06 September 2006 at 10.00
How to set up a blog
MFL teacher Joe Dale takes us step by step through the process of setting up an educational blog
A blog, short for weblog, is an online journal consisting of articles or posts which appear in chronological order on a webpage. Setting up a basic blog is simple. You open an account with a blogging service like Blogger, Word Press, Edublogs, Windows Live Spaces or Typepad and fill in a few templates. Publishing a post is straightforward and requires the equivalent level of technical know-how as that needed to send an email.
To make life even easier, Microsoft has recently launched Windows Live Writer which allows you to publish posts not only to Windows Live Spaces, but also to non-Microsoft services such as those listed above. This blog authoring tool is in beta version, which means it is available to try out but is still being developed. To see a video presentation of some of the features of Windows Live Writer click here:
Before diving in, it is vital to decide the purpose and tone of your blog as well as who your intended audience will be. Blogs are designed to be interactive and provoke discussion. Readers can leave feedback on a blog by writing a comment at the end of each post. Blogging at its best is a springboard for focused debate from many different people.
When I was first asked to contribute to the TES ICT blog, I didn’t honestly know what I was signing up for. I was however aware of three important points:
- My purpose for writing would be to offer practical advice and tips on using technology to enhance language learning
- My tone would need to be encouraging and not patronising
- My audience would be the TES readership who would not only be very real, but also be prepared to leave comments on whatever I wrote. This was a somewhat daunting, yet very motivating thought
How to set up a Typepad blog
Three months after making my first contribution to the TES ICT blog, I decided to launch my own blog called Integrating ICT into the MFL classroom (see image above). I chose Typepad as my preferred blog host as it seemed very user friendly and offered the sort of features, I was looking for.
Admittedly, Typepad is not a free service like Blogger, Word Press, Edublogs or Windows Live Spaces. However, the $8.95 monthly subscription seemed reasonable considering the sorts of design features it would provide. The free 30 day trial did help me to get started and learn new blogging jargon such as Typelist, Widget and Sidebar. So having registered with my credit card and decided on a username and password, I was ready to go.
Once you’ve subscribed it’s time for some design choices on how your blog will look when it goes live. You can choose:
- a name for your blog which is memorable and indicates clearly its content
- to fill in the About Page describing a bit about yourself. Be wary of revealing too much personal information though
- to design a template with the type of layout you want (main body and sidebars)
- to select the colour and text formatting of the different elements of your template or apply one of the pre-designed themes
- to decide whether to display features such as Recent Posts, Recent Comments and Archives which automatically update themselves
- to set Categories for posts with a common theme for easier referencing
- to allow comments with or without moderation
- to include your own lists of weblinks or Typelists in your Sidebar linking to other websites or blogs
Widgets are additional elements you can put on your blog including content such as:
- a calendar
- a sitemeter
- a set of online photos
- a clock
- an audio player
- a video player
- a local weather indicator
- a poll
- tagroll (a list of related links)
For a comprehensive list of widgets available for Typepad blogs have a look at these links:
Typepad users can embed a widget in two ways:
- directly from the widgets page on the Typepad website
- by copying the relevant code into a notes typelist and updating the blog accordingly. See the help section for more information.
If your widget doesn’t appear on your blog, check the Content Display section of your Typepad account and put a tick next to the relevant widget entry. You can also change the sidebar position of your widget by using the Change Order drag ‘n’drop feature in the Edit Current Design section. For more advice click here.
Language teachers are experimenting with blogs in two distinct ways. Those aimed at other teachers are designed to inform like-minded colleagues of useful news and resources they may not otherwise be aware of. Those created for pupils seems to have a variety of learning objectives:
- to showcase and celebrate good work in the target language in the form of a written text or recorded sound file/podcast
- to document a trip abroad or school visit
- to set challenges such as webquests or tasks that need to be completed on or offline
- to provide a weekly record of homework
- to host vocabulary and grammar podcasts designed to be listened to on any computer or mp3 player
Generally speaking, pupils appear to be engaged and stimulated by the idea of having their work displayed on the web. Many children already have their own web space through social networking sites such as Bebo and MySpace and regularly chat with each other via instant messaging services like MSN and Yahoo! Messenger. They embrace new technologies and probably find the thought of posting their work on a blog motivating and cool. That is the reaction of most of my pupils anyway.
Being able to leave comments on a blog facilitates peer assessment. Pupils can offer helpful advice on each other’s work without fear of abuse as the blog can be configured so that all comments need to be approved by the teacher via email first before going live. Pupils must adhere to certain golden rules when blogging such as never writing their surname or giving away their email address. Have a look at these safe blogging guidelines written by Jeanne Simpson a maths teacher, in Alabama, USA for more guidance on this important issue.
As we all know, the internet can be a dangerous place. It is vital that we protect our pupils from these dangers without sacrificing the huge potential benefits of allowing them to publish their ideas to the world. I wrote a post called The kids are doing it for themselves on my blog recently about the TES article MySpace: the final frontier. As part of the article, I include comments from my pupils on the attraction of using social networking sites. There is also a discussion between myself and Marlyn Moffat, a Scottish primary teacher, where we debate the issues of internet safety and new technologies.
Giving pupils a real audience for their work can be a great motivator, providing a real purpose for raising their standards. Blogs can also offer creative opportunities for learning and real communication as well as encouraging good practice in assessment for learning, raising cultural awareness and engaging pupils in KS3 and beyond.
Blogs are not an educational panacea. However, they can be a powerful learning tool which more and more language teachers are bringing into the mainstream.
Check out these MFL examples and see how blogs could help your pupils to engage more with their learning. To celebrate the European Day of Languages on 26th September CILT, The National Centre for Languages are planning to feature MFL blogs on their website. Why not join them and post your comments and links to your own educational blogs below.