An interview with an award winning blogger and educator

europeana_launchOne of the most exciting things about being part of the Edublogs team is that we get to see all of the excellent uses of class and student blogs around the globe.

We recently learned that one of our users, Donal O’ Mahony from Portmarnock Community School in Ireland, had been nominated for a European eLearning Award at the EMINENT Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In fact, at the conference it was announced that Donal and his history class received the Europe’s Digital Heritage award for their student blogging which can be found here.

You can see all of the 50 shortlisted projects here.

Donal was kind enough to answer a few questions we sent his way in hopes of sharing a bit more about his class blogging experience with others.

Where and what do you teach?

I teach at Portmarnock Community School, Dublin, Ireland (here). I teach mainly history and some religious education. The school is co-educational and has about 825 students.

How long have you been blogging?
I have been blogging about two years, firstly for myself with eLearningIsland (here) and the with my students (here). We moved from a class blog to each student (30 of them) creating their own individual blog (here).

What do you want to accomplish with using blogs with your students?

  • Engagement with history in a way that that is relevant to their world
  • Digital literacy – an understanding of how to work their way around a Web 2 environment
  • Representation of work that is beyond copy and pen
  • Visibility on the WWW encouraging responsibility

What are the benefits you have seen so far?
Interest, wanting to be in the ICT mediated-class, pride in work, ability to be able to articulate about matters digital, an eye for design (they loved playing about with themes, some of them using the custom feature).

What challenges have you faced with blogging in your classroom?

  • Time, I believe is the greatest challenge. EduBlogs helps here in having WordPress configured for the use of the teacher giving time back to him/her to focus on teaching/learning
  • The computer room in schools can be a “variable” environment – Its the simple things that cause problems! Flash may not be updated on all machines, Broadband is down occasionally (we do generally not have paid technical support for ICT in schools in Ireland) – the student however can also work on their blog at home which many did
  • Different levels of digital literacy from the student who is making his her first online steps to the student who is more advanced in their abilities – just like teaching the normal class really!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

My own blog deals with some of the issues around ICT in education. I recommend following it!

We recommend following it too.

Also check out the slides from the presentation below.

One thing in particular to look for in his process is that he started with a simple class blog and then gradually moved into students having their own individual blogs. This approach helps students understand what blogging is all about, sets the tone and blogging rules, and introduces the blogging process.

Thanks Donal for sharing with us and congratulations to you and your students for the honor!

Edublogs News: Featured blogs and a hero’s interview

For the past few months, we have announced on facebook and twitter our featured blog-o-the-week each Thursday.

We hope that others are able to gain ideas from these blogs while we are able to recognize teachers and students for all of their excellent work.

Featured blog of the week logo

This week, the featured blog is Heroes 2011 from Brebeuf Jesuit College Preparatory School in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Have a quick look at this blog, and you can tell that teacher Jana Haffley has worked hard with her Grade 11 English students on their blogs – complete with a Hero theme as much of the literature students read during the year is related to different heroes.

Jana was nice enough to answer a few questions from us so that we could share more about how she uses blogs in her classroom.

heroes

What do you teach?

I teach English 11. It’s derived from a primarily British Literature course, but it takes Joseph Campbell’s Hero Journey as its central theme and organizing principle. The literature selections are a blend of traditional texts from Great Britain and the world (Oedipus, Hamlet, Animal Farm, The Alchemist) and modern texts from various media (primarily film like The Matrix, V for Vendetta, Amazing Grace).

How long have you been blogging?

This is actually my third year. My pilot year was a mixed result. Last year was awesome, so I’m hopeful this year will be good, too.

What do you want to accomplish with using blogs with your students?

