How to set up a classroom blog: 10 Essential Steps

Running a blog with your students is about as far from a traditional teaching method as you can get, and chances are nobody taught you how to do it. That’s why teachers who blog with students are usually those nonconformists types, radicals, free spirits, taking paths less traveled…well, not so much anymore. It’s actually become quite popular, but it certainly hasn’t hit mainstream levels, partly because it’s not as simple as using a chalkboard and textbook.

It doesn’t have to be so hard. After several years of blogging with students (mostly using PikiFriends), I’ve come up with a successful method which I hope others will find helpful.

What you do before you start blogging is arguably the most important time of all.

1) Choose an appropriate blogging platform for your situation. It must be safe for your students (Many are not. For a detailed explanation of safe blogging with minors, please watch this video.), have a simple learning curve (the fewer features the better in most cases), and allow you to assess your students easily according to your syllabus expectations. Do the right thing and don’t use Facebook just because students are already using it. There are much better platforms built for education purposes.

2) Understand why and how you’ll use it in your class. This may sound obvious, but poor lesson planning will result in problems including misbehavior, technological breakdowns, and angry administrators and parents. My advice for beginners is to look at blogging as 10% of your syllabus – use a blended learning approach which incorporates blogging as a minor supplement. As you progress, you’ll get more comfortable to change the ratio as you see fit.

3) Understand the features you and your students will need to use. Get to know the blogging platform features as well as you can, and make sure there are help files which your students can look up themselves. Can you teach your co-teachers to use it as well? Tutorial videos are a HUGE help. Once again, the fewer features the better. Contrary to popular belief there are many young people who can’t find their way around computers very well, and everyone knows there are a lot of teachers who struggle. You’re probably not one of them since you’re reading this blog however.

4) Set up your student accounts. Learn how to add, delete and edit them because you’ll have to do it many times. If it’s complicated then you’ve chosen the wrong platform. And please, if your students are minors, avoid sites which require them to give email addresses or other contact information.

5) Clear all of this with your boss and the tech guy. You will need their support, so keep them completely in the loop. Administrators will be concerned about liability (student safety & what parents will think) and the pedagogy behind your idea, and you will need lots of help from tech support for sure. For example, you want to use a certain platform that requires a computer update but you don’t have admin access, or the entire platform you want to use is blocked in your school district. Sometimes these problems are deal breakers, so figure it out early.  TIP:  Log on as a student on a student computer and try to use your chosen blogging program.

6) Know what to do when students forget their login information, and keep that info safe!

7) Make sure that all of your students will have fair and equal access to computers to get the job done, whether at home or school.

8) Let Parents & Guardians know what you’re doing. Imagine your child comes home from school, jumps on the computer and starts clicking away. You’ve been trying to get him off the computer lately and he says, “But I have to blog for school!”

Not good. Parents shouldn’t be surprised like this. I always send notes home (in Japanese since I’m in Tokyo) with a brief explanation, and every parent has come on board so far. Click here and here to see how 2 American schools designed their own permission slips and rules for using PikiFriends. Come up with your own to fit your circumstances, and definitely run it by your boss first!

I heard from a head of school which uses PikiFriends that a few parents were adamantly against computer use for their children, but the school stuck by their guns (kindly explained the educational benefits) and won them over. Expect the unexpected.

9) Set the rules for students. A HUGE step! What do you have to worry about? Identity theft, copyright infringement, bullying and various inappropriate behaviors. Yuck. Makes you want to go back to the old pen-and-paper, doesn’t it?

Don’t worry. It can be avoided with proper preparation on your part. Explain and practice your expectations clearly before logging in.

First of all, identity theft can be avoided by 1) choosing the right platform and 2) urging students to minimize their digital footprints. For example, on PikiFriends we’ve made it a rule that students are not allowed to write any contact info or their last name on any profile page, and we test them by using a few exercises like this one. I also take time in my classrooms to explain the importance of minimizing digital footprints, and I’ve found that students appreciate it and are very careful.

(Try reading your blogging platform’s privacy policy. Also, figure out who created and runs the company, and most importantly try to find out how they make their money. A majority of them make money by selling user info to 3rd parties. Ignorance is no excuse when you’re requiring minors to join and use a platform.)

Secondly, we all need to learn more about copyright issues, in particular the concept of Fair Use.  I recommend teaching students about Creative Commons.

