Communication Tools for Collaboration

The backbone of any type of collaborative effort takes place in the context of communication. Many features of collaboration tools are geared toward the facilitation and management of effective communication among team members.  Depending on your grade level the following collaborative technology tools can facilitate various communication functions: Email, IM, blogs, discussion forums, virtual meetings, web conferencing and social media.  Two of the communication tools that I have used the most in the classroom are blogs and discussion forums.


WhyBlog?A blog is an easily created and updateable website that allows an author(s) to publish instantly to the Internet.  A blog is different than a website that relies on consistent information and content.  Blogs are comprised of reflections and conversations.  In his book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, Will Richardson states, “Blogs engage readers with ideas and questions and links.  They ask readers to think and to respond.  They demand interaction.”  Because blogs can be posted daily (or multiple times a day) they are often short and posted in reverse chronological order.

Educators who blog
 do so for many reasons.  Some reflect on their daily work while others share resources and links to educational sites on the Web. Some post lesson plans or engage in responses to other educational bloggers.   Readers can leave comments to individual posts and other visitors to the site can view those comments and respond with their own comments or questions.  The blog posts can include images, videos, podcasts, and links to other posts and citations.

When educators give students the opportunity to blog about their learning  a new type of interactive experience deepens and enhances the learning process.  Students learn to read more critically, think about that reading more analytically, and write more clearly.  They are building relationships with peers, teachers, mentors and professionals who interact with them through their blog.  Classroom blogs can be created by individual students  or authored by the entire class.  They can showcase student work, be a collaborative space, ePortfolio, class portal or even an online filing cabinet of shared images, resources or knowledge content.  Blogs are the ultimate collaborative learning tool because the real benefit of blogging comes when there is an authentic audience that reads and responds to the blog posts and then the student bloggers respond back.  Comments4Kids is a way for students and teachers to find blogs to comment on and to get their own posts commented on.  Comments4Kids is a great way to teach your students appropriate digital citizenship skills in an authentic learning environment.  Think blogging is just for older kids?  Check out this list of primary age blogs organized by blogging platform.

Some student-friendly blogging platforms are:  EduBlogsKidBlogClass BlogmeisterePals, and Blogger (not part of Google Apps for Education core suite and must be activated by admin).  Teachers who want to blog might also consider these platforms:  WordPressPosterousTypePadLiveJournal orTumblr.


Discussion Boards

An online discussion board provides asynchronous written conversation about a topic or theme.  One of benefits of using a discussion board is that it levels the playing field and gives every student an opportunity to share and have their opinions read.  This is especially helpful for the introvert who needs time to compose their thoughts without being interrupted during a face-to-face classroom discussion.  It can also extend the conversation beyond the classroom, provide a platform to demonstrate understanding of the content being learned and build connectiveness among classmates.  The limitations of not seeing facial expressions, body language and vocal inflections can sometimes cause confusion with written text as opposed to web conferencing, but the convenience of composing offline, posting when ready, and ease of use makes written discussion forums a popular choice with older elementary through high school students.  Caitlin Tucker has some great advice:  Dos and Don’ts of Online Student Communication.  Edutopia has put together the Mastering Online Discussion Forum Resource Guide at:

Some popular platforms for discussion forums are:

  • Learning Management Systems: SchoologyHaiku (both have Google Apps integration), Blackboard, and Moodle (Open Source).  These are much more involved and will require IT department to set up the system for a school.
  • Online learning platforms:  Schoology (Individual teacher), Edmodo and Collaborize Classroom –  These are more of a social learning network but also include discussion forums.  They can easily be set up by an individual teacher.

Join our 40-day blogging challenge

My 8th grade students are participating in a 40-day blog challenge.  Each day two different students post an idea on our Tread Lightly blog of how to be a good steward of the environment by recycling,  reducing emissions, using less packaging, planting trees, etc.  Our blog project was inspired by “Tread Lightly” a 40-day challenge sponsored by Taking It Global.  Go to: and read about their challenge.

From October 24 to December 2, we will join others around the world in blogging about our commitments and encouraging others to do the same on our class blog located at:


Since I only see the 8th graders twice a week I needed them to work on this project outside of class.  I divided the students into teams of four.  Each member has a specific job to assist their teammates with their blog posts.  Here are the roles:

  • Production editor – Your job will be to make sure your teammates post their entries on the correct date.  You will also be in charge of moderating any blog comments on your posts and assign someone to respond to the comment.
  • Technical editor – Your job is to help your teammates with how to post their blog entry.  You should be pretty good with computers and willing to spend some time learning about Edublogs.
  • Creative editor – Your job will be to assist your teammates in selecting images, media or creative entries to go along with their blog post.
  • Communications editor – Your job will be to check the spelling and grammar of your teammates blog posts and maintain communication between group members.

