Improving parent communication in 3 short steps

Earlier today, this blog post was published on Edutopia.org that shares results of a recent survey by the National School Public Relations Association in the US.

The survey asked parents and non-parents (over 43,000 of them!) how they want to be kept informed about what’s going on at school.

The results were surprising in that social media networks such as Facebook or Twitter did not make the top of the list at all. In fact, they ranked below television and attending school board meetings!

Luckily for those with blogs, 4 out of the top 5 methods most requested can be taken care of in a flash. In short, parents like information to be on a website (which is really what a blog is) and they like email notification.

So be sure to setup email subscription notifications of new posts on your blog, and you should be all set!

You can see email subscription in action in the top right of the sidebar of this post – subscribe if you would like!

There are two methods to enable subscription described below – one for Edublogs.org and one for blogs on one of our Edublogs Campus sites.

Here’s how to do it on Edublogs.org blogs:

Step 1: Activate the “Widget Pack” plugin

Found in the Plugins menu of your dashboard – this will give you access to many cool widgets!

Step 2: Drag over the “Email Subscription” widget

Go to Appearance > Widgets.

Place the Email Subscription widget, which will appear when you activate the “Widget Pack” plugin, into one of the sidebars of your blog.

Step 3: Ask parents to subscribe!

That is really it!

Once parents put in their email address, they will get a quick email with every blog post you make. This way, you can keep all of your announcements, newsletter information, and the like on your blog and they can be notified when anything new is posted.

For Edublogs Campus Users

It is even a bit easier for our Campus users.

Just go to Appearance > Widgets and add the “Subscribe by Email” widget to a sidebar.

Then let parents know to subscribe. You can keep track of who has subscribed using the “Subscriptions” menu item in your dashboard.

Any other advice you would like to share on keeping parents in the loop? Share in the comments below!

Unveiling Wikis, Maps, Easy Blogging, a New Look, and More!

If you’ve logged into the dashboard of your blog in the last few days, then you probably have already noticed – but we just rolled out many exciting new features!

Plus, we’re just 11,000 10,000 blogs short of the 1 million we need to keep all blogs advertisement free forever!

It’s just too much to share all in one post, but here is a quick overview of some of what is new:

1. A new dashboard look

This will be the first thing you notice if you haven’t already. Everything is still in a familiar location, but the look and feel is a bit more polished.

As you explore the made over dashboard, you will find several improvements such as better search for themes, easier ways to sort posts and pages, and other little tools built in that should make blogging a bit easier.

2. The Admin Bar

Across the top of your blog you will find a new Admin Bar which will help you navigate around your blog and our site.

You can turn off this bar under Settings > Admin Bar in your dashboard if you would prefer – but we find it handy to quickly add a new post, login, or go back and forth between the site and dashboard.

3. Wikis

You will find a new Wiki plugin which lets you add pages to your blog which are fully functional wikis!

Settings allow you to choose between letting all visitors, only registered users, or a select few to edit the wiki. Changes are tracked and discussion is encouraged. This one we know many of you will love!

Read more about wikis on our help and support site here.

4. Custom Menus

Under Appearance > Menus you will find a brand new area for customizing the order and layout of your menus.

The drag-and-drop menu creation allows you to add links to any site on the web, specific categories, and more.

Adding custom menus is easy, and detailed directions on how are here.

5. Easy Blogging

Our Easy Blogging dashboard got a complete face lift too! This feature was designed so that more inexperienced bloggers can get their feet wet by removing a lot of the less used options. Plus, we just think it looks cool :)

You can go back and forth between the Easy Admin and the normal dashboard areas anytime.

6. Blog and User Creator

We greatly simplified the process of creating new users and blogs by rolling everything into this one new and improved creation tool.

Pro users will now be able to more easily create additional blogs, student blogs or accounts, and set it up so that you can manage them all right from the get-go.

7. Google Maps

There is also a new Google Maps plugin which makes it easy to add maps to your blog – including satellite and street views!

