Blogging -Connecting Your Class to The World

Gone are the days, when you had to learn HTML code, know how to upload via FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and create images in Photoshop in order to design a website.

Nowadays, you can use a blog (platform) as an easy tool to create and update a website. Choose from thousands of template themes available online (for free) to have a well designed and good looking presence on the web.

A blog platform makes it easy to update your classroom website by simply uploading one post after another.

There is so much more to a blog though…

In previous blog posts, I talked about a Blogging Unit, a plan to start blogging with your students.

  1. Blogging with Elementary School Students
  2. Outline Blogging Lessons
  3. Introduction to Blogging
  4. Online Safety
  5. Commenting
  6. Writing
  7. Setting up the Blog
  8. Logistics of Formatting Post

Blogging is a process of several stages. From the beginning of making a decision to integrate blogging in your classroom, then writing, commenting, linking, and embedding media to using a blog as a hub for your classroom’s learning community.
Path from static classroom website to learning community blog
Along the way, you figure out:

  • What works for your particular group of students?
  • What time are you willing to spend monitoring and commenting your students’ blogging activities?
  • What specific skills do you want to promote through your classroom or individual student blogs?
  • How will you assess students’ participation and work on the blog?
  • How do you help your students along in creating their academic digital footprint?
  • What engages and motivates your students to work harder, invest time outside of the classroom for academic purpose, think on higher levels, push themselves further in their reading and writing?
  • How to be conscious of your own comfort & technology level and see them increase as you manage your own and student blogs

I listened to one of Wes Fryer‘s podcast as he talked about the difference between accommodating and transformative technology tools for learning.

Accommodating? Tech use which accommodates replicates existing analog (non-digital) learning or communication.

Transformative? Transformative tech use opens new doors of possibilities for learning and/or communication which would not be available without the technology.

Using a blog in the classroom can be an accommodating tool, if used to upload homework assignments and asking students to submit the answers to these assignments as comments instead of a paper turned in.

A blog becomes a transformative tool for learning when students can add constructive comments for each other or write for a wider audience than just their teachers.

Some teachers and their students might go through the different steps of a classroom blog(s) faster than others. As you are moving along in your blogging process and experiences, you might be ready to append another chapter to the above mentioned unit by Connecting your classroom to the world.

By opening up your classroom blog to the world, it truly becomes a transformative tool. As Wes Fryer says, as quoted above, the tool “opens new doors of possibilities for learning and/or communication which would not be available without the technology.”

You might have started out with a static website, then ventured into giving your students a voice by commenting, writing  and reflecting on a classroom or individual blog. With some students (especially younger ones), you might have password protected the site, in order to give them a “playground” or “sandbox” to test boundaries, protect and practice their virtual voices.

The next step, is to leave the “local” playground behind and connect your classroom to the world. I use the term “local” when the two way communication on the blog is confined to a teacher and his/her students or between physical classmates.
Static-Local-Connected Blogs

My definition of a Connected Classroom Blog site includes:

 

  • A two way communication between class and the world
  • Teacher and students actively looking to connect with peers, mentors or experts from around the world
  • Connecting classroom learning to authentic opportunities & audiences
  • Contributions to learning of others

Two Way Communication Between your Class and the World


Just as a static teacher-created-website (with no two way communication channel),  a classroom blog (not open to comments, responses from and collaboration opportunities with the rest of the world) can seem like a one way street. Students and teachers might be blogging in a password protected environment preventing others (outsiders) from reading, commenting and interacting. After having introduced Online Safety , discussed and continuously reinforced the concept with real world examples and teachable moments within the classroom, you and your students might be ready to lift the password protection to the site, allowing global voices into your learning community.

You might start out by opening up to outsiders  from within your school. Ex. Blogging buddies between 3rd & 5th graders. Or you might connect with the same grade level and a teacher from another school just down the street from yours. Depending on your comfort level, you might just take a leap and connect with teachers and students half a world away.

Teacher and Students Actively Looking to Connect with Peers, Mentors or Experts from Around the World


Another block, preventing from having a connected classroom blog is not being “found” or not receiving comments by others. In order for your classroom blog to be connected, the teacher and students need to actively be looking for peers, mentors or experts to interact with.

Peers
A great place to start contacting and connecting with other classrooms is Sue Waters’ Class Blogs list. Don’t be shy and contact another teacher to inquire about possible blogging collaboration between your two classes. Another great way to jumpstart connecting your students to the world is by participating the Student Blogging Challenge.

Mentors
University professors have accepted the challenge to connect their pre-service teachers as mentors to K-12 students. Imagine connecting your advanced students to mentor students from other schools or countries? Read all about Darren Kuropatwa‘s mentoring partnerships he has established for and with his students.

Experts
What an incredible opportunity to find and connect a subject matter expert or eye witnesses of an event with your students. You could also connect your foreign language students with native speakers to practice the target language as well as support a cultural exchange. A great way to be able to get in touch with all different kinds of experts (in a variety of fields), is to build a PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter. By growing and maintaining a network of professional global educators willing to help YOUR students, many of them at a moments notice, is vital to connecting your students to authentic learning experiences. Listen in on another podcast from Wes Fryer’s  Ideas for International Study Students Adopting Classrooms and Inspiring Students to Constructively Write the Web.

Connecting Classroom Learning to Authentic Opportunities & Audiences


Find and connect to other classes, who are:

  • studying the same units
  • working on similar projects
  • researching the same topics

Set up blogging buddies between the classes to document, summarize, reflect and comment on each other’s experiences and learning.

Find buddy classes who can complement a unit of study by bringing in a new perspective and points of view (different culture, history, geography, language, religion).

By allowing students to publish their work on the Internet, making their work available for potentially millions of people to view, read, comment on and learn from gives them a true authentic audience. Gone are the days, when only the teacher read their work and gave them feedback through a grade. If it was a particularly good work, the paper would make it home for parents to read and then pinned to the refrigerator.

Contributions to Learning of Others

A blog is the perfect platform for students to share their work with others, including embedded images, audio and videos.

Alan November identifies Six Roles to Empower Student Learning:

  1. Contributors to Society
  2. Tutorial Designers
  3. Researches
  4. Official Scribes
  5. Collaboration Coordinators
  6. Curriculum Reviewers.

Blogging is a platform that allows students to get empowered through many of these venues. Blogging provides a way for students to empower the learning of others too! As students are creating and sharing tutorials, summarizing their learning and reflecting upon their work, they can provide a valuable contribution for others.

  • Imagine students becoming aware of their learning process and sharing it with classmates in their school as well as peers from around the world?
  • Imagine classes reflecting on their learning goals and accomplishments and sharing these with the upcoming grade level to learn from and improve upon?
  • Imagine students documenting unique learning opportunities, such as field trips or guest speakers, with text, images, audio or video to share with learners separated through time or space?

No matter where you are in the blogging process (static site, local site or connected site), what matters is that you are aware of your location and the direction your are moving towards. Be aware if you are using your blog as an accommodating or a transformative tool with your students.

If you want a great way to get your feet wet with blogging, you might want to consider to be THE mentor for someone else’s class