A lot has been written about the positive impact that blogging can have on pupils attainment and Heathfield Primary School is perhaps the best know, where writing improved dramatically over a short space of time.
I’ve worked with a number of schools where the end product has been displayed on the school blog. Click here for some animations produced by Y3/4 as an example. On each occasion, the pupils were thrilled to have their work published online and in pretty much every case said that next time their work would be better.
In every case I’ve seen so far, the blogs were class or year group blogs, which isn’t a criticism, just a statement of fact. Two things have emerged from this. Firstly: The teacher needs to moderate each piece before it is published and secondly: Not every piece of work will be published, for many perfectly good reasons. As will become obvious as you read, I was looking for a solution that provided individual blog space for pupils.
Anyway, whilst discussing a range of things with the ICT co-ordinator at Adelaide: assessment, keeping work samples for moderation… we pondered the possibility of pupils keeping a Learning Log of their work as it progresses or having evidence of work completed if you weren’t one of the tracker pupils. Somewhere in this discussion, and I can’t remember where, I wondered about pupils keeping their record, not on the server where access is problematic and it sits, unviewed, but somewhere on a personal space online. In addition, we needed a method of viewing the work that was software agnostic. Having spent the year telling them that they should be choosing which software they feel most appropriate, it’d have been a backward step to insist on everything being done in Word. I know there are ways round this but…..
The school currently uses a Learning Platform, so this was a possibility, but whether this will continue, or move to another product is a debate for the future and I didn’t want to begin something in one that is then lost in 12 months time. I looked at a number of blogging options, Blogspot, Blogger, WordPress, but none seemed to provide the facility for 120 individual accounts under one Admin account. I’m also not sure if these solutions would be either eSafe or even allowable under the T&Cs of the various companies. So, looking for a solution that would provide individual pupil accounts as well as the possibility of class-based ones I turned to J2E and their J2Bloggy software. I’d chatted to them at the recent Hull and East Riding ICT Conference and was pretty certain that this would provide me with the most appropriate vehicle for my project. After arranging the 30 day trial, getting the users set up and giving myself a swift tour of the software, (at least the bits I needed to get the pupils started), and I was set.
I began with Y3/4 pupils and explained my Grand Plan about putting their work online, reminded them about appropriate onlne behaviour… and punctuation! and showed them how to get their own personal space set up. I was a little nervous about the WordPress dashboard, even the much simplified one that J2Bloggy presents, but explained that if they just used the tools I showed them for now, little could go wrong and we’d learn about the other tools as and when. I showed them how to create a category and then park another one under it to keep our work organised. I have to say, they were wonderful. I’d like to think it was me, but suspect it was the prospect of having their own online space that was the motivator…….. but isn’t that rather the point?
One of the tweaks that J2E have added to WordPress is a simple front end that makes it easy for users to create new pages, posts and even new blogs and add tags. Having explained what Tags were, all pupils were told to use their firstname as a tag as this makes it easy for staff to find blogs for that pupil. Other tags can be added, so in the future, as the blog/portfolio expands, teachers will easily be able to find a pupil’s work on control by using those 2 tags. Below you can see how, with teacher rights, I can search for a pupil’s blog.
One of the benefits of J2Bloggy is that it comes with J2E Lite as part of the package, so it’s very easy for the pupils to take a screenshot of their work and paste it into J2E Lite ready for publication. Far easier than a Save As>Import Media route. Once the screenshot is in, it’s just a matter of them completing their log/journal and publishing it.
We only had 40 mins and I’d say that most children had got their site set up with appropriate menus in place and some had published their first work online. I’d be telling fibs if I said all went smoothly. Some pupils parked their category in the wrong place- but it can be moved later- and a few got carried away with the aesthetics and didn’t get their screenshot of their work completed, but I can forgive them that in week 1. If it’s not done by Week 2, they’ll be questions asked! to assist the process, I’ve created a simple checklist that I’ll share with them.
Buoyed by the success of how Y3/4 took to the task, I introduced it to Y5/6 the next day and it was pretty much the same. Some of the pupils discovered the facility to add their friends in to their blog. This facility might prove useful later on as adding peers in as editors opens up the possibility of a collaborative blog, but for now, we’re sticking to individual ones.
J2Bloggy is a ‘walled garden’ blog, so any pupil blog is only visible to other users withing the school by signing in. There is a way to make them globally viewable, but for this project, in school access in fine. It also means that each pupils is responsible for managing comments on their blog. I think this is a positive measure as it wouldn’t be practical for staff to moderate every post, especially as some pupils may choose to create their own blogs on the system. I can see the need for teacher moderation in some circumstances: pupils using class blogs or ones that are public by default, but there must come a time when we pass on the responsibility to manage their own online spaces, including dealing with unwanted comments, on a blog they manage.
And so to week 2. I’d decided on a blog for each subject, tagged in the format of ‘firstname subject’ and each blog created would be along the lines of firstname-subject. In the future, we’d have firstname-maths, firstname-tudors, etc. We also decided that as we could make unlimited blogs, the need for categories and sub-headings was removed.
So far the outcome has been very positive. Pupils are excited by the prospect of having individual blogs and the facility to keep records of their work online to work on at home and show their parents/carers and anyone else that is interested. Next term, we’ll be introducing peer assessment of the work via comments.
We did hit one or two snags. Firstly, some pupils didn’t name their blogs as requested, so we’ll be introducing them to the settings button and doing some swift re-naming next lesson.
Some pupils mistook the comments as an email/messaging tools. Easily explained that comments are just that and should only be used for.. well, comments!
And finally, some pupils didn’t tick the ‘my school’ option and left their blogs as private. Whilst I can still view these, it does mean logging in as administrator and also precludes peers viewing it. Another 2 minute fix this week.
So, as with any new implementation, I’ve learned a few things along the route already, but none that’ll mean a lot of repair work and the pupils have taken their first important steps towards managing their own online ePortfolio, which surely is where they’ll all be someday?
We’ll probably discover other things en route, and I’ll update this as and when, but even in these early stages I’m excited about the whole notion of pupils keeping an online portfolio. Some of these pupils will have 3 years worth of work online by the time they leave. I wonder how that’ll look by then?
There’s a summary video of J2Bloggy here and if you’d like to know more, please feel free to contact me.