Each teammate drafts their blog post in a shared Google Document and we maintain the 40 day schedule on a shared spreadsheet.  Writing on a shared document allowed the students to write and edit their post and see what their teammates were planning.  I wasn’t too concerned about duplicate ideas – I just encouraged the students to put their spin on their idea or support it with different facts.

Students are required to support their writing with facts and citations and give credit for images used.  Some students are planning on making motivational posts using Big Huge Labs and comics with ToonDoo to post along their writing. Towards the end of the 40 days each team will add an embedded Google Form to survey their readers or check their knowledge.

One of the ways to be successful whenever you start a blogging project is to make sure someone is reading the blog and students are receiving comments.  I signed up our class with Comments4Kids  Teachers list their class blogs on this wiki and I direct my student to visit those student blogs and leave comments and have them invite those students to follow our 40day challenge.

We’ve received comments from a variety of classes – like students from Gary Bertoia’s 9th grade class at Saigon South International School in Vietnam and Russ Goerend’s 6th Grade Language Arts and Social Studies classes.  Having other students read and comment on their blog post have motivated our class and raised the quality of writing.  Students are teaching each other and moving forward with this project with little teacher intervention though I do moderate all incoming comments.

Please consider joining our 40-day challenge and tell us your idea for reducing your carbon footprint on the environment at

Blogging and beyond

Blogging can be used in any number of ways. It can be used to form a reading discussion forum or posting short current events articles and invite students’ thoughts. You can use it to foster communication among multiple classes or serve as a student progress log on a lab or research assignment.  Some teachers use it to post photos and homework assignments online.  No matter how you decide to use your class blog, make sure you encourage the conversation but at the same time moderate the comments.

Activities to do with your class blog with your students or school community:

  1. Post a homework question and each student writes a one-paragraph response.
  2. Start a discussion by posing a question and require that students post several times over the course of a week or curriculum unit.  Invite parents, other grades or schools to comment on student work
  3. Illustrate ideas and connections through written and visual explanations.
  4. Have students post discussion questions for the next day’s class.  This works great if you know students are having a hard time understanding a concept and they post questions they want you to review.
  5. Have students write their notes for the day.  Assign one student per day to be the scribe for the class. This is great for discussion-based classes where you want students to focus on the discussion and not have to worry about taking notes.
  6. Post progress reports on team projects.  Students can post their work to the blog so that others can see what they are doing and comment on each other’s work.
  7. Have students create their own blogs for any independent study
  8. Conversations around books:  If you know the author of a book you are reading, have students write feedback and have the author respond, if possible.
  9. Participate in a student blogging/comment challenge.  For a set period of time, challenge your students to post or comment on another student’s blog. Sample at:

Blogs are great if you are looking for an organized, formal connection with other global classrooms. Cross-country projects can open a wider world for your students while meeting lessons objectives and standards. Students can discuss global issues and compare how each country is working towards solving the problem. Students can share informational links on how they are making a difference or simply just learn more global issues

Organized programs:

  • Taking IT Global Online community of youth interested in global issues and creating positive change.
  • iEarn International Education and Resource Network:  A non-profit global network that enables teachers and students to collaborate on projects that enhance learning and make a difference in the world.
  • ePals K-12 online community that safely connect, collaborate and build community across 200 countries and territories.
  • Youthink! gears international development issues to a youth audience and encourages young people to get involved in solutions to global problems, such as HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, and gender inequality.
  • Global SchoolNet: Focus is to develop literacy and communication skills, foster teamwork and collaboration, encourage workforce preparedness and create multi-cultural understanding.

These social networks are great places to start looking for teachers who have planned a project and need collaborators, or just a place to see other projects and how they work.

Blogging in an educational setting

What is a blog?

A blog is a type of website maintained by an individual or a class with written entries or embedded items such as graphics or videos. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order.

Blogging can be used for reading and writing, conversations around topics, communicating with a larger audience or sharing examples from learning portfolios. It can be an effective venue for networked learning. Reading and commenting to one another creates a dialogue that requires persuasive writing and critical thinking.

Blogging Websites

There are many different platforms you can use to set your classroom blog. The most popular options for FREE classroom blogs are:

All of the sites have step-by-step instructions for signing up for a blog.  You will need to register with an email address and password and choose a name for your blog.  There will be a choice of themes and page layouts but these can be changed anytime.  Be mindful of your school’s policy about posting student work/images online or blogs that contain advertisements.  Consider having your students sign a “Blogging Agreement” and receive administrator/parent approval first.

