Social Networking: Real-life example in the classroom.

Yesterday afternoon Edublogs.org went down for a brief period of time. Normally it would be no big deal, except my students had blog posts due by the end of yesterday’s classes. The outage created a panic among those who were trying to finish up at the last minute.

I decided to post a quick comment out on Twitter about the situation. I figured someone in my network would respond and I could judge if it was something to worry about or not. About seven minutes later a mention from @Edublogs verified that it was a server issue on their end, not a mistake on mine, and they are trying to fix it quickly. A second message went out to @Edublogs thanking them for the quick response.

In discussing the One Day on Earth project with my classes, the value of social networking was explained. The basic premise is that the network, group, or organization is only as strong as its membership. I believe that I have a fantastic PLN for support. I showed my remaining classes the Tweets from the incident and tied them together with the previous discussions. They understand the concept and saw it work in real-life. It is no longer just some comment my teacher made just to have something to say.

It was not anything Earth shattering, but it was a teachable moment that work. That just seems pretty cool to me, in my humble opinion.

Student Blogs: Day One

Well, today I introduced the student blogs to all of my classes.  What a whirlwind of a day, fairly painless as I look back over it…

Students came into class and signed out their iPods and went to the Edmodo online classroom.  It is becoming a standard part of their classroom routine to go straight to Edmodo.   I placed a link to their Edublogs sign in page on all of the class pages in Edmodo, this way the students do not have to type any URLs into the Safari browser, just click and go.

I popped open a page in my Class Orientation Easiteach file with an example of how their Edublogs log in looks.  All of my students know their school network log-ins, their Edublogs log-ins mirrors this format with one minor exception, which is not important in this context.  The point is the students were already familiar with their log-in information, this removes one obstacle in the process.

The students went to the Edublogs sign in page and typed in their Username, ready to proceed.  I had all of their Usernames and Passwords on a Google Doc, so I just read the generic passwords off to the students and they logged in to their account.  I should have just given all of the students the same generic password, it would have been easier.  I commented on this in an earlier post.

We had the Edublogs dashboard up on the Polyvision interactive whiteboard to show the students the process of changing their password and updating their profile.  They were shown how to type in the body of the blog using the “HTML” tab, as was discussed in this previous post.  Students jumped on the left dashboard buttons and began exploring the site.

The students were given the Blog Expectation sheets and the explanation of the assignment.  I chose a brief post where they are to introduce themselves along with a statement of what they would like to learn in class.  They were to pick two objectives on subject matter and two technology objectives and explain why the topics were of interest.  They have already done pieces of the assignment in class through our Edmodo discussion board and a self-reflection Google Form.  My objective is to just get them writing in an appropriate voice and published out on the Internet; consider this a “shakedown cruise” before we get into the curriculum.

Most of the students started their drafts and saved them online.  They are to direct message me in Edmodo when they are prepared to have their work graded.  They have a rubric of what will be looked at in the assessment process, including the appropriateness of language and grammar.  They were encouraged to have someone else proofread their post before  they formally submit it.  Hopefully they will learn how to write beyond texting and Facebook posts even though they are writing on the Web.

Overall, most students caught on quickly with the writing process on the iPods.  A few of the glitches occurred because of human error, either on my part or the students.  The students are great with adapting on the fly and working through issues we encounter as we try these new lessons in class.

A few students asked if there was an easier way to get into the blog so I explained about the free WordPress App and Blog Booster app for iPods.  One of my students is trying out apps at home on his Droid so he can use that device instead of his home computer.  I am interested in see how the apps work on that platform versus the iPods.

I plan on another post once the students complete this initial assignment, hopefully things will continue to go smoothly.

Student Blogs: So easy even a Social Studies Teacher can do it!

Okay, I paraphrased a popular tag line from a commercial as my title…bad cliche.  I just wanted to emphasize the fact that setting up blogs for my classes was not difficult, it just took some time.  If I was a better typist, I could have finished the set up process in half the time if not less.  Here is the process:

First, I have upgraded to an Edublogs Pro Account, this upgrade enabled me to add students to my account.  I clicked on the “Add New Users” tab on the left side of the screen.  I was able to type in batches of 15 students, creating usernames, and passwords.  I ran into trouble because my students do not have Gaggle email accounts set up as of yet through school.  At this point I made the first of several emails to Sue Waters…Sue is on Edublogs Support Team and Sue rocks!!!  She has helped me out several times with issues and is a great resource.

She had recommended that I create a generic class email account, in Gmail, which I did.  The next step is to insert a “+” then a unique ID between the main email name and the “@gmail” in the address.

It looks similar to this, “my class+student id@gmail.com”  I created users in batches of 15 and gave each a generic password.  A verification email was sent to the new email account I created in Gmail.  I typed my way through my preliminary class lists in a couple of hours.  I set up each student as a “contributor.”  This setting allows students to create posts, however they cannot make a post public without my approval.  I like this added safety feature, you never know when a student may have a bad day, or get their account hacked, or forget to log out which could lead to bad things happening.  I will need to approve every post before they go out over the Internet.  I need to grade the posts anyway, so it is not really an issue.

I then copied all of the usernames and passwords onto a Google Doc for reference later.  I have found it best to keep all student usernames close by for reference, you never know when you will need them.  In hindsight, I should have given every student the same generic password.  That would have saved me from copying their log-in information from my email account.  My colleague Bryan Pasquale was going to do that with his students…but he did not upgrade to the Pro account.  I believe he is going to use the work around of having his students create accounts, but not blogs so he can add them to his blog as contributors…but that is a different post on a different blog….

I hope to roll out the first blog assignment next week across all six of my classes, it will be on student expectations for the year.  We will see what they come up with.

Student Blogging: A new perspective.

I presented at Laurel School District’s Tech Camp recently and an issue was brought to my attention…I was bashing writing, or at least my desire to grade student writing.  I didn’t mean to come across that way, but after further review…I was.  I do not push too many formal writing projects in my class.  Students use the writing process in my class and with all projects, I just do not have them turn term papers.

I need to make an adjustment, and it will happen now.  All of my students will now blog as part of their class grade for my courses.  Not all of my classes will have to blog on a regular basis, some may be once a nine weeks with the option to post more often for alternate assignments.  In the past, I encouraged students to blog for enrichment assignments, but I had few takers.  This new system should change the lack of participation, although educators know there are often students who do not turn in assignments or make up tests they miss.

The blogs will vary in length and purpose, but will be graded on a rubric that includes grammar, spelling, and other areas of literary importance, along with being on the topic of the assignment.  The most important aspect of the assignments, is that they will be posted publicly.  In retrospect, my issue with the writing assignments of yore was that students wrote for a specific length, based on words or pages, then discarded once graded.  Students would toss them out, toss them in the hallways or stairwells, lose them in their lockers, etc. There was no purpose outside of a grade, or practice for the PSSA, at least in the students’ minds.  No matter how much I emphasized the purpose of the assignment and the importance of learning the subject, the students were only concerned with the final grade.  Now, their work will have a purpose beyond a grade, it will be published for eternity on the Internet.  They are all set up as contributors, so I will have the ability to keep work private until approved.  I will write more about this reasoning shortly.

For now, all that counts is that I found a problem and I believe I have addressed it for the better.