Today was such a fun day: I got to spend it reading and responding to student blog posts, which means the new semester really has begun! In this post, I actually won’t be saying much about Canvas because the LMS is, sad to say, a complete fail when it comes to letting people create their own spaces online. That’s why I use a blog network instead, and I am going to spend this week explaining how the blog network works in my classes.
Today, I’ll begin at the beginning: how the students get their blogs up and running, and how I then subscribe and follow their blog posts.
Student blogs. Most of the students in my classes have never blogged before. I really hope that in a few years I will see that start to change. I teach (mostly) graduating seniors, so that means they have taken 25 or more college courses so far and not have not learned to use a blog in any of those classes. Ouch. Luckily, blogging is super-easy, and here are the instructions I share with them to get them started: Creating a Blog and Writing Your First Post. (That’s the second assignment in the week-long Orientation that occupies the first week of class.)
Platform-neutral. Building a blog network just means that all the students need to blog; they don’t need to use the same blogging tool. Any tool will work provided that the blog has a full RSS feed for the posts and a separate feed for the comments, and it should also be ad-free. Blogger and WordPress are the obvious candidates, but if someone wanted to use another blog platform that met those requirements, that would be fine. In fact, that would be great! In terms of the technical support that I provide, it’s based on Blogger, and that’s because WordPress.com’s ads make it a no-go for my class. Now with the OUCreate project, students can get oucreate.com WordPress blogs for free, so I am seeing more and more WordPress blogs in the class, which I really appreciate: it’s a way for all the students in the class to see that there are a variety of blogging platform options, and just a matter of personal choice which one you might use. I’ve been using blogs in classes for over 10 years, having moved from Bloglines to Ning to Blogger and now to this system of student choice, but Blogger is still my go-to blogging platform, and I think it’s the easiest one for students to start with who are new to blogging. I’ll have more to say about that in a later post too!
Building the network with Inoreader. As the students create their blogs, they send me an email with the address. After that, they don’t have to email me about their blog posts: I can subscribe to their blogs and see the posts pop up automatically. I use Inoreader as my blog reader, and it is AMAZING. It’s like a combination of the old Google Reader and the old Yahoo Pipes plus all the filters and rules you might use in an email program. I’ll have a lot more to say about that in future posts, but I’ll just explain the basics here today.
Roster with addresses. I have a spreadsheet going already with the students’ names, nicknames, majors, and email addresses as a result of the first assignment they do, which involves completing a simple Google Form. I add a column to the spreadsheet with those form results where I can paste in the blog address (it will be useful later on to have a complete list of all the blog addresses), and then I paste the address into the subscribe box in Inoreader. Students give their blogs all kinds of titles, but I rename the subscription in Inoreader to make it easier for me to keep track of, using a class code (MF or IE for Myth-Folklore or Indian Epics, the two classes I teach), and the student’s preferred name along with last initial if needed to avoid ambiguity. I then put the renamed blog into two different folders (you can put a blog in multiple folders, no problem): one folder that is class-specific and one folder that is for both classes; I need those two different folders to manage the filters-and-rules that I will explain next time.
I then subscribe to the comments feed, renaming the subscription again in the same way, and putting it into a folder with all the comments (I don’t need those separated by class, so there is just one folder with all the comment streams in it).
Watching the blogs. After I subscribe, Inoreader harvests all the blog posts, and it does so in almost-real-time, which means that I see the posts basically as soon as the students publish them. During the first few weeks of class, I actually do read all the posts, and I comment on a lot of them; I’ll explain more about that later this week in a separate post (later in the semester, the blog network is really a space where the students interact, while I focus on giving feedback about their projects).
Here are just some of the views I use in Inoreader:
Incoming posts by class, title only (I can then click on the title to pop open the contents of the post that I want to view, much like opening an email):
Student view. In addition to viewing the contents of an entire class folder, I can also choose to view a single feed in that folder, looking at the blog posts of just one student, as here:
I use the “star” to indicate the posts where I have left a comment, and I’ll have more to say about that later also!
The real power of Inoreader comes from being able to view the blogs in specific assignment streams: all the Introduction posts, for example, as you can see here. I’ve been diligently commenting on the Intro posts, which is why they all have stars:
Inoreader assigns those tags to incoming posts automatically. I’ll make the amazing Inoreader rules and filters the subject of tomorrow’s post!
And now that I’m done with this post, I’ll go back to reading student blogs. It’s so much fun getting to know all these new students each semester and also reconnected with students whom I know from a previous class. It is indeed a Happy New Year!
The blog network: it’s a space I will explore all semester long!
Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.