Best of all, it is easy to use, but you can find more details of how to use it here.

There’s more!

There is actually quite a bit more – including the ability to hide parts of a post until a selected time, improved form making, and updates to many themes. We will be sharing those in more detail in the coming weeks.

In the mean time, play around and let us know what you think! 

As always, feel free to contact us should you need any help with any of these new features.

Enjoy!

Edublogs Weekly: Reading Levels in Google Search Results

Regular readers may notice a small change in the format and schedule of our weekly posts. A few tweaks will hopefully make for a much more useful post for everyone!

Featured Post of the Week!

reading

This week, our featured post is View Google Search Results By Reading Level by Paul Hamilton.

Especially when working with younger students or those learning a new language, this can be a great tool to identify resources that might be easier to understand at that level.

Have a post that you would like us to consider for post of the week? Send out a tweet using the hashtag #ebshare so we’re sure to see it!

Upcoming Webinars & Live Events

Join us for next week’s live events!

Wednesday the 9th @ 9:30am PSTAll About Edublogs Campus

For new Campus site-admins or for those interested in learning more about Edublogs Campus.

Thursday the 10th @ 4pm PSTEdublogs Fine Focus- PD Out Of A Blue Sky

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!

If you’re interested in suggesting a topic, or even better, being a presenter, leave a comment and let us know!

Learn more about our live events here!

We hope to see you there and have a great week!

Edublogs News: More help & support than ever before

One of the things that we pride ourselves the most on here at Edublogs is the support we provide for our users.

In fact, over the past few weeks, you may have noticed an overhaul of our help.edublogs.org support site.  Our team has been hard at work re-organizing and adding more information to the site so that everything is easier to find.

helpbanner

Here are just a few of the new and improved features of our help site:

  1. An updated ‘Frequently Asked Questions‘ – with the 20 most commonly questions answered in detail, all in one place.
  2. A simplified ‘New User Guide‘ which helps our newest users get started with blogging quickly and easily.
  3. An overhaul of our ‘Complete User Guide‘ with videos (more to come soon!), handouts, and step-by-step instructions of just about anything you would want to do on Edublogs.
  4. A brand new ‘Handouts, Worksheets, and Professional Development‘ page which we hope will be the hub for many new resources that will help make integrating Edublogs into the classroom an even more powerful experience for learners.
  5. Information on our free ‘Webinars and Live Trainings‘ – which we would like to do even more of.  Let us know if you have any ideas for webinars or would even be interested in co-hosting one.  Our edublogging community has so much to share!

Getting help when you need it:

In addition to the loads of guides and support documents we offer, we know that occasionally there comes a time when a specific question might come up.

To get your questions answered, see the information on support for our Campus users and support for our Pro users.

And anyone can search through or throw out a question to the community in our forums.

Fast and helpful support is our highest priority so that our users can concentrate on the teaching and learning that takes place through blogging.

As always, we welcome any and all feedback on the new help and support site so that we can make it even better!

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.

Students no longer need email addresses to start an Edublog

As much of the world is heading back to school this month, we have an exciting new feature at Edublogs that is sure to make it even easier to get students up and blogging this school year.

You will be happy to hear that Edublogs no longer requires users to have an email address!

We hope that removing this barrier will allow more teachers to add students as users to their blogs and makes creating student blogs even easier.

When signing up on Edublogs.org, just leave the email address boxes blank and we take care of the rest. Users can add their email address later should they like.

The New Sign-Up Form
The New Sign-Up Form

You will also notice that we now allow you to create your own password right from the start!

This will eliminate the need to receive a confirmation email before getting started and hopefully minimize forgotten passwords by students.

These improvements, along with our recent addition of an ‘Easy blogging’ dashboard interface, are a direct result of user feedback, and all part of our commitment to being the most student friendly blogging platform available.

From all of us at Edublogs, here’s to a fantastic school year!

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