Educational Objective

The first step is to decide the purpose of the student blog.  How will writing, sharing and posting comments to classmates meet the standards or educational objectives of the lesson? Some other questions to answer are:

  • What would you like students to understand?
  • What kind of authentic task can you design for your students to demonstrate their understanding?
  • What supporting activities or tasks need to be completed to help your students construct their understanding?

Once the objective is determined, the next step is to decide whether each student is going to have their own individual blog or are they going to share one class blog with each student as a contributor (recommended for new bloggers).

User Accounts

Once the blog account is set up, you will need to create additional users for each one of your students. Enter a username for each new user. Remember that the username is visible on the blog when posting or commenting.  Consider only using first names to protect your student’s privacy.  Understand that many of the blog websites require an email address* and password.

(*Hint:  Create a teacher email account using Gmail. If the teacher account is, all you have to do is add a “+studentname” before the @ symbol to make a linked account. Therefore mail sent to will go straight to and students will not need their own email accounts).

With Edublogs and WordPress you can have different roles assigned to individual users.

  • Administrator – has access to all the administration features – usually the teacher.
  • Editor – can publish posts, as well as manage other people’s posts.
  • Author – can publish and manage their own posts.
  • Contributor – can write and manage their posts but not publish posts.
  • Subscriber – can read comments and receive newsletters.

Consider assigning younger students as Contributors so Editors or Administrators can preview and approve the posts before publishing to the general public.

With all of these blogging platforms you can restrict your blog to only readers you choose if you need additional privacy. However, these readers will need to log in before reading the blog, adding an extra step.

Posting and Commenting

The basic logistics of formatting a blog post are similar among the various blogging platforms.  Below is a sample of a typical post.

1.  Choose a descriptive blog post title – keep it short.

2.  Write your post in the body area.  Consider writing your post offline first so you have time to edit, revise and check spelling.  Use the “Paste from Word” icon to remove any type of previous formatting. Sometimes Microsoft Word adds extra code that will be hard to edit in your post.

3.  You can format your blog with color, bold, italic, numbering, bullets and alignment.  Consider using headings and keep your paragraphs short.  Insert hyperlinks to connect to other websites and resources.

4.  Most blogging platforms will allow you to embed a variety of media:  images, audio, video, polls, etc.  You can always edit the HTML code directly to embed other media formats.

5.  You can “tag” each blog post with a several words to indicate the topic.  Separate tags with commas.

6.  For a shared class blog, consider creating a category name for each student so you can sort the blogs posts by student name.

7.  Publish the blog entry or send it for review.

Encourage your students to maintain high standards of writing since blogs usually have a public audience.  Student writing should be organized and written with a strong voice.  The work should be edited for spelling, capitalization, punctuation and grammar.  Cite any sources used.

Media projects like PowerPoint assignments might need to be uploaded to a file sharing site like and then embedded into the blog for viewing.


The type of commenting you want to encourage with a academic or educational blog should be related to the content of the blog post.  Blogging is a conversation.  Comments in a blog should encourage further discussion and be connected to the author’s point of view.  Comments can have a variety of ideas: sharing additional links or resources, making a connection with a new idea, sharing a new perspective or even challenging or debating a topic.
Encourage students to avoid dead-end comments or write something just for the sake of commenting with replies like “good job” or “I like your post”.  Teach your students comment starters like:

  • This reminds me of ..
  • I noticed that you said …
  • I would like to know more about …
  • I’m not sure that …

Consider gouping your students into “learning circles”.  The 4-5 members of the group read and comment on each other’s blogs before the rest of the class. This ensures everyone receives comments – not just some students.

Moderate and approve all comments before allowing them to be published.  This prevents inappropriate comments being posted on the blog – especially from spammers.  Remember: comments make by classmates are public to everyone.  They should be written with proper spelling and grammar too.

Online Safety

Blogging is great opportunity to teach about digital citizenship.  Teach students to only first names and refrain from identifying their school or location.  Have students use avatars or use creative filters with Photoshop for personal images to protect identities.  Encourage students to be kind when commenting and to take blog writing seriously.  Remember to write for your intended audience especially if the blog is set to public.

Blogging Resources

Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms by Will Richardson. Published by Corwin Press, 2008.  ISBN-13:  978-1412959728

Classroom Blogging by David Warlick.  Published by, 2005.  ISBN-13: 978-1411629035

SupportBlogging! Website to support and promote an understanding of the benefits of educational blogging.

