School-wide blogging: how would it work?

At the moment individual teachers here and there are using blogs with their classes in various ways and for various purposes, using various platforms and hosting solutions.

I’ve started to imagine how things might look in a school where students blog for almost every class, just as they have traditionally handed in assignments on paper for almost every class. If this blogging business really takes off we could have some serious scaling problems.

Imagine a secondary school in which students blog for almost every class. A separate blog for each class would soon become unwieldy, so they would have one blog, with categories or tags for posts in each subject. Each class would have its own blog, where the teacher would post assignments and links to all the blogs of the students in that class. Or would only a student’s history posts, say, appear in links on the history class’s blog? One of the main values of blogging in schools is that it allows students to read each other’s work, but what setup would make it easy for a student to see his classmates’ work in a particular subject without having to wade through 20-30 blogs searching for the history posts?

Perhaps it makes more sense for students to post all of their history work on the history class’s blog, their English work on the English class’s blog, etc. But then the student’s own blog becomes . . . what? A poor substitute for a Facebook page? It makes more sense for a student to post ALL of his or her work on his school blog, where it can remain and be easily accessed, serving as a kind of portfolio that updates automatically. But I’m not sure how these separate blogs could be linked selectively to show, say, links to all the history posts on the history class blog and links to all the English posts on the English class blog.

Here I am getting out of my depth, technically. Is there a solution for this problem already out there? Would individual RSS feeds for each subject tag show up on the class blog for that subject?

In short, if educational blogging really takes off, how will we manage it? Does anyone out there have experience that would shed light on this problem?

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4 thoughts on “School-wide blogging: how would it work?”

  1. Eric,

    I’ve been thinking about implementing school-wide blogging for quite some time. In fact, that is one of the reasons why I switched to 21classes. Much like you, when I first started thinking about this project, I soon realized that I was “getting out of my depth, technically.”

    WordPress MU seemed like a very attractive (and free) option, but I found out very quickly that running hundreds of blogs on a single installation would prove challenging and unwieldy. Also, I wanted my students to have more than just a collection of blogs – I wanted them to have a school-wide community, a kind of portal where all the work would be aggregated.

    I started looking and found 21classes. Here is why I would use it for school-wide blogging:

    Students can create their own categories (I’m thinking here of assigning one category to each subject) and the platform then assigns a special RSS feed to that category. So, all entries relating to History, for example, can be displayed on the blog by clicking that category. In addition, subject teachers can use the dedicated category RSS feed to subscribe only to those entries that pertain to their subject.

    Of course, I also want my students to be able to categorize their work based upon other categories, not just the subject-specific ones. For example, an entry on discrimination written in English should belong to other categories as well – “racism,” for example, or “social justice.” That, of course, is not a problem because students can use 21classes to assign multiple categories to one entry. So, as long as the entry is filed under “English,” the English teacher will see it in his/her RSS reader, but on the blog itself, the other categories will present a full picture of the student’s interests and attest to his/her engagement with different ideas.

    In addition, 21classes also offers tagging. So, students can tag their own entries in addition to putting them in categories. They can also have their own tag clouds on their blogs to give a more visual representation of their work and the topics they’re pursuing.

    I’m not sure if I addressed all of your concerns, but I just wanted to share some of the reasons why I think 21classes can effectively support school-wide or multi-class blogging.

    I’d like to keep this conversation going – switching to school-wide blogging is a big step and I think it’s important to brainstorm these issues. Looking forward to reading your thoughts, Eric.

    – Konrad

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  2. Konrad, thanks for getting this discussion off to a great start. I hope others will join in, particularly those with experience and expertise using other platforms and applications.

    WordPress MU, which you mention, and 21classes are the only options I know of at the moment for school-wide blogging. Are there others, I wonder?

    You make a strong case for 21classes. My main misgiving about 21classes is that it’s a proprietary application. This has advantages in terms of support, etc., but disadvantages when it comes to cost. Some schools will have no trouble purchasing a site license for 21classes, but for others this might be a deal-breaker. In addition, proprietary apps mean dependence on a walled garden that may for business reasons change or cease to exist altogether at any moment. So in principle I would prefer an open-source solution like WordPress that is very well-established, well-developed, and well supported by a large group of amateur and professional coders.

    I suspect that most or all of the features you mention with regard to 21classes are possible with WordPress, but I’m not sure. Perhaps a special version of WordPress MU designed for just this use in schools would be needed. I really hope that someone with expertise will chime in here about the possibilities of using WordPress MU in the ways we envision with students.

    I do believe that thinking ahead about these issues will prove very useful as blogging in schools becomes more and more popular. Thanks again, Konrad!

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  3. Excellent Discussion and a great concept. I am CEO of a software called Compendium Blogware. We are a SaaS blogging solution designed specifically for organizations. Our clients are typically Corporations or Business..with a little non-profit. We have not worked with a school, but the way you describe your challanges I think this might be the perfect solution.

    Compendium is On demand (hosted, ASP, SaaS whatever term you are familiar with) As a result it is easy to deploy to lots of people such as students in your case. We have a layer of control so that all posts are reviewed by someone before they go live…the same is true for content. In most cases this is all about insuring compliance with standards, not necessarily about editing out content. The same controls are on comment posting.

    An interesting challenge you pose is how to organize content. The definition of a Compendium is a collection of similar writing. What our system is designed to do is “Compend” content based on content or posts.

    Usually, our clients compend content based on keywords for SEO, but it seems completely feasible to organize a single post from a student around various compended blogs…so if Billy posts on 9 grade history and Algebra, the post appears on Billy’s blog, the 9th grade blog, the history blog and the Algebra blog…without Billy having to do anything other than write…no tagging.

    Anyway, I would love to test some of these concepts with you if you were interested.

    Thanks,

    Chris Baggott
    http://www.compendiumblogware.com
    chris@compendiumblogware.com

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