Wow, there’s several… Let’s start here: My first goal with the blogs was to join my students where they live: online. One of my colleagues introduced me to Edublogs, which looked pretty and cool. Then, as I tend to do, I dived in, researching social media and 21st Century education (you know, all the buzzwords), and I was hooked. I thought: This explains the growing disconnect between my otherwise fabulous course and the students. The realities of new media were becoming so pervasive I thought that if I didn’t jump on, I’d get left behind. So, one of my primary goals with blogging is to re-engage my students in their “schooling.” The kind of learning they do through their tech outside of school is so much more engaging than the 19th century model they are encountering in school, that the disconnect is obvious (and painful when one wants to inspire students). So, I want to convince them that what they learn in school can be as real and engaging and pertinent as the stuff they learn in their “real lives.”

Secondly, the ability to individualize instruction through the blogging model is enormously beneficial to me. I love that students who need extra time and the chance to review materials over and over again to gain mastery can have free access to the class outside the 50 minute window of class. And the visual learners can benefit from the multi-media model so that they don’t have to rely exclusively on the auditory channel through lectures and the like. PowerPoints become movies that they can review as needed online.

What are the benefits you have seen so far?

One of the most effective aspects of blogging is the “REAL AUDIENCE” of their peers that the forum provides. No longer are they attempting to please the teacher with writing drivel; they now write for a real audience, and suddenly they want to sound authentic and witty and smart. They even want their words to be more or less grammatically accurate so that they don’t look dumb to their peers. By writing beyond the audience of one, my students have a genuine motivation to improve their writing, and it is from that internal motivation that all authentic learning comes. So, blogging has made my job easier. They are writers and readers of each other in a medium they enjoy. What could be better?

What challenges have you faced with blogging in your classroom?

Assessment. The key issue I’ve found so far is how to give feedback effectively. I want to do it right on the blogs, but the public aspect of such feedback feels “wrong,” for lack of a better explanation. I don’t want to mortify students by revealing to all what kind of “grade” they got, but, at the same time, there’s no paper to mark to give them private feedback. I’m working on email feedback, but that’s not very streamline or efficient. Plus, we have an electronic gradebook system that is primarily numerical (not a lot of room for comments, etc.), so systematically, finding a way to give feedback efficiently would be my major, current challenge.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’m a fan of Edublogs. I’ve looked around at other systems, and yours is by far the most adaptable. I have a lot of room to play, and so do my students, and that makes all the difference.

Thank you Jana for sharing with us!

Please feel free to leave comments below – especially with any ideas on assessing student work on blogs.

Come together (and chat on our new forums!)

Here’s some pretty big news… Edublogs.org is now open only for teachers but also for students of all descriptions.

Previously we’ve hosted three other sites – uniblogs.org, learnerblogs.org and eslblogs.org for students but we decided a few weeks ago that this is both overly complex and limits what teachers can do with their students through their blog on Edublogs.org.

Uniblogs.org, Learnerblogs.org and Eslblogs.org will remain in operation indefinitely but we won’t be allowing new signups to them, from now on *everyone* can sign up here and simply select if they are a ‘Teacher’, ‘Student’ or ‘Other’ (librarian, researcher, administrator etc.)

You can change this ‘blog type’ at any time through your options and we’ll be adding more ‘types’ as we go along (best to start simple).

And here’s one of the immediate benefits of the new system… our brand spanking new, completely groovy, forum system!

new edublogs forum system

All you have to do is visit Options > Forums and you can create a forum and add it anywhere on your blog by simply pasting in the ‘Page Code’ that you are provided with – for example (forum:4) – but with square brackets.

Then you can use it for class discussions, Q&A on anything you want and as a central hub for hosting conversations on whatever you like. You know, all the things that forums are good for :)

And of course, now all you students need to have is a username and/or blog on edublogs.org and their avatars will appear next to their contributions and link back to their blogs if the have them. Neat huh!

Here’s a handy 3 minute video that goes through the whole process of setting up a forum:

Setting up an Edublogs forum

So we hope the new system makes life easier for everyone and we hope you enjoy the new forums functionality (please feel free to suggest any improvements too!)

NB: You can export blogs from uniblogs.org, learnerblogs.org and eslblogs.org to Edublogs.org if you want by creating new blogs at Edublogs.org and using the Manage > Import / Export features.

Provide some details for your blog
No stress, you can always change this later on.
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