Edublogs Weekly Review: Move over Google Reader, Facebook is my news reader of choice

Right up there with running more and eating healthier, keeping up with the blogs I like to follow has been my easy way out of New Year’s resolutions the past few years.

How many of you out there have also spent a good amount of time setting up your Google Reader only to let the new articles pile up so much that you give up on reading them all?

As an alternative, I’ve recently moved over to Facebook, a site I probably visit too often as it is, as my “feed reader” of choice.

If you haven’t done the same already, or if you are looking for better ways to keep up with the news and blogs that interest you, hopefully the quick overview below will help you out.

readervsfb

First, there are some drawbacks to the Facebook only method. There are many blogs, especially some of the newer or individual educator blogs, out there that don’t yet have their own Facebook page or RSS feed in their profile. These blogs can’t (as far as I can tell) be brought into your Facebook news feed.

And if you are one of those bloggers who isn’t yet importing your feed to Facebook, this recent article by italkless.com has a good overview on how it can be done.

So how do you turn Facebook into an excellent news reader?

Start off by making sure you “like” or “friend” all of your favorite bloggers, news sources, and websites. You will now find their articles and latest posts right in your live news feed in Facebook!

While that is all you really have to do, you might want to create a new Facebook list and take advantage of the new live feed filtering options in Facebook.

You will see in the image below that I have created a facebook list that includes all of my favorite news sources. This makes it easy to catch up on the latest posts when I don’t feel like seeing the status updates of all my friends at the same time.

Create your list and then click on the down arrow in the upper right corner of your facebook homepage or news feed to filter.

News FeedYou might notice that I have a “limited profile” list too. That is where I keep all of my former students and I greatly limit what they can and can’t see on my profile – but that is for a whole different post. :)

Here are a few more more posts and tips about feed readers and RSS you might find useful:

This week in the Edublog world

Want to share a post, ask others to visit a blog for comments, or show off cool student work?

Use the hashtag #ebshare to let us know so we can re-tweet it for you!

Recent Posts You Might Have Missed

Summing it up

What do you think about using Facebook as a feed reader?

Do you like mixing your personal/social life on facebook with work or news?

Major news! Our new community site and blog directory is now live

Community areaWe’re excited, and we think you will be too!

If you click on the Community tab at the top of the Edublogs home page, you’re now taken to our new community area.

What’s in our new community?

Our new communiy area is designed as a place to collaborate, share blogs and resources including:

  1. Latest posts for our Edublogs News blog
  2. The Blogs Directory
  3. Our Curriculum Corner

The Blogs Directory

Already with hundreds of blogs of all types from all over the world.

What makes this directory unique is that you can easily see the latest three posts and a preview thumbnail of the blog.

Now you can easily check out how others are using their edublogs while connecting with other teacher and student bloggers…

And don’t forget to add your blog to the directory as well!

Exampe from the Blogs Directory

Our Curriculum Corner

This new section of the Edublogs website contains pages of useful tips and resources about using blogs with students in the classroom.

With that, we need you!

There is so much knowledge and experience out there and we welcome all ideas.

Leave a comment on this post, or complete the forms on each page of the curriculum corner, if you have anything you would like to share.

Please explore!

Have a look around and let us know what you think.

Our goal is to make this space a useful resource that will help teachers and instructors maximize the potential of using blogs in the classroom.

We should talk – what are you doing to ensure student safety online?

winamp_coneIt is one of the most important conversations we can have. When student privacy and safety is at stake, we all have an obligation to do our part.

Keeping in mind that laws and policies vary depending on where you are and what age you work with, there are some common sense tips we should all follow.

The discussion below was inspired by comments left by educators on this Edublogger post over the past few weeks.

This post was co-written by Ronnie Burt and Sue Waters.

Is it fact, fiction, hype or fear?

Let us start by discussing the concerns of students working online and why we need to care before looking at some common sense tips.

As middle school teacher Jabiz Rasidana says:

“What, exactly is it, that everyone is so afraid of?”

Too often media creates hysteria about Internet predators leading school districts to respond to parent and teacher concerns by blocking any kind of social networking while failing to highlight the positive aspects achieved when students collaborate online as part of a global community.

