In the past few months, I have had the privilege to work with some amazing school librarians. Many of them want to begin incorporating more technology into their libraries, but are hampered by filters and lack of knowledge about the available tools on the Web. For some, even the most basic tools are blocked by overzealous IT and administrations.
While working with them I was introduced to two blogging platforms built specifically for use in the classroom that are rarely, if ever, blocked: Class Blogmeister and Edublogs. Each platform has the same goal, but has accomplished it in very different ways. I know there are other platforms available to teachers, but these are the two that came up in conversation the most often.
Class Blogmeister is a free, hosted platform that requires the user only to be an educator and have an Internet connection. There are no downloads required. Class Blogmeister was created by David Warlick, teacher, author, and speaker, and The Landmark Project. He designed this blog platform with the needs of teachers and their students in mind. As of today, there are 338,328 blogs on the Class Blogmeister platform. There is an interesting tag cloud of most recent commonly used words on Class Blogmeister blogs on the home page for the tool.
The templates for this platform are simple and straightforward. No knowledge of CSS or HTML is required. Based on the screen shots found in the documentation, the editing tool, comment moderation screen, and the image upload function seem easy to understand. The documentation walks the user through creating a blog, adding students, and managing content. The templates do accept widgets and plugins in their sidebar and there is a built-in link log feature. Other options for the sidebar include recent comments, teacher assignments, and student responses. A class logo and image, as well as an image of the teacher, can easily be uploaded and placed into the template.
Teachers can post assignments to the blog and students can post responses to the prompt. Student postings must be approved by the teacher before they go live on the blog. The teacher has the ability to make comments and revision suggestions to the students. The students can read the suggestion, make the needed revisions, and then resubmit their work to the teacher. All comments and trackbacks are moderated on an an approval only basis.
There are two drawbacks of Class Blogmeister as a platform. First, there appears to be no built in RSS feeds. Some of the blogs I looked at had added RSS feeds so the option is available by adding RSS as a plugin. Second, the URLs for Class Blogmeister are very long and messy. It would be difficult to share the address with parents and other interested parties. Students and teachers like to show off their work and the long URLs would make this difficult.
Examples of Class Blogmeister blogs:
Edublogs is a free blog hosting solution for educators that, like Class Blogmeister, requires no download or knowledge of CSS or HTML. Edublogs currently hosts over 100,000 class blogs. Unlike the previous platform discussed, Edublogs was not created from scratch. It runs on the WordPressMU platform. This means that users of Edublogs have all of the a shiny features of WordPress from which to choose.
Some features of WordPressMU include:
- over 80 themes.
- a simple, clean WYSIWIG that resembles standard document editing.
- spellcheck (one of my favorites).
- the ability to set different kinds of moderation options for comments and trackbacks.
- multiple users for the same blog with access levels for each individual user.
- built in RSS feeds for posts and comments.
- categories for posts.
Edublogs has no built-in ads. They give each blog 100MB of free storage space for images and files and there are no limits on bandwidth. Because this is a WordPress platform, the sidebar of the blog can be customized with widgets and plugins. A blog hosted on the Edublogs server will have an easy to use URL. For example: yourblogname.edublogs.org. These URLs are easy to share with parents, administrators, and other teachers. There is an extensive and active support forum for Edublogs users which covers technical and teaching issues.
Examples of Edublogs blogs:
Of these two options, it seems that Edublogs is the best option in terms of flexibility and customization. I am partial to Edublogs because I think that WordPress has the best platform currently available for blogging. Both of these platforms are unique to other mainstream blogging endeavors in that they have been built with teachers in mind. Before choosing a platform, make a list of what you want to accomplish with your blog and what features will help you reach your goal. This will help you choose the tool that is right for you and your students.