Blogging with my students

This term I decided to make some changes to the blogging activity that I do as part of the Digital Citizenship unit.  In the past, students chose a topic based around the theme “We must be the change we wish to see in the world”. We are continuing with the theme and students will still get to choose their topic, but they must choose a topic that fits in one of four categories (the students chose the themes):Lockers
1.  Environment / Animals
2.  Digital Citizenship / Tech Issues
3. Health Issues (drugs, diseases, teen stress)
4. Social Justice / World Issues (poverty, war, etc).

Students have planned out their posts according to their interest and will blog 1-2 times a week along with their group members in their respective group blog.

Students will be formed into learning circles and be expected to respond to group member posts by writing appropriate comments that ask questions, give more information or extend the conversation.

Now when the term ends, the four blogs will continue with new students who will carry on the message. No one’s work will be deleted and students can revisit the blogs after they’ve left this class.

The class is very receptive to the idea. I love having my students connect online and see the value of using technology for good.  Along the way I will be teaching them about their digital footprint, keeping their privacy intact, and appropriate use of images and citations.  This real-world activity brings up lively discussions about how they use technology outside of school.

I also am blogging along with my students.  I want model my thinking process and appropriate commenting.  Here is my first post:

Digital Citizenship – Why I Chose This Topic

As a technology evangelist, I take it upon myself to educate students and parents about the benefits of “technology networks” to support student learning.  There is way too much hysteria in the news about “sexting” and the dangers of predators scouring social networks looking for their next prey.  The reality is that teens (and adults) enjoy the connections made with online networks and it rarely does harm.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful.  We should be.  But the benefits outweigh the harm.  What I hope to accomplish in this blog is to educate readers about ideas for staying safe online, what it means to be a “digital citizen” in the 21st century and tips for using technology for good.  Enjoy and please comment if you feel so inclined.

Photo credit:

Tech Tip Tuesday: Google Blogger

Blogger is Google’s blogging platform. A blog (short for Web log) is a Web page that serves as a publicly accessible journal for an individual or group. Typically updated daily, blogs often reflect the personality of the author or are based around a hobby or theme. The postings are organized chronologically. A blog post can be “commented” on by others, allowing for a dialogue on a the topic of the post.

blogger2Educators have embraced blogging as an authentic way to encourage reading and writing throughout the curriculum. It’s also a great way to share resources with other educators. More uses for blogging in education.

To get started with Blogger, go to and enter your Google username and password. Click the Create a Blog link to get started. Choose a name and address (URL) for your blog and one of the pre-designed templates. You can customize your blog’s design and add gadgets such as slideshows, user polls, or photos. If you want more precise control over your blog’s layout, you can also use the Edit HTML feature. Finally you can add information to your personal profile and customize how your blog looks.

bloggerAdding your first post is simple. Choose a title and add your information in the post area. You can choose basic formatting features such as fonts, colors, alignment, and bullets/numbering. You can insert images along with your text as well as hyperlinks and videos. Blogger accepts AVI, MPEG, QuickTime, Real and Windows Media files but they must be less than 100MB in size.

When you’re writing a post, you’ll have a space at the bottom of the form marked “Labels for this post. This allows you to create keywords for your blog posts.

By default, your blog is completely public, and can be read by anyone on the Internet. However, if you want to keep it private, you can do that, too. Your blog can have up to 100 authors and you can limit your blog to only be view by authors – which is great for private groups and organizations.

Check your school’s policy about using Blogger with your students.

Here are some examples of classroom or educator blogs that use Blogger:

Sarah, Plain and Tall Book Blog –

Student Reflections on Night –

Tech 4 ESL –

Web 2.0 Book study –

Math 306-04 –

Link to directory of educational blogs

If this is the future of technology .. I want in!

Watch this video from TED about Sixth Sense – being developed by MIT

Sixth Sense is a mini-projector coupled with a camera and a cellphone—which acts as the computer and your connection to the Cloud, all the information stored on the web. Sixth Sense can also obey hand gestures, like in the movie Minority Report.

If this is the future of technology …  I want in!!!

Annual Report II contest entry

Dan Meyer has done it again – another contest – Annual Report II

The basic idea is to DESIGN information in four ways to represent 2008 as you experienced it. If you look at my second graph (below) you’ll understand why I missed the first Annual Report contest – I was on a self-imposed “no computer” hiatus during January 2008.  But this year I used the opportunity to play around with Photoshop – something I never take the time to do.