Gail Desler highlights:

While we recognize that online predators pose a threat, about 1% of child abuse and sexual abuse cases, and we certainly do not dismiss the need to teach our students about safety issues, such as “grooming,” we also want all students to learn to use the Internet effectively and ethically.

Our middle school counselors, for instance, report that over 60% of their case load involves handling and defusing cyberbullying and “sexting” issues – mainly from smart phones. Pretty much 100% of the time, the parents are clueless as to how their children are using the Internet.

Digital citizenship should be built into media literacy —media literacy as a must-have skill for the 21st century.

Internet safety is best taught at school and not at home (sorry, parents).

And like Kathleen McGready says:

The biggest thing is … you can’t just do one off lessons on cyber safety. Cyber safety is not a separate subject.

Through being heavily involved in blogging, my grade two class has opportunities almost every day to discuss cyber safety issues and appropriate online behaviours in an authentic setting.

When we’re writing blog posts and comments together, a wide range of issues come up incidentally. The discussions are so rich and purposeful and my students now have an excellent understanding of the do’s and don’ts of internet safety.

Most of us agreed that:

  1. Teaching students what can and what shouldn’t be shared online can’t be boiled down to a few lessons.
  2. It is best if the topic is brought up often and in context when working with any web technology.

What do we need to consider?

The reality is that we’ve got to face the questions and concerns raised when students are online head on.

lightbulb

Our world is increasingly connected, and our students need to know how to interact online safely and with some level of privacy. The trouble is that educators, administrators, online web tools, politicians, and parents just aren’t sure what that looks like yet. And for some reason, a consensus decision isn’t likely anytime soon. Either way, we must educate students about the expectations we have of them when they are online and about the digital footprint they leave behind.

We need to educate our students on how to work in a safe online environment.

As Kathleen McGeady commented,

“I don’t think it matters that much what your actual policies are on photos/avatars/no images etc as long as you’re having conversations and doing something!”

Here’s some things to consider and our advice when working online with your students.

Tip #1:  Set clear guidelines

Set GuidelinesIt’s crucial to have clear guidelines so that all parents and students are aware of what is and isn’t appropriate.

The best approach is to get students involved with creating the guidelines.

For example. Pernille Ripp has an excellent activity using the analogy  The Internet is like a Mall.  She tells them that going on the internet is like going to the mall without your parents’ supervision and asks them to share how do they stay safe at the mall?  This takes the students from a topic they already understand and know to applying those same principles online.

Check out these examples:

  1. Pernille Ripp’ s Internet Safety Plan and Blogging Introduction
  2. Kathleen McGeady’s Introduction to Bloggigng HandoutGuide to Getting the Most out of 2KM’s Class blog and Our Blog Guidelines
  3. Edublogs Guide to Using Blogs With Students

Here’s how to set up your blogging rules and guidelines.

Tip #2:  Use of student names

What names to use?This is usually one of the first items to think about before using any online services with students.

Can they use their full name, first name only, last initial, or maybe a made-up username? In general, obtaining parent permission for minors is important when using anything other than a made-up or “code” name.

Most educators use the student’s first name only combined with a combination of letters and/or numbers that might represent their year level, room number, school or class blog such as amberh4 or adrianhan10 for student usernames and blog URLs.

Tip #3:  Use of  photos

Use of ImagesUse of student photos, and especially linking names with specific photos, are also questions that come up when blogging, sharing videos, or using other web services online. Even though 99.9% of visitors to your class blog will be well meaning parents, students, community members, or interested visitors from around the world, the unfortunate reality is that those with bad intentions can also visit public sites. There are also cases where the personal background of a student might mean they need more privacy and anonymity than others.

Decisions on whether to use student photographs or not is often more about protecting educators from having problems with parents or administrators who have concerns about cyber-predators.

A safe compromise is to only use photo taken from behind students.

On the other hand, one of the most engaging and powerful aspects of blogging comes from the sense of pride and ownership that only happens when you put yourself out there for the world to see. For this reason, many teachers do use student images.

