I'm often asked what the point of the Writers' Club is if you are already blogging. Surely having a global audience is not exactly revolutionary - all you need to do is to start a blog, and theoretically, you have a global audience, right?
Well, yes and no. The big problem I have found with blogging in the classroom is (a) finding the blogs of others, and (b) having your blog found by others. The result is your audience, and hence the number of comments you receive, are usually pretty small.
And I speak from experience. If you're reading this on the *official* Rob Sbaglia blog, at sbaglia.com, you should know that this is my 112th published post, and once you take away replies I've made to comments on this blog, the total number of comments this blog has recieved is.... (drum roll)... thirty five. That's an average of 0.31 comments per blog post, or not even one comment per three published posts. And I'm out there tweeting my posts, putting them on Facebook, reposting on nings and so on and so forth. I can only imagine what an average ten year old's blog receives if they are blogging.
So how to give students an audience for their work? Some teachers take to twitter to get their kids an audience - there is even a #comments4kids hashtag for that specific purpose. But as Adrian Camm recently noted, this is somewhat artificial. And it's not sustainable. I want my students being able to find and be found without the need for my assistance.
The Writers' Club does this in a number of ways. First, it uses Buddypress, a social network plugin that goes "over the top" of the blogs. It makes it much easier to find the blogs of other student authors around the world, and to have your work be found by those same authors. It does this in a number of ways.
First, there is an activity stream that shows all the recent happenings across the site. You can refine this stream by seeing just the recent blog posts, comments, forum posts, and so on.
Secondly, because everyone is a member of the one big community, there is no need for putting in email addresses or anything else to identify the person leaving the content. The account you use to write on your own blog is the account you use to comment on the other six hundred blogs that are on the site. This means that if you comment on my blog, I can click on your name and YOUR Writers' Club blog automatically pops up. I can then go look at your work and return the favour.
Thirdly, there is a nice little plugin called "achievements". This gives awards to students automatically based on their contribution to the community. Students get points for writing blog posts, commenting on the posts of others, responding to the feedback from others, commenting on blogs from other countries, and so on.
Is it working? Well, students are getting more comments on their blogs than I am. I think that's a pretty good start.