The ultimate guide to getting started with blogging!

teacherchallengeIn case you missed it, we just wrapped up our first Teacher Challenge series – 30 days to kick start your blogging!

Hundreds of educators from around the globe participated in 8 challenges over the course of four weeks. Together with mentors, bloggers of all experience levels had the opportunity to really step up their game.

And if you missed out, it is never too late to work through the challenges at your own pace!

Here are the beginner and advanced challenges in their entirety:

Activity 1 – Getting Started
BeginnerAdvancedDiscussion Question

Activity 2 – Writing Effective Posts
BeginnerAdvancedDiscussion Question

Activity 3 – Working With Pages
Beginner
AdvancedDiscussion Question

Activity 4 – Avatars & Blogging Etiquette
Beginner
AdvancedDiscussion Question

Activity 5 – Working With Images
BeginnerAdvancedDiscussion Question

Activity 6 – Embedding Media
BeginnerAdvancedDiscussion Question

Activity 7 – Widgets and Sidebars
BeginnerAdvancedDiscussion Question

Activity 8 – Blogrolls & Building Readership
BeginnerAdvancedDiscussion Question

Now that we’ve all gotten our blogs up and running, don’t forget that starting this Monday is 30 days to get your students blogging

Bookmark or subscribe to the Teacher Challenge main blog to join in!

Guide to finding and securing grants and outside funding for blogs and ed tech

currency_dollar_redFinding the funds for Edublogs Pro, Edublogs Campus, or any other education technology product out there isn’t always easy.

This is especially the case as schools and educators are facing difficult decisions in times were budgets are tight.

We have a growing number of users that have found success with grants, donations, and asking organizations to pitch in when it comes to financing individual classroom blogs or even blogs for an entire school district.

Using their advice and experience, here is our guide which will hopefully help others to do the same.

Step 1: Determine your needs

When completing applications for grants or asking potential funders for help, you must be specific and detail exactly what you need and how much it will cost.

In addition, you will be most successful when you can show how what you are asking for will help meet specific goals. For example:

  • Blogs as a class website are an easy and effective way for teachers to keep parents and students informed about what is going on in class
  • Blogs are student friendly to use, and the built in privacy settings and content monitoring systems on Edublogs provide for a safe and easy to manage blogging experience
  • Blogs naturally tie into curriculum standards such as writing, communication, critical thinking, ePortfolios, and technology proficiencies

Also, are you able to include multiple teachers or schools into the plan? Potential funders are more likely to be excited by a project that has the greatest bang (reach and impact) for their buck.

Our users have found successful grants for:

  • Edublogs Pro accounts for one teacher to provide blogs to all of his or her students
  • Bulk upgrade accounts to provide Pro blogs for 5 to 10 teachers
  • Edublogs Campus accounts for an entire school, school district, or university

Step 2: Find grants and funding sources

This is the big one. We’ve found that the most successful grant seekers have found sources close to home such as Parent Teacher Organizations and local businesses.

Many cities, districts, and states have educational non-profit organizations that provide assistance to educators as well. If you haven’t heard of any, ask around to see if any of your colleagues have.

For other sources, we recommend the following websites which have a wealth of information:

  1. Funding Your Technology Dreams – A HUGE list!
  2. SchoolGrants.org
  3. US Government Ed Grant Programs
  4. Australian Learning & Teaching Council Grants

Because there usually isn’t enough money to fulfill each request or application, it is best to apply to as many grants as possible and always be on the look out for new sources.

Step 3: Complete the application or write a proposal

Depending on the source, you may have a lengthy process. In some cases you might have multiple rounds and parts that are due at different times. Always pay close attention to the application process and deadlines to make sure everything is completed on time.

A few other tips for completing grant applications:

  • Make sure to really know the funding organization’s priorities and what they are looking for – tailor your message to this closely
  • Be positive and confident in your writing and correspondence
  • Have colleagues proof read and provide suggestions – for Edublogs related grants, we’re happy to help too!
  • When appropriate, find academic research to support your requests and how it meets an academic need

Step 4: Keep at it

It is an ongoing process which may not be successful the first time around. Most grants will only fund 1 to 3 years at a time as well, so it may take additional searches even after your blogging or technology project is off the ground.

Don’t give up and always be on the lookout for potential opportunities.

Do you have anything to add?

Are there any additional sites to find grants that we can add to our list?

Maybe you have a success story you would like to share?

We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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!

Make-over your class blog and join the student blogging challenge

studentbloggingIt is now time to join in on the bi-annual student blogging challenge!

This challenge is all about having fun, improving blogging and reflective writing skills, and building readership and connections with a global audience.

Last year, the two challenges included thousands of students from over 15 countries around the world!

What is it?

  • The student blogging challenge is a series of 10 weekly tasks
  • Starts on September 21st – but registration is happening now
  • Students complete as many of the tasks as possible and in any order
  • Open to classes and students from all over the world and of all ages – blogs doesn’t need to be hosted by Edublogs to participate!

Past challenges have included adding comics and widgets, writing creative posts, discussing travelling, comment etiquette, and more.

How do I start?

Setting up your class-blog

You may be just getting started with your class blog or are looking for ways to make improvements.  The following 9 steps will help ensure that your blog is ready to go for the challenge:

  1. Set up your class blog
  2. Set Up Your Blogging Rules and Guidelines
  3. Teaching Commenting Skills and Etiquette – Guest post byKathleen McGeady
  4. Help Parents Connect With Your Class Blog
  5. Add Students To Your Class Blog So They Can Write Posts
  6. Add A Visitor Tracking Widget To Your Blog Sidebar
  7. Setting Up Student blogs
  8. Add your student blogs to your blogroll
  9. Add Your Student Blogs To A Folder In Google Reader

For more information on the student blogging challenge, visit the challenge F.A.Q. here.

The thousands of students that have participated in the past have found it a great way to improve their blogging and commenting skills and love the global interaction among the community that it builds.

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