Setting Up the Classroom Blogs

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

So Jenn’s class started last week (St. Rose is one of those schools that starts before Labor Day). In class she surveyed (informally) the students about blogging and their use of technology, only one student currently had a blog, and none of them responded that they use an RSS reader.

The first think that Jenn did for classroom blogging was to have them set-up their blogs. While course management software (e.g.. Blackboard) makes this easy, they do not allow students to customize the blog, or have it viewable from the outside. The set-up process here is a little more tricky but the end product is a lot better: invested students. (Actually getting students blogs set up went surprisingly easy-especially given the fact that none of them had used WordPress before.) Mostly I think this worked for two reasons: 1. WordPress is user friendly. 2. Jenn set up a step by step guide at her classroom blog that was easy for students to follow. As of yesterday there were only a few students that had trouble setting up their accounts. Reposted here below are Jenn’s steps from Expos-i-story, I have added some commentary to explain why certain steps are important, and dropped in some screenshots. (Jenn’s words are in italics.)

blog assignment #1: create your blog

due: Sunday, September 3rd by 4pm

Part of the strategy Jenn and I discussed was whether or not to have them set up the blogs in class, or to have them set it up over the weekend. In class has several advantages, most significantly is that you can ensure everyone gets it done, and that they all have working blogs. However having them set it up over the weekend has a few advantages that led Jenn to choose this option. First, students have time to select a theme and name for their blog, if part of the idea here is to have students invest in their authoring spaces, the more they feel they can customize their space the better. And if they take time many of them will come up with creative names. Second, and perhaps functionally more important is that creating the blogs over the weekend allows Jenn to collect all of the web addresses ahead of class time. (Why this is important will become apparent when we get to the RSS (how students are going to read the blogs.)

1. Go to wordpress.com

2. Click on “Get a WordPress Blog now”

In the end Jenn picked WordPress over the other blog systems for its ease of use, integration with Flock, stable platform, customizable themes (although not as customizable as Blogger.) This turned out to be a “lucky” choice, as when Blogger updated Flock now has trouble with integration. (Given Flock’s connection to WordPress this shouldn’t be a problem.) The other choice was edublogs, but Jenn liked some of the features on WordPress a bit better (although these are minor differences as edublogs is running wordpress, the choice is more a matter of preference than pedagogy or technology).

3. Choose a username. Please note that this username will become part of the URL for your blog. For example, the username for this blog is expository, and the URL is www.expository.wordpress.com. In other words choose something that isn’t overly complex, is easy to remember, and is a little bit unique and/or “catchy.”
4. Enter email address; check yes to “the terms of service;” and choose “gimme a blog!”

Below is the screenshot of what the registration page should look like. A few things to note here. First students should know ahead of time (as Jenn spells out here) that the username will become part of the address, this way they take time to select one (often these are the same as titles, but not always. Again this is giving students the ability to create an identity in their writing environment, rather than just accepting what others dictate to them. Given some of the names that students used, both for their username and blog name, they seemed to have taken time in this process.

wplogin.png

5. On the next screen, create a title for your blog and click Signup.

Here again is a screenshot of what the students should see. (Note: The title is different from the username as it is what appears at the top of the page, in the header, when the blog loads. For example Jenn’s own blog, not the one for class, can be found at http://vtgrrlscake.blogspot.com/ but the name if you look at the page is “The Most Cake” not “vtgrrlscake.”)

wptitle.png

6. Go to your email and activate your blog. When you activate your blog, you will be given your password. Please write this down and don’t lose it. You can change your password, but for now be sure you are able to log-in.

Students will have to go to the email account, and get the generated password, usually a collection of random numbers and letters. They will be able to change it later, and probably should (see the end) but students should know that they will have to keep track of this temporary password.

7. Login; click on your blog name/link on the right-hand side of your screen. This will take you to what is called your “Dashboard”–this is the place from which you control your blog–writing posts, making edits, changing the look of your blog, etc.

Conversely if they click on the link to go to their blog, all they need to do is login and click “My Dashboard” or “SIte Admin” all of these will get you to the “dashboard.” This is what the dashboard for a blog looks like. Students can actually write directly in here, but it is a bit cumbersome, so using Flock is better. Also the dashboard doesn’t work properly in Safari, Camino, or OmniWeb, so students need Firefox if they are going to be writing pages from the dashboard.

wpdash.png
8. Click on “Presentation” and then choose a theme. This is what your blog will look like.

Students can select from a variety of themes that will let them customize their look. We found a couple of themes that didn’t work with RSS so Jenn had to get students to pick a different one.(Jenn had problems with the one titled “Regulus.“

9. You now have a blog, and I need the URL or blog address. Again, this should look like www.username.wordpress.com. Your blog address appears at the top of browser screen in the Address or URL line. Please copy this address and email it to me (by Sunday at 4pm). Remember to follow the guidelines for emails as stated in the syllabus.

This step is key for the prof. as it lets you have all of the addresses for creating the bloglists (later of tremendous importance for the RSS aspect of this project). It will also let you sort the blogs if you have multiple classes, as Jenn does, but more on this later when we get to Jenn’s set up. A couple of students had trouble with this step, they cut and pasted the address from inside the dashboard, which will have a different url than the “home” of their blog. But if this happens it is an easy fix for the prof. as you really only need the first part of the url. For example if someone emailed “http://expository.wordpress.com/wp-admin/themes/htoeim” to you, just cut off everything after the “.com” and you should get to the homepage of their blog.

For a brief tour of/tutorial on your new wordpress blog, click here

This is useful in case any of the students get lost, it is a three minute video viewable thru a web browser.

10.  To change your password go to Users and Update password.

If students loose their password they can get it emailed to them, but they should pick something that they will remember. And it also might be a good idea to tell them not to email it to you, as several students did this in Jenn’s class. Students should feel as if they have control over the space, not as if they are subject to some sort of Panopticon. This is something I never would have thought of, but apparently students trained to feel as if their Professors have absolute control just thought they should.