I am about to set up an online reading record onto our moodle learning environment, called Bernard, for our English Dept. The plan is to create either Wiki's for the books which different students would contribute to as they read the same book OR a blog per student which can be added to by themselves and the teacher but viewed by all. Would it be a good idea to keep these blogs behind the VLE security, or to use a seperate service like wordpress?

I am mildly concerned about the administration of creating and maintaining 160 blogs.

Any advice anyone can offer on the approach or the minor detail of how to execute this plan would be warmly received.

Yours, Dai

Tags: blogging, blogs, collaborative, english, reading, web2.0, wikis

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Dai,

Great question, because you are looking for the practical answer. I have always thought (and said) technology is meant to make life easier for the person who uses it. If life becomes more complicated for the user, then the technology is not good technology for that user.

With that in mind, I would suggest a wiki over the blogs. Here's my thinking:

1) In the wiki you can create different (and fewer) pages for each book. Students work on the pages of the books they are reading, instead of going through each student's blog and grouping their work with the work of others reading the book. The wiki will also be easier for the students to maintain a collaborative discussion.
2) If you are looking for interaction among the students, the wiki is definitely a better tool. Time constraints in class dictate how much a student can accomplish. If students have to search for other blogs in order to interact, time is wasted searching. In the wiki environment, students only have one place to go to find the discussion.
3) Students who are not reading a certain book, can find out about the book by reading the entries of others. This might spark their desire to read another book. The benefit of the wiki is the student doesn't have to search through the 160 blogs to find the information about the book.
4) If the project is graded, then you have fewer places to go to mark student entries. However, I do see some headaches in trying to find students within a "threadlike" disussion of a Moodle wiki.

Has Moodle made it possible to track the number of entries by students in their wiki environment yet? That would really make it nice. I know they were discussing an upgrade last year which would enable the teacher to track student participation within the wiki environment, but I'm not positive that upgrade has been completed.

The advantage to blogs within Moodle might be to keep a quick record of how much and what students contribute. The grading becomes student-based in the blog, as opposed to book-based in the wiki.

The reason I would still go for the wiki is that I would monitor conversations daily, and as far as grading student contributions I would keep up with their participation daily instead of collecting their work at the end of the project.

Hope this helps. I really like your idea, and will pass this along to our reading teachers who are being asked to have students read books on their specific level, yet the classrooms are filled with students on many different reading levels. This idea can really help, if they will be willing to try something new.
Wikispaces does a really nice job of listing the number of entries each student records. I used this aspect to make sure my groups of students were discussing their ideas with each other. I've been told that blogging is the better route for book journals and reviews. Do you disagree? I plan to begin blogging this year and had thought I would use this to do a book review assignment of my students' independent summer reading books.
If you use an elgg-based such as Youth Voices, you can have students create their own accounts on YV, then create a community for each book. The students would join that community, and post to the community blog about the book.
http://youthvoices.net
I think that out of your two options, I would probably pick the wiki. Are you planning on setting up large group wikis that everyone can participate in or individual wikis that teachers and students can participate in, but others can see (like your blog description)? The individual wikis would be much easier to track, but would curtail student interaction.

Since you already have Moodle, I have another option that you might like to explore. The glossary might work well for this project. It is more along the lines of a blog, but may do away with the need to create many separate blogs. Students could always put the title of their book as the concept. Categories could be used for genres, or any other distinctions you prefer. The definition area could contain the main entry. If comments were turned on, students could then comment on their classmates' writing. Since glossaries are sortable by category, date and author it would be easy for teachers to find entries and read everything that a student has written. I have an elementary colleague who has been using a glossary for reader's response journals with her students and it has been working extremely well for her.
Teacher K,

Good idea of the Glossary use in Moodle. I will pass this idea along to some of our students using Moodle.
I like the idea of the glossary being used from a different angle. I've not employed the glossary yet so I'll have a look at it over the summer.

Thanks, Dai
These are interesting ideas. I like the sound of the wiki. Up to now I have been looking at replacing existing student reading records, but there is no reason we can't think a little outside the box. My hesitation starts at making every student accountable for their own contribution, which is where I was favouring the blog. However, it would be such a shame to sacrifice the collaborative potential of this project. I'll start uploading a couple of trials after my students have been dismissed for exams and I've a little more of the ever-precious time on my hands. More thoughts are always welcome.

Regards, Dai (sunny sunday in West London)
Dai,

I have another idea you might consider. Since you have 160 students, could you have some work in the wiki and others work in blogs? This way you could do some action research for all of us. There are advantages to wikis and blogs, and Teacher K mentions the use of the Glossary feature in Moodle that is intriguing to me.

What do you think?
Dai, I would encourage you to create a wiki and then give students access to update content.

