Student Blogs: What I Learned

Today I finally had the chance to get my students their blogs.  After weeks of trial and error getting the site to work and email after email with IT people to allow my blog through the network, they were finally ready to go today.

A little about my blogs.  I had decided from the start that I wanted to host my own blogs on my domain.  I figure students already have enough login information to worry about, I might as well be the one with their blog information.  I also like that I can set parameters I want and be sure that each student is acting responsibly and appropriately.  I can also help them customize it more than the available options if they want.

I've got a few major take-aways from this experience that I think are important things to realize if you're planning on using blogs.

  1. Take time during class to show them where major controls are.  Show them how to log in/out, how to change a password, etc.  Make sure they physically watch what you are doing or else you will be answering the same question multiple times. Once I got their eyes, I showed them those major portions, and everything went fine.

  2. Dialogue with students about the purpose.  I teach freshman and my class is definitely already using more technology than most of these students have ever used.  We talked about what the purpose of a blog is or what it should be, and I found that many of them just didn't have the experience that I expected.  The majority of responses centered around the "fact" that blogs are just diaries.  Once they began to think outside the box, they began to take ownership a little bit more.

  3. Expect slow internet.  I tried doing this with 35 kids in my room at once.  My server was not happy with me nor was the wireless router in the room.  Try to find a way to do half of the class at a time to make sure you have their attention and that the internet is working relatively well.  Next time I sign kids up for a blog, we will definitely be doing it in groups rather than all at once.

  4. Let the students play.  Through the class, they kept on asking "what next?", which is appropriate at times.  There was a sequence we needed to go through to get everything done correctly.  After that, however, they were a little afraid to do something "wrong."  Take a minute to explain that while we will be using them for class projects, this is their space and it is up to them what it becomes in the long run.  I will be giving assignments, but those should not dictate what they use the site for.  The freedom scared some, but as they got on board, I saw more excitement than trepidation.  Hopefully, some will be posting more than when I ask them to.

I'll be figuring out a way to post a directory for the blogs over the next week so you can check them out if you're interested.  Feel free to ask if you have other thoughts and questions.

12 thoughts on “Student Blogs: What I Learned

  1. Audrey says:

    Good luck with the blogging, Brian! I started doing that with my class as well, and it was a real eye-opener. Mine was a class blog, though, so I found that their posts got buried pretty quickly. This year I had hoped to give them each their own, but all at the same site so they can easily check out others’ and respond to them as well. Is that kind of what yours’ will have? Also, are you giving them any guidelines at all as to what to post about or how many times to post?

    • Brian Bennett says:

      Hey Audry, thanks for the encouragement! I’m really excited to be working with them when they’re still fresh and willing to learn something new. All of their sites are through my account and every username is formatted the same way, so they can link/bookmark/share/comment pretty easily. I’ll be working with them on networking as they get used to the system. We will also have guidelines about posting/commenting each week. Did you have guidelines for your students? I’m sort of making this up as I go, so I’m happy to take thoughts and insight.

  2. Audrey says:

    Well, it evolved like crazy in just the few short months I had it going. First, I made it a scribe post, inspired by such experts as Darren Kuropatwa and Chris Harbeck. Here is my very first post to the kids explaining how it would work and what I expected:

    Overall, the posts got better and more detailed, and we all learned how to use a few really cool tools, like the online math notation html editor. But the comments got lamer, like “Wow, great post! (smiley face)”, so I made a few more suggestions, like give constructive criticism, or give your post some math content, or connect the topic to something else you’ve learned.

    But once I started flipping, and they weren’t all doing the same thing at the same time, it got a little fuzzier. The guideline was still more or less 5 posts/comments in a unit, but it was more open, like one kid commented on the online checklists that I was giving them. So even though the guidelines were less structured, they were more natural, because I didn’t have to prod them to post as much – they seemed to need to hear from each other more.

    Of course, I wrote in a lot more detail on my own blog…which incidentally I didn’t tell them about until very late in the year. I felt like I had to have my own private space to rant/rave about what was happening in class.

    Hope this helps!

    • Brian Bennett says:

      Yeah, that is helpful. I’m using mine much more loosely than that. We will be using the blog for bio/chem, but I think they’re going to teach them more about reflection and sharing ideas with a wider audience than my class content. I’ve got some jumping on board and others that are being a little wary and single-minded about it. Hopefully, they’ll open up more as we go.
      I’m asking for two posts a week…that gives them some motivation to think about more than biology and school and start applying and connecting to their lives. But, on the other hand to that philosophy, I’m wary of some of the posts that may come through. I don’t want it to turn into a ranting ground for things they don’t like in school.
      Thanks for the thoughts!

  3. Marc Seigel says:

    I want to hear more about how you are using the blogging with chemistry. I was thinking about using students blogs instead of lab reports, but I can’t figure out how to have them write formulas, mathematical symbols and other text that is specific to science and not usually found on a website. What exactly are you asking the students to do with their blogs?

    • Brian Bennett says:

      I just mentioned in the reply to Audrey that I’m not totally sure what these will look like in the long run. I do want them to blog some things this year that have to do with content, but I’m teaching more biology than chemistry now, so it’ll be easier to do. One thing I’ve thought about for chem labs is trying to get some old Wacom tables and having them screencast parts of the report. They can annotate and explain the reaction rather than just copying and pasting some formula or equation into a paper. I’m not sure, still…we’ll see once we start labs in the next 10 days.

  4. Audrey says:

    Marc, when you say “but I can’t figure out how to have them write formulas, mathematical symbols and other text”, if you mean how to get them to be able to type that stuff themselves and get it to show up in their posts, my kids used this online html editor:

    If that’s not what you meant, sorry! My own student blogs were for math, and I had them take turns summarizing the days’ lesson, then commenting on each others’ posts. That got them motivated to put proper symbols and notation into their writing at least, and until they had the above editor, I saw things like r3 for root 3….

  5. Audrey says:

    I just checked and that editor does do chemistry stuff – wonder if it’ll work in this comment…fingers crossed…

  6. Audrey says:

    Impressive, eh?…For some reason, it only works in posts, not comments. It works for the class blog here:
    and on my own blog here:

  7. emily elkins says:

    Well the blogs are different with each of us some of the students in our biology class have many stupid posts that they are just using to get there 2 a week but they are stupid. But some of them are actually quite fascinating and I’ve begun reading some of the other students blogs as well as everyones is easy to find since it is just the first letter of their first name with theit last name and period number. Some people have some posts you actually have to think about and others have sentence long posts that are just dumb. At first most people started out wary yes including me but our posts have begun getting more detailed and some are still stupid yes but many are developing even further and are intelligent and detailed.

  8. emily elkins says:

    and mr.bennett I hope you do not mind but I have begun reading your blog

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