These four slides best represent 2008 for me: School, Learning, Family and my PLN. 2008 has been a great year for me professionally.  I gave presentations at three conferences (ITSC, NCCE and ILC) and  I attended the Google Teacher Academy.  I blogged regularly and was active in many online learning communities. I joined the Oregon EdTech Cadre and met tech-loving teachers from all over the state.    I feel more comfortable in my role as a Computer Teacher than I ever have before and I think that is reflected in my teaching.

With that in mind, here are my four slides:





Slide 1: This bar graph shows the number of students who walked through my classroom door in 2008, starting first with the end of Fall /Winter Semester 1, Spring Semester 2 and Fall Semester of the next school year.  I teach 6 different classes each term.  There are not a lot of electives at my small high school and many students choose to take the advanced computer classes their Junior & Senior year.  I love having them all – but it does make for a busy day and lots of planning.  Image credit:

Slide 2: I started this blog in July of 2007 – right when I was finishing up my Master’s of Educational Technology from Pepperdine University.  I had just spent the last year and half blogging for the program and realized I enjoyed the connections I made and the reflective writing.  I never really considered myself much of a writer before but I enjoyed sharing what I was doing with my students in my classroom and resouces I discovered. I wrote 120 posts in 2008 – which I’m sure isn’t a lot for some people – but it is for me.  This 3-D cone graph was made in Excel.

Slide 3: This slide is a timeline of the major family events for 2008.  We traveled to Arizona for Spring Break to visit my husband’s parents and took a side trip to Sedona.  My youngest son graduated from high school and the summer was busy with 2 weddings and trips to the beach and lakes.  We traveled up  to Gonzaga University in the fall for Parent’s weekend and I attended the ILC conference in October – where I met the charming Mr. Meyer himself <smile>.

Slide 4: My Personal Learning Network exploded in 2008.  I have met and stayed in contact with so many fabulous teachers from the Google Teacher Academy, the Oregon EdTech Cadre and the conferences I have attended.  My favorite part of ILC was folks coming up to me and saying, “Hey, I follow you on Twitter – and then the next thing you know we are sitting next to each other, sharing ideas, commenting on each other’s blogs and entering fun contests!

Wow … I wonder what 2009 will bring?

I encourage you to participate.  Alice Mercer already has posted her four slides.  Come on – it’s fun!

Student reflections on blogging

changeAfter discussing an article about how the Obama administration is using technology to make a difference and encouraging community service, I asked my students in my 8th Grade and Computer Applications classes  to reflect on their experience of using technology to “Be the Change in The World”.  Here are a few responses taken from their blogs:

I don’t really know if I have changed the world all that much…  I’m just glad for a chance to help get the word out.  Hopefully this will help in some small way to change what’s going on.   ~Bree

Having this blog has shown me the power of the web. It is becoming more and more apparent that the web will become a very important tool for people all over, from high schoolers to Barack Obama. Even young children are just as web saavy as their parents. With the mass global population online we must use it to get information out to change the world, whether it be steroids and drug awareness, global warming, or recyclling. We must be the change we want to see in the world!  ~Taylor

Using blogs to tell others about abortion has really helped me think about how big of an issue this is. When children and teens of this day and age use the modern materials, such as the internet, to tell others about what they think on big issues in our world today, it gets people thinking about what they can do.  ~Emily

Creating and writing in a blog was interesting. I learned a lot from having one. I hope that my blog changes the world, its hard to say if it did. If my blog affected atleast one person that would make me satisfied. A lot of people use technology so it is smart to use technology a source to get through to people and change the world.  ~Ashley

Using technology to improve the world is very effective because many young people use it. Spreading news through technology will help change the world because when they see the serious problems that our world faces, they will hopefully be motivated to help out to make the world a better place for themselves and for future generations.  ~Sophia

I used this blog to get the word out about other fuels besides gasoline we can use. This experience was good, but because the blog was so infrequently visited it is hard to feel the word reached very many people.  ~Eddie

Using a blog is could be a smart way to change the world and spread your ideas. By using a blog, you can access the information about whatever the issue is at any time.  ~Marcus

Having a blog has been exciting and a relief to me. Exciting in the sense that I met new people who commented on my blog and I learned how to manage a blog. A relief, because I feel like I’ve helped at least one person out there dealing with cancer or family members with cancer, just as I am. I think that using technology is very useful in many ways: it can spread information very quickly, connect many different people, as well as be personally useful to the user. To be honest, I wish I could have had more time to work on this blog; it was probably one of favorite projects from this whole semester.  ~Vivian

Blogging to make a difference

I read with interest Will Richardson’s recent article in Edutopia about an 11 yr old girl named Laura who started a blog last year titled 25 days to make a difference.  In the article, Richardson shares the story of how she gets her ideas for community service projects.

