Yesterday I had the pleasure of helping a colleague start a blog with her journalism students. It was a rewarding experience–like planting a seed that I know will soon blossom, shine, and–if I’m lucky–re-seed in nearby soil (I couldn’t resist using a “green” analogy).
If you check out the blog, realize she just started working on it yesterday. It was the first opportunity I’ve had to play with creating a class blog–several authors contributing to one blog. Working together, the both of us learned a great deal.
Lucky for me, this colleague is an experienced technology user. For several years, as journalism teacher, she has worked with students to produce fabulous publications. With her strong background in using Publisher and PhotoShop, she is a quick study. All year, she’s been wanting to publish the school newspaper online, struggling to find the right tool. She’s dabbled with Publisher and FrontPage but, with both, encountered a high learning curve (for students) and complications with accessing and publishing to the school server.
Over the past couple months, I’ve been encouraging her to consider using a blog. Today, she asked me to sit down with her and show her how to use the blog we created for her a few months ago. In about forty-five minutes we covered the basics and brainstormed a layout and navigation:
- She’ll use pages for supplemental information: about the staff, how to subscribe to paper…and any other ideas they formulate.
- The students will create posts (not pages) for each article they submit.
- Students will both tag each article with key words and assign the article to two categories: the edition (like April 2008) and the section (like Opinion or Club News). This system will allow readers three avenues for finding articles: a key word search (we added the search widget to the sidebar), categories (newspaper sections or editions), and, of course the archives.
During my prep period, I met with her journalism students, walked them through setting up a WordPress account (no blog–just a username and password), and walked my colleague through inviting them as “Contributors” (meaning they can write posts, submit posts for review to the “administrator”–the teacher–and access and edit only posts they’ve submitted) by entering their e-mail in the “Invite Users” part of the dashboard. In about ten minutes (no joke) I walked them through using the blog to publish the newspaper online.
Such experiences always remind me how true it is that students are digital natives–how concepts that seem unnatural, foreign, and harder for us digital immigrants to grasp come so easily, so naturally for our students. The students had several pieces they’d been writing saved as Word documents, waiting to be published. Within ten minutes, they had copy and pasted their articles and submitted them for the teacher’s approval.
The beauty of using the blog for the online newspaper is its ease of use, built-in administrative features that allow the teacher to approve work before it goes online, automatic cataloging and archiving of articles, simple no-hassle publishing on-line, 24-7 access for both teacher and students.
My colleague, her dashboard filling with the student submitted articles “pending review,” immediately recognized how much easier this system is–how managing and assessing students’ work just got a heck of a lot easier for her.
I couldn’t resist taking a quick minute or two to introduce her to RSS/Google Reader. I also populated her Reader with a couple edtech blogs.
I’m not naive. She’ll need more support. There will be other issues to consider:
- Making certain she and her students understand the implications of publishing online–the safety measures to consider.
- Learning advanced features–working with photos and videos and podcasts and… I did show her how to upload photos directly to the blog or to sites like Flickr that allow her to embed the photos.
- Adding student editors that allow different levels of control.
- Working out kinks (otherwise known as problem-solving) as they arise.
All it took to get this project off the ground was a small chunk of time, some one-one-one collaborating, and an eager colleague. I’m surrounded by eager colleagues–solid teachers who, being the professionals that they are, want to keep learning, keep improving, keep advancing so that we can march our students into the 21st Century–prepared to meet the challenges we know await them. I’m lucky.
Imagine if I had more time. Imagine if I could carve out a part of my day to devote to working with my colleagues. Imagine. I am.