I’ve given keynotes at conferences from Australia to Alaska for groups of all sizes from 50 to 2,000+. My keynotes focus on providing teachers and school administrators with practical ways to use technology to create better learning experiences for all students. I like to shine the light on others and so I often share examples of great work done by others as well as my own. Click here to book me today.
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On Friday I shared ideas for managing academic blogs. If you haven't started a blog yet, choosing the right blogging platform can help you manage your classroom blog in the long run.
Before we answer the question of which blog platform to use we need to understand some terminology commonly used when talking about blogs. Understanding the terminology will help you make an informed decision about which platform is best for your situation. I wish I had known some of this when I started blogging.
Hosted Blog: A hosted blog is one whose software is maintained by a company for its users. Services like Blogger, WordPress.com, and Tumblr are examples of services on which you can create hosted blogs. The advantage of using a hosted service is that you don’t have to worry about installing software, software updates, server maintenance, or bandwidth capacity. The disadvantage of using a hosted service is that you don’t have access to the servers hosting your blog, the service may limit some customization options (WordPress.com in particular does this), and if the service closes you will be looking for a new place to blog.
Self-hosted Blog: A self-hosted blog is one for which you own the blogging software, you install it on a server or shared server, and you are responsible for all technical maintenance and updates. The advantage of having a self-hosted blog is that you can customize it to your heart’s content, you have access to the server(s) hosting your blog, and you can move your content from one hosting service to another if you choose. The disadvantage of a self-hosted blog is that you do have to feel somewhat comfortable installing the software on a server. Fortunately, most hosting companies have good tutorials on installing popular blogging software. Another disadvantage of self-hosting is that you are responsible for performing all updates and other maintenance tasks. This can be time consuming for new bloggers. Finally, to have a self-hosted blog you will have to buy a domain and pay a monthly or annual hosting fee for your blog. I pay roughly $200 annually to MediaTemple.com for hosting and I have eight domains on my plan. If you decided to go the self-hosted route, Media Temple is my recommendation for a hosting service. They offer excellent 24/7 customer service and I’ve never experienced any downtime since I started using them in April of 2012.
The best blog platforms for teachers.
Blogger: This is Google’s free blogging service. It takes just a minute to start a blog through Blogger. Blogger offers a nice selection of colorful themes and templates to choose from. Customizing the layout of your blog is as easy as dragging and dropping elements into place. You can add additional authors to your blogs. If you have a Gmail account you already have a Blogger account. Just sign into your Gmail account and in the top menu select Blogger from the “more” drop-down menu. G Suite for Education users can have Blogger added to their domains too. The drawback to Blogger is that the only customer support that you’ll find for it comes in the form of Blogger product discussion boards and some YouTube videos.
Edublogs: Edublogs has been around for quite a while and is well known in the educational technology community for offering good customer support. The free version of Edublogs got a huge upgrade last year and it's now my preferred choice for student blogs. Edublogs lets you create and manage your students' accounts, moderate all of their postings, and generally be an "eye in the sky" over your students' blogging activity. But perhaps the best feature of Edublogs is the customer support that they offer even to users of their free plans.
Self-hosting a blog with WordPress: WordPress is free blogging software that you can install on a server. You can get the software at WordPress.org. As mentioned in the “self-hosted” section above, you will have to purchase a domain and a hosting plan to create and maintain your blog. Once you have your blog set-up you can do whatever you like with it including creating and administering accounts for your students to use to write blog entries and comments on your blog.
Just as a point of clarification, people sometimes confuse the WordPress software available to download at WordPress.org with WordPress.com. WordPress.com is a hosted blogging service that uses the WordPress software, but it does limit some of your customization options because you don’t actually control the software. WordPress.com will also insert advertising on your blog unless you upgrade to a paid account.