Earlier this year, as I was listening to a presentation by an eleven-year-old community volunteer and blogger named Laura Stockman about the service projects she carries out in her hometown outside Buffalo, New York, an audience member asked where she got her ideas for her good work.  Her response blew me away. “I ask my readers,” she said.

Like Laura, my Middle and High school students are blogging around the theme:  “We must be the change we wish to see in the world”.  After receiving parental OK, my students choose a topic for their blog.  The topics range from global warming, recycling, humane society, pollution, alternative energies, friendliness to more serious topics such as abortion, teen steroid use, human trafficking and cancer.

I direct their beginning posts and also model for them what kind of posts they can have in their blog.  Recently every student embedded a Google form in their blog to either quiz readers about their knowledge of their topic or survey their opinions.  Below is a sample that I made for my blog titled “Mrs. Cassinelli’s guide to Digital Citizenship”.

Our currently focus in our blogging is to encourage interactivity and create interest in the blog  topic.  Having a survey gets readers to your blog but we are also trying to encourage commenting and conversation.

I taught my students about memes.  Each student is reflecting on their topic and creating a meme and challenging classmates to blog about THEIR topic when tagged.

Here’s a sample of a recent post by one of my students:

Danika tagged me with Mrs.Cassinelli’s meme.

The Rules:

  1. On your blog link my blog saying you are participating the the “Digital Citizenship Meme”.
  2. Write a short story about something you regret posting online. You don’t have to reveal too much personal information. Explain what you wish you would have done.   If you have not made any regrets – explain why.
  3. Write digitalcitizenshipmeme as the keyword for your post.
  4. Tag 2 additional people to participate in the Meme.  Link their names to their blogs.

I’ve always been a concious member of digital society. I’m not a flamer, I don’t give out personal information, etc. etc. I guess my biggest regret reguarding the topic would be not teaching my sister about the dangers. She even TALKS to some random kid over the phone! She met him online. It scares me, to tell the truth. My little sis talking to someone when she doesn’t even know his real name, while he knows hers? It’s… just inviting trouble.

Ahem. I tag:

Allie and Janice.

Students are also participating in a comment challenge for two weeks and tracking the number of posts they comment on and number of words.  Luckily we recently have made contacts with some other classrooms ( ) that are blogging and look forward to sharing our message of change with classrooms around the world.

If you’d like to participate – leave the URL of your class or student blog or visit ours at

Watch out world.  Today’s youth are going to be catalysts of change.

Defending my blogging assignment

Each semester my students create their own blogs around the theme “We must be the change we wish to see in the world”. I use this activity as part of my digital citizenship unit.  I want the students to experience what it means to be a digital citizen in an authentic manner.

I’m careful.  I clearly explain to the students the purpose of the blogging project and I send home a letter to the parents asking them to approve their child’s topic,  Many students choose topics such as pollution, recycling, global warming, mosquito nets, charity, alternative fuels, etc..  See this post about how I use Web 2.0 tools in my blog assignments.

This fall, I had one parent who was concerned about allowing her Freshman daughter to post online and participate in the blogging activity.  The signed permission slip came back with lots of questions and several email communications questioned the value of the project (I think she thought it was going to be more like a journal).

Here is a copy of my response:

Dear Parent,

I understand you concerns about the blogging project and protecting your child’s privacy – that is exactly why I am teaching this digital citizenship unit.

Too often today students don’t even think twice about what they are posting online and who will be reading their posts.  I feel the best way to teach students about Digital Citizenship is to have them practice it in a safe & protected environment.
Here are some of the things I am doing with the students.
1.  Draft your message before you post.  Take time to carefully think out what you want to say and how you will say it.  Each student drafts their posts in a Google document before posting to their blog.  I encourage them to only blog about the topic at hand, “change the world”.  We do not discuss where we attend school, our activities, etc.  This is not a personal journal.  The only difference between our blogging project and making a PowerPoint is that your classmates can have a conversation about the topic.

2.  Design your blog carefully.  Some students did put their photos on their site immediately – and now are correcting that.  I have showed the kids how to take an image and modify it in Photoshop to protect their privacy or consider using an avatar to represent them instead.

