Thoughts on teaching, technology, learning and life in an era of change.
Setting up blogs for my students ~ how was it done?
October 29th, 2007

I wished to set up some blogs for my middle secondary History students. I did some investigation. I considered some of the educational blogging services but discovered, for example, that once I had exceeded 50 student blogs, that fees kicked in for the school. In other cases there was a lack of control. How could one set up about 60 student blogs? Well this is how I did it. This time. I will do it a little differently next time but this project has not yet completed.

I wished to assert a measure of control over what was published and how. Some readers may disagree with that. I am not referring to some form of political censorship. I have good reasons to justify the level of control I seek. Several years ago a case came to light in a nearby school in which students had utilised a blog to publish inappropriate images and comments. The term ‘blog’ became an unsavoury word in local education circles so I put the idea of establishing student blogs to one side and focused on projects using tools such as Photoshop, Comic Life and Audacity. As well, some students can simply not help themselves. They lack an understanding of the responsibilities involved with publishing. I needed to maintain close supervision over those students and their work.

Well, a couple of years have passed and last term I felt that it was time to set up the blogging idea again. I wanted my middle secondary students to compose online diaries as if they were living through the Great Depression and/or the Second World War. I explored some blogging possibilities and I went with Blogger.

I set up the Blogger accounts for each student. There were 54 in all. That took two separate evenings. I created a simple initial welcome post in each blog. I created a sample blog that illustrated the sort of product that I would like to see the students begin with as they started blogging. I was then hoping that they would become more creative as they proceeded with the blog.

The next day in class I asked the students to list their student email accounts in turn in a spreadsheet. I showed them the sample blog and how they would need to post a blog entry. I invited each student to pick a template for their blog as well.

That night I invited each student to be an author of their blog. i would be the administrator. The following day I had booked the students (two separate classes) into two separate computer labs at school to begin blogging. There were some technical problems but all of that has since been sorted and a subsequent visit was more fruitful. The holidays then intervened. I was away as well and now that the fourth term has commenced I shall encourage the students to start blogging again. I have a role to play there.

As a measure of control each blog is published to my own server. I am notified of each blog post via a RSS newsreader. Comments will come to me via email for vetting. Finally, I eliminated that problematical menu bar and Next Blog button. The Next Blog button had the potential to browse to a distasteful blog. I use the following code just before the default code and after the name of the template creator to block the Blogger Navigation bar:

#navbar-iframe {
display: none !important;

The exact detail regarding how to achieve this is described at this web site.

I added an additional level of protection by publishing the blogs in a directory that cannot be accessed by googlebots and the like due to the inclusion of a ‘robots.txt’ file with the appropriate code. The blogs cannot be found in a search engine. When the project is over the blogs will be published. This sounds like a lot of control and overkill and probably is but the unfortunate episodes in the past in our district called for this degree of oversight. The blogs will eventually be published and the school community will get to see them. Just for now I just wish to see the students enjoying the process of creatively writing via a different medium. They understand why I have set up these safeguards.

The students have started blogging and about a dozen have really sunk their teeth into the project. many of the students have only made one post. Others have not posted anything at all. I shall chase them up and seek out the reasons. That is my job. And an enjoyable job I might add. Squeezing this project within the normal programming of the subject is challenging but I am getting there, gradually. I have added some screen shots below.

From a historical perspective it is interesting as the blog entries are sprinkled with dating errors, anachronisms and other anomalies which will certainly provide a source of fruitful analysis when the students share their blogs in class. I hope that additional graphics and media such as audio and video are added to the blogs in future. I shall keep ypu posted on developments. I seek your comments on this process.

3 Responses to “Setting up blogs for my students ~ how was it done?”

  1. barryb Says:

    Hi John,
    Do you plan to have your students respond to each other’s posts with comments in a regular fashion? The reason I ask is that I’m wondering why you felt that a blogging platform was more appropriate for this project than a wiki platform. Prior to the advent of wikis, blogging was certainly one of the easiest ways to get material published on a website but nowadays I think wikis offer the same speed and ease of editing if not more than blogs. Also, blogs are organized in a more temporal fashion with posts being viewed in reverse chronological order, whereas wikis can be organized in any way the author desires with links that allow users to move between pages as in any website. My first attempt at getting students to post information was via blogs but I prefer wikis now. The project I have them working on now can be viewed at It’s a collaborative project with students from Vermont, USA. From the screen shots, it appears that at least some of your students are really producing very interesting projects. I look forward to being able to view them when completed.

  2. John Larkin Says:

    Hi Barry

    Thank you for your comments. Students will be able to comment on each other’s posts. I am waiting for all of the students to move along with the project so that a wider variety of posts can be read and commented upon.

    I agree with all your comments regarding wikis Barry. Wikis would be an excellent prospect with this group.

    I experimented with wikis with an upper secondary group but we did not have the time to enrich their products. Curriculum and programming pressures. I see those students nine times a fortnight but completing the programme is still tight.

    As well, in experimenting with wikis with that group of students I discovered that I needed to spend some time with the students to share with them the conceptual model of linking and overall design. That required time in the computer labs which was at a premium in our school at that time as it has been undergoing a major upgrade to the network.

    With this particular blogging project I was able to illustrate the process in class via a projector and then only needed minimal lab time to get them started. The blog is like a diary so there was a strong conceptual link between an actual diary and a blog. I only see these students twice a week.

    I shall work with wikis again when I know I can spend some valuable time with the students modelling (modeling?) how a rich and well structured wiki can be established. I guess I have high expectations regarding the look and feel of the projects. I should not allow that to get too much in the way of the student content.

    I shall explore your students Wiki project Barry. Thank you for the link.

  3. Workshops, walking and unwinding in Singapore Says:

    [...] Posterous and Plurk among others. I shared some of the wikis made by my Year Eleven students and blogs written by my Year Nine students. The participants also received Twitter greetings from acroamatic, janelowe, isaakkwok, [...]