Comparing other options: Here's my chart comparing seven popular blogging tools for teachers and students. You can view the chart here as a Google Doc or as embedded below through Box.com
One of the questions that I am frequently asked about blogging and have included in my webinar on the topic is “do you recommend that I have just one blog or should all of my students have their own blogs?” There is not a clear cut answer to this question because the answer depends upon how you envision using blogs in your teaching practice.
If your use of blogging is going to be limited to just distributing information about your class(es) to students and their parents, one blog is all that you need. Even if you teach multiple courses, one blog is sufficient if you’re only using it to distribute information. Simply label each new blog post with the name or section of the course for whom the information is intended. From a management standpoint it is far easier to label each blog post on one blog than it is to maintain a different blog for each course that you teach. That is a lesson that took me one semester to learn.
In the fall of 2005 I was teaching five sections of the same ninth grade social studies course and even though the content was the same each class always seemed to be in a different place than the others so I tried to maintain five different blogs. Before long I found myself either posting to the wrong blog or my students were going to the wrong blog because they had forgotten the blog’s URL and asked a classmate from a different section of the course for the blog’s URL. After that semester I decided to create one blog to use as the central online hub for all of my students. All students who took a course with me would have the URL for my blog and go there whenever they needed an update about their courses. I found it very easy to say to students, “go to my blog and click on the label for your class.” Even when I started to have students contribute to group blogs they started out by going to my blog and clicking the link to their group blogs.
If you envision having all of your students write blog posts, proper planning of the blogging process is critical to being able to keep track of your students’ work. Teachers who have twenty-five or fewer students might be able to have each student maintain his or her own blog and keep track of all of them, but even twenty-five blogs is a lot to keep track of. The solution that I recommend is to create a group blog for each class that you teach. Create the blog using whichever platform you like then make each student an author on the blog. To track who wrote what on the blog make sure that the author’s name (first names only or use pen names with young students). Alternatively, you can have students label or tag posts with their names or pen names to sort out who wrote what. As the creator and owner of the group blog you will be able to see who wrote what from your administrative panel, but that doesn’t help parents who want to check the blog to see what their children have been sharing.
Keeping track of individual student blogs Teachers who want students to use blogs to experiment with web design and coding will have to allow each student to maintain his or her own blog. Likewise, if the goal is to have each student showcase work for college or internship applications then each student will need to be the sole author on that blog. Keeping track of all of those blogs is a challenge, but a manageable challenge. One quick management method is to create a spreadsheet of all of your students’ blogs. Another quick management strategy is to create a list of links to the blogs then post that list in a side column on your own blog so that you or anyone else visiting your blog can quickly jump to a student’s blog. Finally, you can use a service like Feedly to subscribe to all of your students' blogs.
On a related note, if you're trying to convince a teacher to start a blog, this slideshow that I made ten years ago still illustrates one reason to have a blog that every teacher can relate to.
We use computers every day. But how many of us actually know how they work? Sure we know how to use the software, but I'm thinking about the hardware. How does that aspect of your computer work? Code.org has a new video series that addresses that question and more.
Applications for Education If you're planning to do any classroom projects with Raspberry Pi or Arduino, this series of videos could provide a nice primer for students. Similarly, the videos might help students complete the picture of how computers work after completing a hands-on Raspberry Pi or Arduino activity.
H/T to Open Culture.
When I was at the BETT Show last month I learned about the planned expansion of Microsoft's Learning Tools including Immersive Reader. Part of that expansion rolled out yesterday with the addition of Learning Tools for Word on iPads.
You and your students can now use Immersive Reader on their iPads in the Word app. Immersive Reader will allow your students to change the spacing of words, change column size, and change page colors. But most significant is the read aloud function of Immersive Reader for Word. If you're not familiar with how Immersive Reader works, take a look at the video here.
I spent about six hours on Monday and Tuesday trying to fix a formatting problem on PracticalEdTech.com. It was an infuriating little problem that was driving me batty. I Googled solutions, I tinkered with the CSS, I uninstalled plug-ins that I thought were conflicting, and I was about to give up when I diagnosed the problem. It was a two second fix once I realized my mistake. Watch the following video for the explanation of the mistake that I made and how to avoid making the same mistake that I made.
