Day 4: Blogging

Introduction

Smarties / Schokolinsen
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Anka Albrecht via Compfight

A blog is a simple web publishing tool that allows users to write entries on a web page with the entries sorted by date. These entries, known as posts, are primarily made up of written content, but may also contain web links, pictures, video and audio. Blog posts are shown in date order with the most recent first. Blogging, like podcasting is based on RSS, which stands for RDF Site Summary*(1); each post is added to a feed which can be aggregated using a range of different software and apps, for example: Feedly (web & apps), Flipboard (web & apps), Yahoo, even an Outlook mailbox!

Blogs can be kept by an individual author or can be collaboratively authored and have maintained steady popularity as an Internet publishing platform since the mid 1990s.

This introduction is an adapted version of the description on our main page about studentcentral (Blackboard) blogs. The original text can be found here: https://staff.brighton.ac.uk/is/learningandteaching/Pages/studentcentral/Blogs-in-studentcentral.aspx

*RSS is sometimes incorrectly disambiguated as Really Simple Syndication (FM: I have always rather liked calling it that!).

Tool 1: Edublogs

What?

Edublogs is a multiple-user version of WordPress, one of the most popular blogging platforms in the world (1). WordPress is a very flexible content management system (CMS), which allows you to add blog posts, as well as include more static informational content on pages. The public-use version of WordPress is available as both a subscription-based web application at WordPress.com and as a version that can be installed on an individual’s own web storage and domain (the web address) obtained from WordPress.org. Edublogs is a company that offers a version of WordPress that is specially customised for education. At the University of Brighton we have our own version of edublogs, allowing our staff and students to create their own blogs at the “blogs.brighton.ac.uk” web address; just as this blog has been created!

Why?

  • Blogs are incredibly versatile they can be used for personal reflection, resource sharing, journalistic writing, documenting a project, promoting an event and distributing electronic materials. Really the options are almost endless!
  • In an educational context blogs can be used to promote writing practice and can provide a powerful tool for peer critique.
  • Blogs can be a crucial part of your digital identity and how you present yourself professionally online. In certain subjects and disciplines (particularly journalism, digital media, design and computing) blogs run by individuals, companies and organisations can provide some of the most up-to-date knowledge and research in rapidly changing and evolving fields.

Need to know:

  • Edublogs and WordPress offer a wide variety of visual themes allowing you to customise the look and feel of your blog site.
  • Edublogs can facilitate a shared class blog or a class of individual blogs (one-per student) with monitoring tools for the teacher.
  • The Edublogs platform specifically allows you to set the privacy of content. This allows us to facilitate different types of staff and student projects.
  • Edublogs and WordPress have the option the enable an editorial workflow, where users can take the role of contributors or authors and their work needs approval prior to posting. Perfect for creating an online newsroom assignment!
  • Blogs that are created through Brighton’s version of Edublogs (at blogs.brighton.ac.uk) are representative of the university, so it is important to consider whether they should be made available to a public audience.
  • When you create blogs consider how long you intend to use them and if they are public, consider how long the content will remain relevant if you are not adding to it all the time. It is best to sunset a blog, by making it private when the information becomes out of date.

Example

There are so many excellent blogs in the world to choose from! However, when considering educational applications I would highlight four main approaches: the editorial workflow; the resource treasure trove; the reflective blog; the project/organisational/subject blog.

The Editorial Workflow

Sports journalism students at the University of Brighton’s Hastings and Eastbourne campuses contribute to Overtime Online, a WordPress-based online news blog. This blog is used for both assignments and for optional posts and is exceedingly vibrant with a variety engaging contributions: http://www.overtimeonline.co.uk/
Overtime Online has been recognised by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) as a leading student website (3).

The Resource Treasure Trove

This type of blog is typically private, used within a class or group of students. This approach uses the blog as a platform to share helpful resources and reflections on practice. These sites can be particularly helpful for students who are on work placement and email digests can be setup in order for students to stay up-to-date with online discussions. This type of blog is used very effectively in our school of education, as evidenced by the Further Education and Training PGCE students this year.

screenshots of fet2015 blog

Screenshots from the Further Education and Training blog

This blog uses the visual theme called Houston, which feels like Twitter and offers an accessible writing threshold. This theme is great because each student is greeted with a personalised posting window, like this:

what's going on

The Reflective Blog

Edublogs and WordPress can be used for reflective blogs, either where a class contributes to a single shared blog site (if the reflections can be shared) or where a student has their own blog where they write reflections. It is crucial to advise students on the privacy settings of reflective blogs, depending upon the content of reflections and that confidentiality rules are observed when reflecting on work placements. This is an area where a studentcentral (Blackboard) blog may be a more suitable tool. Although for longer term reflections, beyond the duration of a module, more advanced students may feel a greater sense of ownership over an Edublog-blog as it is more personalised and customisable. Students can also export their content to a wordpress.com or wordpress.org (and other services) after graduation.

Here is my blog as an example: http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/fjm15/
I use it for my professional reflections as a learning technologist and researcher, but I also use it for my reflective work as a part-time MSc student at the university.

The Project Blog

Project or organisational blogs are used by different areas of the university for publicity and external-facing resources. Blogs can also be used very effectively for research projects in order to provide news about forthcoming publications. For those at the University of Brighton, if you are interested in creating this type of blog please contact our Marketing and Communications department (https://www.brighton.ac.uk/about-us/contact-us/professional-services-departments/index.aspx).

