The Class Blogs: Protecting Student Privacy

At the start of the semester, I had no time to do this post properly. So I’ve finished it up as the semester winds down. I’m teaching an honors seminar, a small class of students. I’ve hoped that a blog could be a good way to encourage communication among the students. While I am no pioneer–I’ve often read published blogs associated with courses–I’m troubled with the idea that student writing should be exposed to the public, especially when I encourage blogs as an opportunity for early drafts. I’ve sought to address this concern by asking the students to create a blog that is only readable by other students. These are the steps that I used to set it up, though I’ve decided to set it up on Blogger rather than on WordPress (I just found Blogger’s security tools to be more intuitive than WordPress’s). I’ve asked the students to set up workgroups of 3 or 4 authors. These instructions I gave were as follows:

  1. Choose groups of 3 or 4 to serve as your workgroup.
  2. If you do not have one already, sign in to create a Google Account (www.google.com | Sign in | Create an Account). Note: You don’t need to use Google Mail. Any email account can become a Google account.
  3. Have one member of workgroup go to http://www.blogger.com and set up a blog using Google account.
  4. Give your blog a name.
  5. On the “Settings Tab”, click “Basic”. For additional privacy, change settings for “listings” and “search engines” to “No.”
  6. Also on the “Settings” tab, click “Permissions.”
  7. Add second, third, (and, if necessary, fourth) member to blog as “Authors.”
  8. Select “(“Only people I choose”) and invite everyone else in class (instructor, members of other workgroups) to read your workgroup’s blog.
  9. I then sent a list of email names. The blogger invitation tool is persnickety and only tolerates name in format of mail@domain.edu, separated by commas, but not allowing quotations.

There were a few hitches, but the students successfully set up workgroup blogs and created initial posts. After the blog is set up, the next step is to allow feeds and to have each group subscribe to all the other blogs. Another important task is to encourage individual students to export blogs to save them (should they become corrupt). And another step is to add keywords or tags.

My hope was that a blog would encourage more frequent communication. For the most part, it worked. Some of the most lively exchanges in class were fostered by blogging. I find it easier to set up blogs than it is to use the course software, which seems to be designed on the model of an instructor building content and the student consuming it. Maybe, buried in all Vista’s options, is a tool that can open lines of communication. But I never found it.

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