It’s only taken me most of the semester to figure this out but I’ve finally found a theme that I think is perfect for class blogging.
To provide some context – at the beginning of this semester I had managed to figure out how to syndicate all of my student blogs, how to use categories and aggregate the blogs to a specific page on my class website… Kind of like this… This looks nifty and I feel cool saying “I aggregate my student blogs onto my class website” but the concern I had/have was that the unorganized, sort of stream of consciousness look, really does not make participation easy for students. What I mean is that without an easy way to access peers’ blogs, students often default to looking at the last blog posted since that is how they show up in the aggregated blog roll. I don’t want students to blog for the sake of blogging; I want blogs to serve as an opportunity for collaboration and discussion beyond the walls of the classroom (both for my FTF and OL classes). The aesthetics of how the blogs appear need to facilitate this interaction as opposed to serve as a barrier… the way I see it is that if it’s difficult to participate using blogs, I may as well use a discussion board. Along with everyone else, I often get excited about digital tools but I always want to stay grounded in making sure that the use of these tools make sense to achieve the outcomes of the class, assignment, module, etc.
Having said that… I love the idea of requiring students to create a digital identity and enjoy (though sometimes it hurts) helping them build their digital literacy (more about my thoughts on that is here).
I’m excited to share that I found the SOLUTION for making blog posts organized in such a manner that I believe makes the process of student participation easier. At the beginning of this semester, I located a plugin called Class Blogging that looked JUST like what I wanted but I couldn’t (and didn’t have the time) to figure out how to use it. Well… today I figured it out and while I have some things I’d like to see updated about the theme that I’m sure some techie person at CI can help me with..hint hint.. (like a dynamic navigation menu or at least sub-items on the menu), I’m SOOO impressed with the functionality that it provides… check out the list here. THANK YOU OBERLIN COLLEGE! The plugin comes with additionally functionality I did not know I wanted (like an admin page that calculates word count!). I’ve enabled this theme and plugin to one of my course websites to share with you. If anyone knows how to update themes and is willing to work with me, I would love to get help on tweaking this theme a little.
As a side note, I use FeedWordPress to aggregate my student blogs which automatically pushes all of my students to “contributors” to my blog. This means I can edit their info, including their avatar, in the users section of WP. I **WISH** I would have been clearer about what I want my students to note as their “display name as” name when they created their blogs because that would have saved me a lot of time editing their names (and figuring out who they are since some got a bit creative with their names). I also realize that if I did not want my students to create their own blog, I could add them as contributors to my blog… yeah… it MIGHT have taken me all semester to figure that out but… the light bulb finally went off.
Now that I feel good about the visual representation of blogs on my course sites, I think I might consider adding another layer of participation to some of my modules by assigning students (or groups) to the role of moderating the week’s blogs. Oh and… tags… I need to explore those since the Class Blogging theme provides the option to aggregate tags into a word cloud for the class which could not only be cool but could provide a great source of class discussion and could possibly be used for formative assessment.