As middle school teacher Jabiz Rasidana points out on Intrepid Teacher,

“the most rewarding experiences I have had online, the most authentic and personal relationships have been because I shared more than I should have.”

And the same is true for students. We put our thoughts and ideas out there, and everyone learns from it – especially the blogger.

Kathleen McGready says:

Unlike many classes, I identify students by first name and photo. Of course I gain parent permission for this and 100% of my parents have been supportive. Last year, I did not publish photos of students and I think there were more cons than pros. The parents and the classes we work with around the world are able to connect more with our blog and student work by seeing who the authors are.

Taking it a step further, any student comments or posts may need to be kept private behind a password. This is understandable – imagine if you were the one student in a class that for one reason or another shouldn’t have your photo online especially when it comes to your avatar.  All of your classmates have a photo avatar while you are left with a funny image or drawing. You probably wouldn’t be too happy about this.

An alternative solution is to get your students to create  their own avatar using these online reources without using a photo!

The key is to have the conversations with your administrators and parents about the use of photos online — so you can address the needs of your community.

Tip #4: Public vs Private

film

Many times, cautious administrators or teachers will opt to keep all blogs private.

However, being locked behind a password greatly limits the global learning aspect that encourages outsiders to visit and comment on student blogs.  Further still, it can really stifle the energy and motivation created when students know they are writing so that their family and friends (and even strangers) can see.

  • If students share a video they created in a class presentation they will probably get excited.
  • If students publish the same video on the web for all to see, they feel accomplished and professional!

From experience we’ve found that when educators allow their students to publish their content in a public space they spend more time educating their students and reinforcing appropriate online behavior than those that use private sites locked behind a password.

And don’t forget, on public blogs you can set up systems like Leigh Newton uses where all comments and posts spark an email to him, the administrator.

Here’s how you moderate all comments and posts on student blogs — if you need/want to take this approach.

Tip # 5: Student work and confidentiality

PrivateHowever, there are occasions when you really do need to consider confidentially.

There was one example we ran across recently where a teacher of special needs students had a class blog. By allowing students to comment on the blog, the students were identified as part of the special education program.  This lead to the important discussion about if this violates confidentiality for those students. In this case, the school administrators erred on the side of caution – and the wishes of the students and parents involved. The conclusion was to change the class blog to private so that only registered and approved visitors could visit it. The parents and students in the class were all given accounts to use.

Teacher feedback, specifically anything that can be interpreted as grades, is another area that educators that are blogging with students should be aware of. It is natural to leave comments on blogs for students, but there are other times when more detailed feedback may be best left for private.

Final Thoughts

As Common Sense Media puts it in one of their 10 beliefs,

“We believe in teaching our kids to be savvy, respectful and responsible media interpreters, creators, and communicators.  We can’t cover their eyes but we can teach them to see.”

agentHere’s some helpful resources

So what next?

Like the continuous discussions we should be having with our students, the dialog should continue among educators, parents, and policy makers to ensure we are maximizing learning freedoms while encouraging safe and smart web habits.

Please leave your thoughts or questions below for our blogging community to continue to learn from each other!

Edublogs Weekly Review: Top 10 reasons why it is truly the most wonderful time of the year!

The last weekend of November is here which can only mean that the holiday season has officially arrived!

At Edublogs, we love this time of year, and here is our top 10 list as to why:

  1. The hardworking educators and students that use Edublogs get some well deserved time off from school
  2. Great widgets from here make it easy to put yule logs, holiday countdowns, snowmen and more in sidebars
  3. A popular idea to keep students’ minds focused during the upcoming holidays is to ask them to blog while on break – and our support team will be here in case we’re needed!
  4. The free holiday images found here and here are perfect for blogs, class newsletters, cards, and more
  5. Users send us tons of chocolate and gifts – there is still time to contact us for where to send them ;)
  6. We announce the winners of the 2010 Edublog Awards on December 15th
  7. There is so much excitement about how blogging is impacting student learning, and those sharing their experience are about to win BIG!
  8. All of the student mentors of the Student Blogging Challenge are about to receive their Edublogs Pro subscriptions as our way of saying thanks
  9. We all have an excuse to turn on the “Let It Snow” plugin (see the Plugins menu in your dashboard) on our blogs
  10. And we all get to spend time with our families!