Miguel
Around the Corner-mGuhlin.net
http://mguhlin.net
I am not very experienced in the use of blogs in the classroom,however I can share what has worked so far for me. I have one central blog that is a place for reading responses. Students respond in the comments section to particular prompts. They can use a minor amount of html code to structure comments (bullets, bold, underlined, etc.) and I encourage this. I find it works well to have their comments consolidated in one place regarding one particular prompt or book. I ask them to use the same screenname each time, that way I can call up their names and get all the comments for every posting. This allows me to use the commentary as part of their grade.... I insist on (and often get :) efforts at proofreading, correct spelling, length requirements, etc.

I would like to have them keep their own blogs or perhaps in groups of four for various purposes. The group blogs are a good idea, in my opinion because they can be updated regularly without overburdening either the students or the teachers. In my case, my interest is in blogs that can be journalistic forums. I want them to use their blog space to create a brand, identify the types of information they will be including, inclusion of tools that help their viewers, etc. (I have created enough of these in typepad for all my students coded by color... (magenta, rose, pink..etc.) rather than by individual name) I could see doing literature circles this way... different blogs for different books with a maximum number of students per blog. Still, teachers should expect to review all comments before putting them up... My admin expects that no entry goes up until I've previewed it. There are admins and other adults reading these blogs and my school is on the phobic side, so I they've been made to understand that the blogs need to be squeaky clean... I made it clear to them that we're at the forefront of something that we hope will be schoolwide and common practice, so we should demonstrate them at their best. They know what sorts of things would not make the cut... inappropriate links, remarks about other students, inappropriate material.. etc.

As for where to put them. I have typepad because I hadn't found wordpress when I began this. You can put wordpress or moveable type on your server so that it's only accessible to your community... or you can give passwords for use or only particular people can comment. I'd like to have them on our server so that students from the whole building could respond to literature or to journalistic blogging... we'll see about that for next year. My students are guest writers so that I can run interference should it become necessary. I keep them at typepad rather than with my host or our school's server right now, but if my tech director gives the greenlight... all of this may change.

I haven't used wikis at all, yet. I hope this has been helpful...
hi Dai, I've got approximately 100 students in my online classes each semester, and I have them each blogging using Bloglines - our VLE is Desire2Learn and the so-called blogging tool is truly awful, and there is no wiki option, so I had to find something outside for them to use.

Bloglines is incredibly simple to set up, since there are no template options for the blog - it is about as plain and simple a blog as you can get. It does not have comments option, which actually works for me, since I don't have to worry about comment spam. Their blogs are on the open Internet (good!), but there is no danger of comment spam at the blog. For comments, I have them leave comments inside the VLE, where each student has a folder where they get ALL their comments from other students - comments about their blog, about the website they publish for class, etc.

Bloglines does have good privacy features (email address used for login is not displayed on the blog, unless you choose to do so), and you can also create whatever username you want. I would guess about half of my students choose to use their real name, while about half choose some fun alias. I like giving them that choice.

Anyway, I have no problems just asking the students to set up their own blog; they then email me the link, and I subscribe to their blogs. It takes just a minute or two per student of my time, and I think it is great experience for them to learn how to get a blog started. Since it is so incredibly easy (they are up and publishing in literally less than 5 minutes), that gives them a huge boost of confidence at the beginning of the semester. If they are using a fun username, I make sure to rename the subscription details to reflect their actual name, so I can link up each blog feed with each student.

Here are the instructions I give them for Bloglines:

http://www.bestmoodle.net/ks/blogger/bl_account.htm

This has been a great solution for me: minimal overhead on my part, very easy for the students, while giving them a super introduction both to blogging and to RSS feeds (since Bloglines is also a feed aggregator - in fact, it is primarily a feed aggregator and the blogging tool is a bit of an afterthought). They do several writing assignments each week in the blog, in addition to publishing their class project as a website.

I've also had great luck with PBWiki for educators (no ads for educators, whoo-hoo!), but I like using the blogs for my classes, since it gives students a strong sense of personal ownership about their own individual blog.
Make sure students creat secret names that only you and the individual student knows. This will help because students will not feel threatened by the task of writing on the www. That is one tip to help you stay out of trouble with the admin. and your sytem's AUPs (acceptable use policies). Also, type of a rationale for creating the wiki along with your rules for student usage to have your admin sign it. Then make copies and send them home with the students. That will keep the parents from complaining.

I prefer edulbogs.com (a affiliate of wordpress).

Save yourself some work:
Designate student leaders to manage each page/discussion/blog (obviously someone you trust). That student is to report any misbehavior. Set up the blog so that they are admins of it unless they let you down. Make it so that they have to approve every post.

Well, at 12:28 a.m., that is all that is coming to mind.
Keep us updated on how well it works.
Ben

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