It's Valentine's Day today and President's Day is coming up so I'm having a sale on three Practical Ed Tech courses. I'm calling it a "love your presidents sale."
During this sale you can save 20% on my Teaching History With Technology and G Suite for Teachers courses. You can take 20% off when you purchase the Ed Tech Starter Kit. Just use the code "presidents" during registration to get the discount.
Use code "presidents" to save 20%In Teaching History With Technology you will learn how to develop engaging and challenging learning activities through the use of tools like Google Earth and Maps, video production tools, and virtual reality. You will also learn how to help your students become better researchers.
G Suite for Teachers is an on-demand course that was designed for teachers who are new to using the powerful the tools within G Suite for Education. In this course you’ll learn everything you need to know to feel comfortable using all of the core G Suite tools with your students. This course is more than just a series of “how to” videos. You’ll be provided with concrete examples of activities that you can use and adapt to use in your classroom.
The Ed Tech Starter Kit provides you with four hours of professional development in the form of four on-demand webinar recordings. The webinars included are Search Strategies Students Need to Know, Fun With Formative Assessments, Google Forms & Sheets for Beginners, and How to Build a Classroom Blog. All webinars are accompanied by printable handouts for your reference.
Back in December I decided that I needed to spend some time giving some of Microsoft's products a good, honest try. I did this to be able to give a more balanced comparison to rival Google products. Some of the Microsoft products I don't like as much as Google's offerings, I still prefer Google Forms. And some of Microsoft's products I like better than the Google equivalent. For example, I now like OneNote more than Google Keep.
Much to the surprise of many, I have recently switched to using OneNote for most of my bookmarking, note writing, and to-do lists. Before I started using it I knew that OneNote on a laptop was more robust that Google Keep. But it wasn't until I started using the Android version of OneNote that I was sold on it. Here are five ways to take notes with OneNote for Android.
1. Bookmarking I love being able to quickly choose to save either a link or a whole page. Sometimes I save whole pages because that helps me remember why I bookmarked a link in the first place.
2. Picture notes I use a physical whiteboard in my office to make lists, write reminders to myself, and to brainstorm. Before I erase anything I take a picture that I crop and save in OneNote.
3. Voice Notes I don't use this option that often, but I like knowing that I can add a recording as a stand-alone note or add it to another note including a to-do list.
4. Checklist Whenever I'm starting to feel like there is too much on my plate, I make a list of tasks and attack them one-by-one.
5. Scribble Notes Math is hard to type. OneNote's drawing tools are easy to use to handwrite anything including math problems.
A few weeks ago Padlet added the option to record audio directly in a note. By my count, that marked the ninth way that students can added notes to a Padlet. I made the following video to explain and demonstrate all of the types of notes that can be added to a Padlet wall.
Nine Ways to Add Notes to Padlet Walls - YouTube
Nine types of notes that can be added to Padlet.
Video recorded with webcam/ mobile phone camera.
Audio recorded directly on Padlet.
Scribble/ free hand drawing on Padlet.
Pictures taken with webcam/ mobile phone camera.
Google Search to add image, video, GIF, or link.
If you enable these options, you can comment and or vote on the notes added to a Padlet wall.
Blue Whale VR is a free virtual reality app that provides a 360 tour of a blue whale's anatomy. The app isn't terribly interactive. The only interactive element is that students can move around the whale during the tour. If you don't have VR viewers, you can access the tour through this YouTube video.
Blue Whale 360 VR Experience - YouTube
The app could be a good to pair with this TED-Ed lesson titled Why Are Blue Whales So Enormous? The video that the lesson is based on uses some neat animations to explain how much blue whales eat, how the eat, and why they need to eat so much.
Why are blue whales so enormous? - Asha de Vos - YouTube