What should I use for a blog in my classroom, and why?
August 31, 2005 3:53 PM   Subscribe

Blogging in the classroom. I've decided to set-up a blog for my students this semester. This will be the place for their response papers, writing exercises and a few other tidbits. It needs to have access for 5-10 members, a very easy set-up, free-to-near-free pricing (although I would pay or find the dollars to fund if it was warranted), and very clear posting/linking instructions for the students. Advice on selecting a blogging system needed.

What should I use?
- Blogger has a free version, with "team blog" as an option, and it looks like a Microsoft Word plug-in or something. This looks pretty attractive. What is the downside of Blogger? Privacy? Ads? The searchbar? Support?

- Moveable Type has educational pricing at $40 for my needs, but is it rather difficult to install, customize, set-up, etc.? I don't know anything beyond very basic HTML; I'm pretty techno-savvy [as in, I can do lots of stuff on computers and other gadgets but no programming] so I could follow instructions, but as the semester has already started, I don't want to put oodles of time into this. Is there a way to have it ready-to-go for me instead?

- I use TypePad for my (currently neglected) blog, so I'm familiar with their process and keys, but don't see how it would work for our class right now. Could it? With 5+ members?

- What about Drupal?

- What else should I consider? I found this old thread, but I know that the last year-and-a-half has been busy in the blogging industry and educational blogging. What do I need to know about blogging with my class? Dangers? Advice? Good grades for all who respond!
posted by fionab to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think the downside to Blogger is spam in the comments. There's a new captcha system which is supposed to foil spam comments, but I'm not sure how successful it is (I've been using Haloscan for comments instead--but couldn't tell you how effective the blacklists are for foiling spam, as I have a very small blog with not much traffic. My guess is "not very," as they're IP-based rather than captcha-based).

There's also, incidentally, a lot of spam on Blogger itself, posing as blogs. (Click "next blog" X times and see if it's not one-tenth spam and link farms.)

Anyway, of the options you've mentioned, Blogger is the only one I have any experience with, and spam is my biggest gripe about it.
posted by Tuwa at 4:04 PM on August 31, 2005

I'm very happy with wordpress right now, and they support multiple authors of varying levels of access. Drupal, as far as I can tell, needs a rocket scientist to operate it. Vanilla, by Lussumo, is a great forum implementation, if you decide to go more that direction.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 4:24 PM on August 31, 2005

Moveable Type requires patience, time, and dedication. My boyfriend runs his blog with MT and for him it's a great option, but if something goes wrong, then he's on the computer for several hours trying to upload stuff to get it all right. And he has a degree in computer science, so he knows such things.

I use Blogger (have done so for 4 years now) and I am fully satisfied. It's easy to use, everything is on their servers so there's nothing I can mess up, and it fully supports multiple-user blogs. That'd be my recommendation, personally. (I haven't had any trouble with comment spam, either, but then I have a pretty low-traffic blog and go out of my way to keep search engines out.)
posted by salad spork at 4:30 PM on August 31, 2005

Blogger is fine. You probably don't want to set up and install a blogging platform for this purpose yourself, but if you like Drupal (I love it) Bryght is offering temporarily free Drupal hosting (in beta, after which it will go to $40 a month for one site). It's very easy to configure, and does all you could want without having to know your PHP from your SQL. No word on when they go out of beta and start charging, but $40 a month for a couple of months should be bearable if it happens soon.

I assume security is a major issue, with kids especially, and that you'll want to restrict posting and probably reading to registered users.
posted by realcountrymusic at 4:53 PM on August 31, 2005

A Livejournal community sounds like it'd cover what you're looking for. Free, easy, no ads, no comment spam, restricted access available, and you can lock it so only members can read it if you want.
posted by Melinika at 6:26 PM on August 31, 2005

I did this with Blogger and a class of 19 students last year and it worked fine. The low learning curve of Blogger freed me from having to devote classroom time to teaching how to use it. And if you add the Google Toolbar to your browser you can quickly throw up whatever links you like.
posted by LarryC at 6:30 PM on August 31, 2005

LJ does (like Blogger) have the occasional spam; I've seen some of it in a few of the communities I read. I'm sure they're working to combat it also.
posted by Tuwa at 6:55 PM on August 31, 2005

I took an on-line class at Virginia Tech a year ago. There were ~30 students, and it was run in Drupal. I'd never worked with Drupal, and I wasn't on the administrative side, but I was very impressed with it as a student.
posted by waldo at 7:38 PM on August 31, 2005

Response by poster: I got a great response from Mike Shapiro, who doesn't have an account here:

"I've done exactly what you're describing in a first-year college comp class (University of Wisconsin - Madison) for the past two years. Conveniently, a friend followed my process more or less exactly and then wrote it up for her tech fellowship last year. The resulting descriptive webpage is here.

We (Annette and I, as well as a third colleague) all used Blogger for reasons described in that document. There are links there to a step-by-step illustrated handout that I gave to students explaining to them how to set up their Blogger account. If you want to talk at all about any part of this process - grading, standards, topics, etc. - I would be delighted to chat more. Blogging is probably the most effective pedagogical tool I have ever encountered."

The site where they describe the process, results, ethics, frequency, and other teaching tools is really invaluable. He kindly let me post it here for others considering using blogging as a teaching tool. Also, for the record, my class is comprised of mostly first- and second-year university students. One or two of them know that a blog is "like an online diary" but none of my students have been involved in writing/participating in one. Most of them have never even read a blog, so this is a whole new territory for them. Thanks so far for the responses, and keep the reviews/suggestions coming!
posted by fionab at 7:42 PM on August 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

Side comment: fionab, thanks for that great link.
posted by realcountrymusic at 9:35 PM on August 31, 2005

I teach freshman composition, and I've been using Drupal for my class blogs for the past few semesters (self-link example sites: 1, 2, 3). Drupal provides each student with an individual blog and then aggregates all of those blogs into a single class blog. As the administrator of the site, you can "promote" posts to the front page of the site, moderate comments, and add non-blog pages to cover things like a syllabus, assignment sheets, etc.

Drupal does require a MySQL database and PHP running on your server, but it certainly isn't any harder to install than Movable Type. It took me about 30 minutes to set up my first site (I'm not a programmer by any stretch of the imagination), and now I can add a new site in five minutes.

You might want to check out DrupalED, a customized version of Drupal designed specifically for classrooms. I'd be happy to answer any other questions, too. My email is in my profile.
posted by lewistate at 9:58 PM on August 31, 2005

There are a number of education-specific CMSs out there. My personal favourite (I'm a trainee physics teacher) is Segue but I've also heard good things about Moodle.

Your best bet is to try them all out at OpenSourceCMS. Just click on the e-Learning link on the right hand side and follow on from there.

(BTW, mad props to the OpenSourceCMS crew, it's a great service)
posted by alby at 1:53 AM on September 1, 2005

Several excellent suggestions were made here. I have one of my own: Tell the students to avoid the use of "blog" as a verb.
posted by yclipse at 5:13 AM on September 1, 2005

Response by poster: yclipse: heh. Bit late for that, no?
posted by fionab at 5:57 AM on September 1, 2005

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