3.  I have only invited a few schools who participated in our blogging project last Spring to comment on the blogs.  Most of the commenting done right now is done by students in the student’s  learning circle (3-4 students).  I moderate all comments before they are posted and don’t hesitate to delete comments that are not well written, have nothing to do with the topic, or are inappropriate (though none have been).
Too many of student’s assignments in school are not relevant to their lives or do not encourage communication among students.  I believe that blogging (in a safe environment) can do that.  Having an authentic audience to write for and having classmates comment on the writing raises the level of quality of student work and engagement.  They are eager to see what their friends say and in return – create posts that are interesting and “comment worthy”.
I do  respect your decision and your concerns, though.  That is why I have parents sign and approve the topic.  I still want your child to participate and offer a couple of solutions.

1.  Change all posts to “private”.  I will be the only one who can view and comment.
2.  Change all posts to “P3” or “V** Computers” – this will limit viewing and comments from either her class or only students from our school.
3.  Allow posts to be public but I moderate all posts and comments (I already approve all comments).
4.  Remove blog completely and all the assignments will be done on a Google Document.
I am happy to report that the parent agree with my philosophy and the girl may blog along with her classmates.
Teachers – if you are planning on blogging with  your students – clearly plan out your goals, get parent buy in and moderate all comments and posts.  I’m glad I was prepared.

Happy Blogaversary to me!

One year ago I began blogging at edtech VISION. Previous to that I had only blogged for my Masters of Educational Technology about my Action Research Project for Pepperdine University and occasional posts at Classroom 2.0.

Anyone who knows me will understand that a one-year anniversary is a big deal for me. I’m the queen of startups. I get excited about something new and charge head first full of excitement and energy.

My husband teases me that I have two speeds – fanatic and couch potato. I will begin a new project – whether its a new piece of software to learn or painting a room – and I jump in and completely immerse myself in the project. I will spend hours focused and gleam as much information as I can. My enthusiasm continues for awhile and then slowly the newness wears off and the project turns into “work” and there the project stays. Sometimes half-finished, sometimes done (but not cleaned up – yes, honey I am admitting to the mess I left in the garage) or sometimes i only occasionally pay attention but my heart is not really into it.

This blog almost became victim to my disease. Last Fall I went for almost a month without any postings. I wrote …

It’s not that I haven’t been connected. I am been dutifully reading my Bloglines and occasionally participating in Classroom 2.0 but just haven’t felt inspired to write lately. The truth is the end of the term, grades and personal activities have taken up my time (life? What’s a life?) and I haven’t felt the tug to share.

I also gave myself permission to take off time from this blog during the holidays and around exam time in January.

The thing that I noticed was even though I wasn’t blogging much, I was still connected to my network. I dutifully read postings in my Bloglines account, I added new people in twitter, I began listening to EdTech Talk and participating in the chats.

But the thing that really brought me back to blogging is my need to process what I was reading and reading a post somewhere who wrote in a post to not worry about blogging for an audience, just begin by describing what you do with your students.

So I began blogging about my classroom activities and began to get excited about sharing what I was doing with my students. i focused on the learning that was happening and not just the tools. I used my blog to prepare and promote workshops I was offering at local conferences. I blogged because I was inspired not because I felt like I needed to post something profound.

I am much more of a talker than a writer – but blogging has been a great exercise for me. I love meeting people at conferences who I have been following in Twitter or if I read their blogs. I have a different voice inside my head when I now see their posts and responses.

I love having the opportunity to broaden my personal learning network through the OETC EdTech Cadre, the monthly meetings of the local Catholic school tech teachers and the great folks at Google Teacher Academy.

Blogging for me will never replace these interactions for me – I’m too social. But I do value the quiet time I get to just get my thoughts down and reflect on how much I have shared and learned this past year.

So thank you to everyone who has taken the time to join me in my little corner of the blogosphere. I love having you here and I appreciate more than you will ever know when you take the time to say hi, leave a comment or respond to a twitter plea.

Thank you .. God bless – i can’t wait to see what the next year brings!!!!

Reflections on student blogging

This past month my middle and high school students began blogging at . Each student based their blog topic on this quote by Gandhi, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world”. Students chose topics such as recycling, Darfur, donating blood, AIDs, pollution, animal abuse, genocide, teen stress, depression …

This is the first exposure to blogging so I directed their beginning posts. Here are the suggestions:

