WordPress in the Classroom: Best Practices

Introduction

In experimenting with a number of different grade levels and desired outcomes, a best practice regarding blogging at Durham Academy is starting to emerge. This does not mean, of course, that you are required to blog in this way (or to blog at all!), but rather that we think that given the features and limitations of the software, there is an optimum way to ensure students can participate, generate content socially, and reach their education goals, while minimizing the training time necessary for the faculty and students, minimizing the support time needed to implement the blog, and to avoid future snafus from overly-complicated setups.

There are two major roles I see the WordPress blogs playing right now:

  1. Teacher blogs, aimed at discussing pedagogy with other teachers, both within and without Durham Academy
  2. Class blogs, used as an out-of-class discussion and reflection tool
Here then, are our current recommendations for utilizing WordPress for these needs:

Best Practices

Teacher Blogs

For teachers wishing to blog about their teaching, their interests, their pets, or whatever, we recommend a Public, single-author blog. As no personal information or content produced by minors is involved, and because the goal is to write for a readership beyond the school, a privacy setting of Public (i.e. “I would like to block search engines, but allow normal visitors”) is appropriate.

You can create as many blogs as you like, following these instructions. Make sure that you set your privacy settings appropriately, and that you keep the content appropriate for a public blog, as discussed here.

As you begin to see some traffic, you may desire to take a look at the Settings->Discussion settings to make sure you can control comments on your blog. You may also be interested in Google Analytics to look at the traffic coming in.

Class Blogs

Using blogs in the classroom is a little bit more complex. For classes, both individual and collective, we recommend using a single blog, of which all of the students are members, with a privacy setting appropriate to the grade level and intended usage.

Any Durham Academy domain user has the potential to create as many blogs as they want. However, if blogs were to proliferate such that each student had a blog for science, a blog for english, and a blog for their own personal enjoyment, it would rapidly become a mess; for the faculty, in terms of assessment and review, for the support staff in terms of exponentially increasing complexity of the service, and for the students, in that it would become more difficult to navigate between and amongst users and blogs.

Blogs are meant to be social. Posts can be commented on by other users, and it is this aspect of blogging which differentiates it from being simply a chronologically organized webpage or personal journal. Our argument is that the commenting and social aspects of this technology are just as useful and important as the opportunities for writing and publishing. We would question anyone interested in using blogs in their class as a private journaling tool to look elsewhere (Google Docs, First Class Conferences, and email would be more likely choices). The social nature of blogs makes it very difficult to configure in this way (and not to mention largely unnecessary, as the free sharing of information is the point here).

For example, imagine a class of 20 students. Each student is expected to write blog posts, to read posts by other students, and to comment on them. When a student logs into WordPress, they only see their own blog. Someone would have to maintain a list of links to each of 20 student blogs, and even then, a student would need to click on a link, look for new posts, return to the links page, click on a new blog, look for new posts, etc. Chances are pretty slim that all 20 students would make it through all 19 of their peers’ blogs. On the other hand, if these students post to a single blog, then it’s simply a matter of scrolling through the newest posts, or even subscribing to a single RSS feed in the reader of their choice.

When it comes for the teacher to check on their student’s work, checking 20 blogs for new posts, and also scanning for any comments (by whom? was it substantial and meaninful?) is made more difficult.

It is for this reason that we strongly recommend against having students write personal blogs. If students would like to have a personal blog, they are welcome to create one, but in terms of having a dynamic and community-driven learning experience, collaboration is the way to go.

Furthermore, another decision that needs to be made, is whether to have a blog per section, or one blog which serves multiple sections. Again, our recommendation is that the interactivity afforded by the commenting and community features of WordPress are very important, and therefore, we encourage teachers to make a single blog which all sections can share. This tool is probably being used outside of the classroom, as homework, or as a team project. Because it is not being used strictly in a classroom, where the physical size of the room or teacher-to-student ratio are an issue, allowing students to interact with their classmates in other sections can only broaden the results and the experience. Students may have a difficult time responding to a few of their 12 classmate’s posts, but if exposed to the entire course’s students, there are potentially 60 or more to choose from.

This also makes reading and assessing student’s involvement easier for the faculty. No one has to maintain lists of links anywhere, or make a lot of inefficient clicks back and forth to navigate through a labyrinth of blogs.

With a unified blog, if the teacher wants to limit the students from posting until they approve a post, it is possible and pretty easy to change the permissions around to do so. With multiple blogs, it becomes a time-consuming and error-prone chore to make all of the registrations and roles stick.

Privacy

As for the public or private nature of the blog, I think several things should be taken into consideration.

Age level:

The younger the students, the more likely we should be protecting them from interaction with the greater worldwide web. Teacher’s roles should be to collaborate with students on educational topics-they are plenty busy without having to also act as censors or editors, constantly checking to make sure no private information is disclosed.

Educational Goals:

Unless there is a specific reason for the teacher to want to include student’s work on search engines, we recommend erring on the side of privacy. If you feel that it is important and educationally relevant to make it public, and to allow public commenting, please do so. However, if your interest is more about sharing your results with teachers worldwide, then we recommend presenting that information on a personal blog.

Remember, if a blog is “private”, students can still easily get to it by signing on to labs.da.org from any internet-savvy computer. Parents can view it too, as long as you email them a link (or they could just have their children show them).

Note: Students will need to change their “Nickname” and then their “Display Name Publicly as” settings upon logging in for the first time (“Dashboard->Profile”) The default is to show their full name, where first name, last initial is more privacy-conscious.

 

 

 

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