Third, the main causes of bullying and other unwanted behaviors are 1) poor lesson planning, 2) too many features and distractions, and 3) using blog platforms not meant for education. Take care of those three, then there’s only one thing left:

10) Create a code of ethics. Let students know that you expect them to be responsible and respectful, with consequences for misbehavior (just as you expect at all other times, but specific to your online adventure). We have written our own code of conduct in the PikiFriends textbook: #1: BE SAFE and #2: BE KIND, BE FRIENDLY. What will you do with troublemakers? On PikiFriends you can put accounts on ‘hold,’ which means they can no longer log in. I’ve never had to use this feature but I know a few teachers in America who have.

A classroom blog is an opportunity to teach students how to be good people, online (Down with trolls!). Global empathy, constructive criticism, avoidance of stereotypes, how to deal with bullying…if you have time you can address so many important topics.

Conclusion

Take my advice: give your students their login info after you’ve completely thought through all 10 steps. All of the above requires teacher prep time for sure, and at least 1 class period to set things up with students. But the more you do it, the easier it’ll get and you and your students will love it!

What do you think? I’d love to hear your feedback.

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84 thoughts on “How to set up a classroom blog: 10 Essential Steps

  1. I totally agree about the NOT on facebook rule! A true blog is professional looking and something the students will take much more seriously. I had my students spend some time thinking up blogs of their own and giving me presentations on them so I could find out what was out there. I’m amazed at how tech savvy they are (some!). It surprises me in fact how non-tech some of them are (10th grade).

  2. I love what you are doing with blogging and education. I can think of a few adults that could benefit from the basics you have outlined here. Its great for kids to have a voice and a place to use it, but to also learn that with it comes responsibility.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. When I was in the classroom I used classblogmeister.com to have my creative writing students blog. In never used it with my ninth and tenth grade English classes since it takes a lot of time to be the gatekeeper to all those student posts and comments. Still though it’s great to come across resources like pikifriends.

  4. I’ve used wordpress with uni students in Japan for several years now. My approach is a little less time consuming, as I have students only comment and share on questions/themes that I raise on my class blogs. It has ranged from as many as 9 blogs in a semester to only 5 this last semester. Still run into some tech problems (minor stuff as wordpress changes, more student problems sometimes on first blog attempts), but otherwise it works smoothly. It usually is worth about 17% of the students’ grade (half of their homework grade). Getting them to do it on a regular basis is the hardest task usually..:)

    • Sounds like a great integration of a blogging platform in your curriculum, with you as the center of the activity. It helps to support whatever you’re teaching, and hopefully creates more opportunities for student output and discussion. I prefer more of a student-centered approach, but as you mention it’s more time consuming. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Pingback: How to set up a classroom blog: 10 Essential Steps | 21st Century Technology Integration | Scoop.it

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  7. Thanks for publishing this! One of the main reasons I started my own blog was to get ready to do some blogging with my class, and these suggestions will be very helpful. In this jurisdiction (BC) we need to abide by FOIPPA rules, which means student information cannot be housed outside Canada (which includes Internet servers), so this adds another layer of challenge. I hope to work through it with judicious use of teacher-managed nicknames and email addresses. Cheers, PJ

    • PJ, what kind of student information do the FOIPPA rules refer to? For example, on PikiFriends, there’s no need for their full names, and contact info isn’t necessary or allowed anywhere, including email addresses. Would that be acceptable?

  8. Pingback: How to set up a classroom blog: 10 Essential Steps | Scuol@2.0 Magazine | Scoop.it

  9. Very clearly laid out! I will share it with my classroom teachers who are always looking for one more Tech Integration tool!

    One note: at least in the US, it CAN be legal to use copyrighted material, properly cited, without getting permission when it falls under Fair Use guidelines, although they are not always easily understood. This is not the same as grabbing a picture from Google images “because it’s for school”! For one thing, if the project is for publication (even on a class website), the chances are that it’s not Fair Use. I agree that teaching about Creative Commons is the way to go; I also recommend connecting kids with some of the many free sources for images and text that are out there.

  10. Just a suggestion, but a great blogging platform that is free (as long as you have an Apple server) is the Apple Wiki server. This is great because it is advertising free, can be completely managed easily with regards to permissions, content is DEFINITELY the property of the district, and can be limited to an intranet with exceptions for identified experts from the outside. These are only a few of the benefits. There are so many.