Some examples from Brighton:

 

Tool 2: Studentcentral (Blackboard) blogs

What?

Studentcentral (Blackboard) has a very robust and easy-to-use blogging tool, which can be added to any module or course area using the ‘Tools’ option.

add blogs

Why?

Allows students to write in a safe environment which can be directly linked to learning outcomes in a module or course. The blogs can be individual to the students, shared by a group of students or shared across a module or course. The blog tool can also be assessed and is an approved eSubmission method at the University of Brighton; providing a field for feedback and the streamlined delivery of grades/feedback via My Grades.

Need to know

  • The blog tool allows you to set a deadline, which is useful for summative blog posts.
  • There is greater control of students editing rights than other blogging options, for instance you can allow or disallow students from editing and deleting their own entries or comments.
  • The privacy settings are more stringent, so it can be used as a safe place for reflection and student mentoring, either individually or in a group.
  • You can set thresholds for the blogging activity of the students, for example you can set a “needs marking” flag in the Grade Centre once a student has reached a requisite number of posts and this can be used in conjunction with adaptive release to set conditional release of additional learning content
  • The blog tool is more suitable for undergraduate students, particularly levels 4 and 5 as it strips out the complication and distraction of using a versatile tool like WordPress or Edublogs.
  • Instructor engagement is crucial. If students perceive that their instructor is not actively engaged in checking their blog then they are unlikely to continue using the tool. Leaving comments, responding to points made in student blogs posts is a nice way to stimulate the online dialogue.

Example

  • NI504 – Introduction to Global Health
    NI504 is an undergraduate module which is primarily delivered online with students from the University of Brighton’s Falmer and Eastbourne campuses studying together in the same module area. Nita Muir, module leader for NI504 asks students to self-enroll in topic-related groups in the module. Each group has their own blog and an instructor who leads the topic-related group and oversees the blog. The students write blog posts in their group blog that respond to prompting posts that Nita has written and that are released at strategic points during the module (tip: drafting posts ahead of time and then setting yourself a calendar reminder works well for this, having all the prompts available from the start can feel overwhelming for students and means that the blog’s chronology will be confused). For each of the three set posts, the assigned instructor will write a post responding to points made across all the students’ blog entries. Once the students have completed their three posts the final feedback related to the blogs is delivered to the students via the Grade Centre.
  • NAM112 – Taking Research Forward in the Modern NHS
    Based on case study extract originally from this page: https://staff.brighton.ac.uk/is/learningandteaching/Pages/studentcentral/Blogs-in-studentcentral.aspx
    Nina Dunne, uses studentcentral blogs with her students as a way to stimulate discussion of a pre-module set reading.

    “The studentcentral blogging activity was well received and positively evaluated as the students felt it was a good way to introduce the topic and get them thinking about the topic before the module began. The discussions about the article…demonstrated the usefulness of the blog in developing this level of analysis ready for the start of the module. Even though this was formative all students engaged with the blog and submitted discursive texts…The students are engaged in research and talking like researchers, which is positive.” – Nina Dunne

    NAM112_blogscreenshot.png

    A screenshot of the NAM112 blog from SEM1 2014

    Student feedback:

    “1st time I had used a blog and found it useful”
    studentfeedback.png

    Collected feedback related to the blog activity specifically

 

Today’s activity

Choose one (or both!) of the tools discussed today and complete the activity. Share your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #bright5d

 

Edublogs

You have the option of one of the following tasks:

  • Option 1: not ready to have your own blog yet? Take a look at the blogs in our directory for inspiration: http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/blogs/. You can also try leaving a comment on this blog post by using the form at the foot of this entry.
  • Option 2: If you are at the University of Brighton, setup your own blog by going to the following site: http://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/ reading the instructions (and reviewing our social media policy) and creating your site. Edublogs uses your normal university login. Until your blog has content we recommend the following privacy setting: “Only administrators can visit – good for testing purposes before making it live”.
    only administrators can visit
  • Option 3: If you are external to the university or are interested in just trying out WordPress more generally, setup your own blog at WordPress.com. I have included guidance on the privacy settings for your blog below.
    Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
    Click on site name Click on the dots Click on the cog
    04generalsettings

    Step 4 – Scroll down in the General Settings

    Privacy settings

    Step 5 – Set the privacy options

     

Studentcentral (Blackboard) blog tool

Firstly, familiarise yourself with using this tool by checking our using blogs page

  • If you are at the University of Brighton:
    • Try creating a blog in a current or past module to try it out (you can keep the blog hidden from students while you try it out).
    • Plan to use the blog tool in one of your modules in the future.
    • Think about how you will structure the blogging activity in order to stimulate and maintain student engagement

Useful Resources

References

(1) RDF site summary (RSS) 1.0. (2000). Retrieved April 16, 2016, from https://validator.w3.org/feed/docs/rss1.html

(2) Usage statistics and market share of WordPress for Websites, April 2016. (2009). Retrieved April 16, 2016, from http://w3techs.com/technologies/details/cm-wordpress/all/all

(3) Lambourne, H. (2012, October 15). Shortlist announced for NCTJ’s annual awards – journalism news from HoldtheFrontPage. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2012/news/shortlist-announced-for-nctj-excellence-awards/

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