Monday, February 29, 2016

Reflections On: Connected From The Start PART 2: Blogging

Connected From the Start

At this year's Greater Edmonton Teachers' Convention I went to see Kathy Cassidy's session called "Connected From the Start" which is also the name of her book, which covers the same topics. 

Like many teachers who use technology in class, Kathy uses a wide variety of technology devices and applications. It is important to note that her classroom has one-to-one iPads. Her session had three main sections: Skype, Blogging and Twitter. I am going to review each section in a separate blog post.


Part Two: Blogging

Like Kathy, I have blogged with my students for a number of years. Unlike her, I have used laptops, netbooks and Chromebooks, not iPads. I do not have one-to-one access but I do have regular access to technology.



Kathy's top choices for student blogs are: Edublogs, Kidblog and Easyblog. All have a financial cost to someone. I liked how she reminded participants that storage costs money and that is what you pay for.   

EduBlogs

She blogs with her students (using iPads) on the Edublog platform which uses Wordpress.  She pointed out that Wordpress can be somewhat cumbersome to someone new to blogging. It is also important to note that the free account does not have Student & Class Management options. The "Pro" account costs $39.95 USD a year. 


Kidblog

I have used Kidblog over the past two years. Last year I used a free account, but that option is no longer available. They do have a one month free trial. The "Premium" account costs $36 USD year. Kathy felt the Kidblog platform is less complicated than the Wordpress-based EduBlogs platform. Div1 Edtech in EPSB posts on blogging:

EasyBlog

Kathy also demoed EasyBlog which is available for iPads only. It is VERY slick! If you wanted to start blogging with students as young as kindergarten, then this is the platform to do it (if you have iPads)! There is no cost to teachers but all the data is lost at the end of each year (unlike EduBlogs or KidBlog). Parents can choose to purchase the data at the end of the year. If you want to do blogging in primary classroom with only one iPad Easyblog makes it... easy.

Other Blogging Platforms

Kathy mentioned ePals as another blogging platform teachers could try. That's how I cut my teeth on connecting my classroom globally and blogging with students almost a decade ago. I moved away from ePals when EPSB moved to GAFE. Since I have used it, ePals has been taken over by Cricket Media.There is no cost to ePals.

I often get emails asking for suggestions for free blogging platforms that are suitable for younger students. I usually suggest Blogger as we have it as a part of our GAFE suite in EPSB. I do not find Blogger the best choice for teachers wanting to start blogging with younger students but it is the best FREE option I can suggest. However, Seesaw has just launched a blogging platform that is available for use on iPads and Android tablets as well as via the web (from what I can tell). I have only done some preliminary research but I believe it is free. Check out Richard Byrne's blog post for more information. 

Parent Permission

Kathy shared that her division uses a form that informs parents and requests their consent for students working online. She also brings parents in to her grade one class and shows parents examples of what she wants to do with student work online. As a result, she has not had parents who have not provided consent. 

She uses blogging as well as Skype and Twitter as a way to show younger students how to be on-line and show what you learn. She does post pictures of students but she never links a student's name to their image. She reminds students and parents not to use full names (so no last names) when blogging. She will even delete parent comments* when the parent uses a full name/last name in connection with a student. (*The class will read the comment as a class and discuss why it has to be deleted. Then she contacts the parent and explains that is was shared in class and gently reminds them to not use identifying names when commenting in the future).

She provided some good options for those families who are concerned about their child's work being public. You could provide that child with a pseudonym and/or never post that child's image. This became a bit of a discussion during the session. 

I shared that one workaround I have used is that I have a form specific for my classroom when parents have been uncomfortable with signing the EPSB FOIP form. I explain to parents in person or via email that without the FOIP form signed their children will sit off camera for Google Hangouts as I cannot always control if the teacher on the other end will take pictures or video. Parents can provide specific written permission for allowing their child on screen for Google Hangouts. As well, I let them know their child will only be able to post to connections or classmates for Kidblog unless they provide written permission. 

Honouring Student Work

As someone who has blogged with students for a number of years I found this section of her talk reaffirming (which is sometimes as useful as learning new things). That said, when she shared one of her students blog posts (excuse the blurry photo) I was forced to stop and reflect on my practice. 

She had honoured the student's writing by letting the student's errors be posted as is but she added clarification for the audience in brackets. I have a tendency to require more "publish" ready posts. 

I think there is a fine line (and I do not think I have found it yet) when it comes to blogging, especially with younger students. I believe publishing work (of any kind) to the 'public' requires a certain set of standards that we do want to establish. At the same time, we do not want students to be so controlled by "perfect" writing expectations that we stifle their desire to write. Thanks for the food for thought, Kathy.