    This service provided through Apple is an effective, affordable, and easy to manage tool that really increases student to student, teacher to student, teacher to teacher, administrator to teacher, teacher to administrator communication.

  11. Pingback: How to set up a classroom blog: 10 Essential Steps | Instructional Technology-Telecommunications | Scoop.it

  12. Awesome ideas here. But please don’t propagate the recurring myths about copyright and fair use. For example, saying “[W]e need to teach students the simple fact that you can not use copyrighted material without permission, even if it’s for education” is simply not true and prevents your students from exercising key critical thinking skills. In addition, it can abridge their 1st Amendment rights. Furthermore, as one commenter remarked, “[I]f the project is for publication (even on a class website), the chances are that it’s not Fair Use” this is also a commonly-held myth. Using copyrighted materials (even without attribution) is “fair” IF the use is transformative. For more information, please visit this site, which features Pat Aufderheide, the Executive Director for the Center of Social Media at American University. See: http://www.webpronews.com/are-you-blogging-within-your-fair-use-rights-2010-05

    • Thank you for the information. You’re right to point out the inaccuracy in the article, and I will edit my sentence. “Fair Use” is not an easy concept for many, but it should be understood more by us educators. If you don’t mind, I’ll include your link in the article.

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  23. Excellent guidelines. Completely agree w/ the Facebook issue – it is banned in our district unless it is a public, all-access, teacher’s page that the district can look at. Plus, there are so many distractions there already, why put the kids there to begin with? Get them out of their comfort zones.

    Also, you are right, many kids know little beyond opening up a web browser or a word processing program, I make it a habit to take my classes to the computer labs before the first blog is due and walk them through the process. I ask them to compose their answers in MS Word, copy and paste their answer into the blog, and then post the comment. This way, they still have a copy saved in case anything goes wrong (and it does w/ spam filters on Blogger and Word Press – the learning curve for my high school students is a little steep for some of them), and they can also email me their response if they don’t see the magic words “Your comment has been saved and will appear after it has been approved.” No comment goes on my blog before I approve it.

    I use Twitter to notify my students when the blog is up and ready for comments. Different hashtags for different classes. It’s not required that they follow me, b/c they can always subscribe to the RSS feed of the blog, but some of my students are already on Twitter.

    I also encourage my students’ parents to read their responses. This turns the students’ internal filters on. In addition, since the kids are 15-18, we talk about making a positive digital footprint on the Internet b/c many of them are applying to college soon (or already have done so). The one thing I wish my students did more was respond more to each others’ comments, so I will take up a discussion about civility with them next week in order to make sure we have no trolling. Thanks.

  24. Pingback: How to set up a classroom blog: 10 Essential Steps | classroom tech for students and teachers | Scoop.it

  25. Sorry, i didn’t get it. Could you please explain why should students use blogs? and what about Blogger or Tumblr?
    I would like to see real examples please.

    Thanks.

    • Hi MJ,
      Why should students use blogs? Well that’s a great question which requires a lot of time to answer…can I take the cheap way out and ask you to Google it? There’s been a lot of research done on this topic and I’m sure it’s easy to find many very strong benefits to student learning when blogging is incorporated well into a strong curriculum.

      Blogger, Tumblr, WordPress, etc. are all very fine platforms for blogging, however I am a stickler for user safety and privacy, especially when it comes to asking young people to join for my courses. Those platforms all have elements of risk which I think can be avoided.

      For lots of detail on this ultra-important issue, please see this post:
      http://pikifriends.wordpress.com/2011/12/10/a-thorny-issue-teachers-and-learners-right-to-privacy/

      As for real blogging examples, I have posted some on this blog in various articles, but they’re all with PikiFriends since that’s what I use with students.

      Thanks!

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  38. Hello, we found that since there is so much set up and privacy involved in creating a classroom blog, we created: ClassroomMate.com – a way to start a a private network for Teachers and Parents in your child’s classroom. It offers a secure platform with controlled access (only teachers and parents in the children’s class can have access to your classroom!) You can share classroom activities, important dates, pictures, and have a full chat board available for conversation between teachers and parents.

    Try it out for FREE and start your classroom on ClassroomMate.com. Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/ClassroomMate/267488783318044

    • Now this is interesting – who wrote this comment, or is it marketing spam??

      I checked out the site, and there’s no way to find out who is behind the curtain. If you’re saying you’re protecting user privacy rights, you’d better be more up front about who you are.

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