Here’s to a great holiday season from the Edublogs team!

(See our CEO James, our support guru Sue, and myself getting in the spirit below!)

This week in the Edublog world

Want to share a post, ask others to visit a blog for comments, or show off cool student work?

Use the hashtag #ebshare to let us know so we can re-tweet it for you!

Featured Edublog of the Week

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Ms. Edmonds’ Science class

An excellent middle school science class blog!

Find more great blogs like this one in our International Edublogs Directory.

Upcoming Webinars & Live Events

Join us for next week’s live events!

Wednesday the 1st @ 9:30am PSTWhat can you do with your Edublog!?

An informal chat where any of your blogging questions can be answered by our staff.

Thursday the 2nd @ 4pm PSTEdublogs Fine Focus

Join us for our fortnightly “Fine Focus” sessions each week. In these sessions we range across a variety of topics and include discussion (“Talk Time”), how to use various applications (“Techie How To”), and using technology in the classroom (“Tools and Strategies”). In fact anything “e-” that is of interest to educators!

Learn more about our live events here!

Recent Posts You Might Have Missed

Summing it up

As you can see, December is a busy and exciting month.

Make sure to add a bit of festive cheer to your blog if you’d like and have an excellent holiday season!

Unveiling 33 new themes – and new theme features all round…

PremiumThemesYou may have noticed recently that there are a lot more options when it comes to themes to use on Edublogs.

We now have a whopping 137 themes to choose from, including 33 new snazzy themes available to Pro users.

And alongside that, we’ve added new features to almost every single theme – including threaded comments, extra custom headers and plenty more besides.,

To see the new great looking themes, click on the “Premium Themes” link in your Dashboard.

We’ll be featuring various themes over the next few weeks, and talking about how you can utilize the new features, but for the moment you might particularly like:

Autofocus photo blogging theme
Autofocus photo blogging theme

Autofocus automatically creates a beautiful front page based on photos (or other images you upload) to your posts.

A theme full of detail
A theme full of detail

Color paper provides you with a colorful and interesting new interface for your blog.

A clean, professional look
A clean, professional look

PrimePress is everything you want well styled, customizable, fresh looking blog.

In addition, more of the themes now include the ability to upload a custom header image and they all now allow comments on pages.

And, of course, one Pro user can turn on all of these themes for up to 50 of their students, just by entering their details on the ‘Disable Ads’ section.

More tips, highlighted themes, and news about feature enhancements on their way soon… stay tuned!

New Edublogs publications

So, we thought that it was about time that we had some decent publications dedicated to all you wonderful edubloggers out there, and with that in mind we’re completely proud to introduce two very special Edublogs publications edited by two very special bloggers.

First up we have The Edublogger, edited by the multi-Edublog Award nominee Sue Waters.

The Edublogger

To put it simply, The Edublogger is a damn good resource for anyone with an edublog, thinking of getting and edublog or just wanting to know how cool having an edublog can be.

So far Sue’s got a heap of articles up ranging from getting more out of widgets, to getting yourself a blog makeover and adding photos to your sidebar. We strongly recommend you subscribe asap!

And as if that wasn’t enough, today we’re also launching our first foray into some seriousl publishing, The Edublogs Magazine, edited by none other than uber-blogger Lorelle VanFossen.

the edublogs magazine

The Magazine aims to provide for all your news, views, ideas, information and general edublogging and educational technology needs, and in our first issue you’ll find articles on what’s up around edublogs, how edubloggers have fared in recent major blog awards and, of course, our welcome post where you can let us know what you think of the venture.

We’re also aiming to make it a genuine collaborative publication by edubloggers everywhere (not only on Edublogs) and we want you to contribute, so please let us know if you’d like to take part.

So, what a great way to get the year started :) I can’t tell you how excited we are to have Sue and Lorelle in these roles at Edublogs and can’t wait to see how these develop and progress over 2008!

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