excitement, deep reflection, collaboration and authenticity?
These are some key questions to ask yourself but in the end, sometimes you just need to throw in the canoe and start paddling.
Figure it out as you go. There is a big blogging community and support behind you.
Don’t let fear or indecision around student blogs freeze you into inaction. Worrying too much about whether you’re ‘doing it right’ can lead to not doing it at all. At any level, student blogs provide benefits. Embrace them.
We would love to hear your ideas. Please comment and share your thoughts on student blogs.