Managing a student blog will probably challenge–and improve–your technology and visual literacy skills (it certainly challenged mine!). If you have experience with other blogging platforms–such as blogger or blogspot–I strongly recommend going with the platform you find the easiest to use. If you haven’t blogged before, then WordPress.com is probably the way to go (and the platform I will provide instructions for using on this blog).
1. Begin by deciding whether the blog is going to be used by just one class or multiple classes. I used the blog with three sections of my English 105 classes (a total of 74 students), and in the future I hope to collaborate with other instructors on a blog. I found that the opportunity for students to comment on posts by people they hadn’t met increased the critical aspect of their comments (they were less shy, for instance, about claiming that a message was ineffective because of the anonymity of the comments).
2. The next step is to create an account, choose a URL and decide on a title. I wanted something that challenged students to be assertive in their communication and also encouraged them to think critically about their communities, their college experience and their generation as a whole. I went with the URL millennialsincontext.wordpress.com and the title The Critical Student. If you are working with only one class, it might be a good idea to have the students generate ideas for the title–to help increase their investment in the blog and the process.
3. Before giving students access to the blog, decide on a layout and create pages, categories and menus that correspond with the modules–and the academic papers–taught in your class. For ideas on how to layout your blog, please see one of the modules on this site (I suggest looking at Module 1: Rhetorical Analysis first) to get an idea of the lesson plans that the blog content will be formed around. Here are a few tips for organizing blog content with WordPress:
- create pages that introduce the topic of each module (such as Analysis: Local and Global Messages, Evaluation: Online Reviews, Information: Local and Global Issues and Arguments: Calls to Action) and list these in the main menu bar
- create categories within those headings that will correspond with students’ assignments and posts (such as Our Messages to the Community, Popular Advertisements and News and Social Media)
- link posts to those categories (click here for an example of a post linked to the category Our Messages to the Community)
4. The final step is to give students access to contribute to the blog. To do this with WordPress go to “Users” and then “Invite New.” The students you invite will be sent an email that they will need to accept. I used a computer lab day to walk students through this process. For organization purposes (and managing 74 students on the blog!), I asked them to use the beginning of their school email address as their usernames. When reading through their blog posts, and giving homework credit, I search for their posts with these usernames (I keep the usernames alongside their actual names in my grade book).
Putting the blog together–and developing a system that worked for documenting student homework–proved to be the most complicated part of using a blog in my English 105 classrooms. If you have any questions or concerns about the process, please leave a comment below. Also, if you are reading this and thinking “that sounds like too much work!” I suggest reading my post Grading the Blog. I found that reading and responding to my students’ comments and posts was way more fun and engaging than grading regular homework.