  1. Write two paragraphs explaining why you chose your topic. Tell about your topic and why you chose it. You might explain what you hope to accomplish by writing in this blog.
  2. Find three resources that you think will be helpful (examples, advice, facts, PSA, news articles, etc). Give the URL. Write a 1-2 sentence explaining the resource and how it will be helpful.
  3. Create a motivational poster at Cite where you got your information or explain why you made your poster the way you did.
  4. List very specific things that people can do to support your topic or change the world somehow. There needs to be 2-3 (or more) suggestions for all three categories: Personal level – what can people do personally about your topic; Local level – what can people do about your topic in your community; Global level – what can people do about your topic on a global scale.
  5. Educate your classmates about your topic in a fun and creative way. Choose one of the following sites to create a cartoon, slideshow, or creative project and educate us about one aspect of your topic. Pick something that we probably don’t already know about your topic. Make it fun and educational at the same time!
  6. Participate in the comment challenge. Visit a new blog every day and write comments, ask questions or give more information for each entry.
  7. Embed a survey or online quiz on your blog. Report your results in a week.
  8. Post additional entries of your choice: personal reactions, news story, research, YouTube video, Discussion from comment, graphs, interesting books/videos/podcasts on topic … your choice.

Some other helpful hints when blogging with students:

  • Group the students into “learning circles”. the 4-5 members of that group read and comment on each other’s blogs before the rest of the class. This ensures everyone receives comments – not just the popular students.
  • Give the students time to play around and personalize their blogs. allows students to change background colors, themes, etc.
  • Make reading and writing blogs a priority. I decided to include blogging for a shorter period of time with more intensity than spreading it out over the course of the school year (this will be reevaluated when semester is over).
  • Give specific ideas on what to post but allow extra postings and creativity.
  • Teach the students how to comment. See Gina Trapani’s Guide to Blog Comments.
  • Teach digital citizenship: only first names, don’t identify school, use avatar or creative filters in photoshop for image, be kind when commenting, take blog seriously, and write for intended audience.
  • Moderate all comments.
  • Have parents approve topics and give consent. Students should agree to abide by blog rules and etiquette.

I’ve only had a few issues with student blogging. I’ve had to remind students to write properly (no IM speak) and edit some posts for content. I had to remind the students to know your audience and keep information age appropriate – especially when dealing with sensitive issues like AIDs, Darfur, depression, etc. Even though it takes time, I moderate all comments I am not afraid to reject comments if they are silly, inappropriate or poorly written.

The students especially enjoyed being able to embed comics, Voki, images and surveys in their blogs. This added a creative aspect beside writing and also created interaction between the students. Students supported members in their learning circles with lots of positive comments and praise.

Blogging is a new addition to my computer curriculum and is here to stay.

Photo credit: Motivational poster made by Gloria

Be careful what you wish for

New blogger Jon Becker lamented in his blog a few days ago

“It’s as if folks like Will Richardson, David Warlick, Wes Fryer, Vicki Davis, Dean Shareski, Stephen Downes, Chris Lehmann…(and, yes, you Scott) are having an awesome cocktail party conversation and I’m standing on the outside staring over their shoulders and listening in, trying to get a word in, but not penetrating that conversation at all. I know there are LOTS of us on the outside looking in. “

Since then, there has been flurry of activity on the blogosphere and twitter about why do we blog, technorati rankings, numbers of comments, who is our audience and the idea of an exclusive cocktail party.

Obviously it has touched a nerve of many people including some of those listed above but more importantly the questions posed asks each one of us to reflect on why DO we blog. Are we in it for the glory, the popularity, the ratings … or is it something deeper, more reflective .. personal.

I am the only computer teacher in the small high school where I teach. I loved the ongoing discussions during my Masters of Educational Technology online program at Pepperdine and longed for that type of interaction with my own staff – but honestly – only a handful were enthusiastic about technology and “spoke my language”. I have connected with other tech teachers in my area and found a home online with other educators who are also passionate about technology.

I began this blog last summer and use it to document what I am learning and share resources with my friends. I am amazed how many times I tell someone “Oh, I just blogged about that” and then show them my blog and additional resources.

I read a lot more blogs than I do actually writing. I am finding my voice and absorbing so much through Classroom 2.0, twitter, Ed Talk Talk conversations and so on.

Personally I like to meet interesting people at cocktail parties. I’d like to join more often in the conversation but for now – I am happy to just be listening and giving my input when I feel comfortable.

Thanks for the conversation Jon. It’s been interesting and I’m glad that you’ve learned a lot about yourself and blogging along the way.

Back from blogging sabbatical

I gave myself a self-imposed blogging sabbatical during the months of December and January.  I found myself spending way too much time reading postings from my bloglines account, bookmarking cool sites, surfing the net – but not really spending any real quality time learning and reflecting.

I’m glad to say that after two months off I am geared up and ready to get involved in the educational blogosphere again.  Bring on the twitter, bloglines and Classroom 2.0.  I am refreshed and ready to participate (but not overdo it).