Wednesday, January 29, 2014

From Blogger to Kidblog to G+ and now...back to Blogger

Blogging serves an important purpose in my class...it has for the last five years or so, and I've written quite a bit about it.  At first, I had my students use Blogger because I wanted them on a real, public blog. I wanted the to be able to feel the same sort of experience that I have with composing my ideas to the world.  But two years ago, this changed. I made the switch for my students over to Kidblog. Blogger was great, but Kidblog afforded me something that I couldn't get with blogger: a stream of student posts as they were published that all students were able to see, as well as the complete ability to moderate students posts, drafts, and comments.  I tried to make the shared visibility piece work with Blogger through teaching my students how to use Google Reader and to follow each other's blogs, but considering the death of Google Reader (and the limited success I had with teaching students to use it) I gave in, adopted the Kidblog platform, and haven't looked back.
In tinkering with Google+ in my classes this year, though, I've made a few discoveries that have got me contemplating the move for my students back over to Blogger.
Tinkering with Google +
At first this year, Google+ was an experiment. My students and I are involved in a collaboration with a couple other schools and this work would require the creation and sharing of all sorts of media...text, images, videos. A private G+ community was the space that we all planned on using to make that sharing and connecting possible.
Google + worked well for this purpose. Really well, actually. Here are a few of the high points I noted about using it:
  • Upload speeds were super quick, if not immediate.
  • Students were able to include text with the content they posted. So, for example , they could post an image of their project and type in commentary about image in their post.
  • The display of the content feed allowed students to quickly browse through and view the work of their classmates without having to open individual links.
  • Viewers can comment on posts as well as +1 them, giving authors two ways to receive feedback on their content posted.
  • Notifications. Love this feature because of how well it keeps users connected to related activity in our digital space.  Someone posts in the community, students receive a notification. Someone leaves a comment or +1, the poster gets a notification. Someone gets mentioned in another post or comment, the person mentioned receives a notification.  Notifications allow a tighter community to happen in a vast digital world.
Of course there are also some drawbacks. Even though we operate in closed communities that I have the ability to moderate, G+ is an open social network with all sorts of activities happening on it. Because of this I have to be real clear with students about my expectations for use and monitor them closely as they use it.  This makes for a little more work on my end.  I have had to have a few individual conversations already with students about appropriate use of the site in school, and I’ve had to be more active in teaching safe and responsible social media use. This is something schools should be teaching anyway, though, and what better teaching context for these skills is there than a real-world social network.  This is the same truth that drove me (initially) to use Blogger.  It is what causes me to feel a little bit bad about switching my students over to Kidblog, and it’s part of what’s causing me now to consider having them switch back.
Rethinking Blogger
In addition to the needs that G+ is already meeting for my class, I think it may also provide a solution to one of the main reasons I veered from Blogger in the first place. This being making student posts readily accessible to classmates as they get published.  Both Blogger and G+ are Google products, and Blogger makes it easy to share a post on Google+ as soon as the publish button is pressed.
If G+ works for other types of media sharing in my class, why not also integrate student blogs?  Students can publish their posts on Blogger, and select the option to share on G+ in the community I’ve created for my classes. Doing so puts their published writing in a place where it can easily be read by students in the class, and because of how the two sites are connected activity on the posts (+1, comments) on one platform is visible in the other.
This, I’m hoping, would give students real experience and skills with using real tools for composing, connecting, and learning in the types of social environments that people use in the real world...not just in a closed school community.  I’m looking forward to piloting this move to Blogger and G+ sharing with my first period class next week. 

The experience will surely give me plenty to reflect on in my next post here….