Q: Is it safe to set students up with blogs?
A: Only if it is done with care and caution and training by a person that is very familiar with how the internet, websites, and blogs work, and who has experience teaching and training children. I train the parents and the students in internet safety and protocol, and I monitor and moderate the children's posts. If someone finds the student's blog, they will not be able to contact the student, and the student's blog reveals no identifying information or images. My two eldest daughters (10 and 12) have blogs. If the student posts anything that isn't rated G or doesn't conform to the internet safety guidelines I have established in my class, their blog will be discontinued and deleted.
Q: Do you recommend that I set these up with my child, or if I'm a teacher, with my classroom?
A: If I can't set it up and monitor it myself, I can't vouch for whether it's a good idea. I am only confident that I am setting it up properly with my own students and my daughters at home. I have many years of personal experience as a blogger and website owner, I have 3 daughters, and I also have 13 years experience as a teacher.
Q: You said that your students are publishing their work and sharing it with a worldwide audience. How do people find their blogs?
A: Most of the people who visit the students' blogs are other students in our class, myself, teachers at our school, and student family members and friends. The content of the student blogs is such that it would be very unlikely that anyone would "stumble" upon the blogs, because what they are writing about is not unique to the internet, and it doesn't contain any images or words that might draw attention.
That being said, with the internet being what it is, they do get some random visitors from different places in the world, and this thrills them! They open the "Stats" page of their website with the same type of excitement and wide-eyed anticipation that they have when opening presents. It shows them a map of the world, and any regions that have people that visited their site are highlighted. They can also tell how people got to their site, what browser types their readers use, how many "hits" they recieve a day, and which of their posts are the most popular. All of this information is rendered in graphs and charts that help teach statistics, decimals, and percent.
If the student is writing about a field trip to the zoo, there are probably hundreds of thousands of other websites about the zoo that will show up in search engines before their blog shows up. In fact, people and companies pay a lot of money and spend a lot of time setting up their websites so they do get noticed. This is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and it is a huge industry unto itself. Smaller sites like personal blogs that contain G-rated, common material are out their floating in cyberspace, but you'll probably never see them unless you know the author and they ask you to look at their blog.
Even if you did happen to find one of my student's blogs, you wouldn't be able to know who the student was, their age, address, what they looked like, or get any contact information. You could try posting a comment on their blog but it will come to me first and if it's not G-rated and positive, I will delete it before the student ever sees it.
Q: Do you set up all of your students with blogs?
A: No. I only do it when parents request it, and even then, I don't always set it up.The student-parent-teacher relationship must meet certain requirements. If a student isn't sufficiently responsible and I cannot trust that they will benefit from it, I tell them that I will be happy to provide them with opportunities to write and create on paper, but not on the internet. Some parents have also not pursued the option. Out of 34 students I have 20 with blogs.
Q: How are your student's blogs different from Facebook?
A: Facebook is not for kids. Facebook is for adults who use it to share personal information and photos. That is not how we use blogs. Our student blogs are for displaying student work.
The way I have my students use blogs, they are set up to provide the student with what I call a "virtual workbench" to develop their reading, writing, and art skills. It is a creative writing and student art outlet. Facebook can be a fun tool for adults to share personal information, photos, and short personal tidbits, but it is not where you would typically see people posting stories or essays or scanned artwork. My student's blogs are all about showing off their stories, essays, and scanned artwork, and they share no personally identifying information or photos.
Q: What are your plans for this project?
A: I believe that blogs need to be closely monitored by tech-savvy teachers who know the students they are supervising, so I do not have any plans to create a larger program under my own direction. I already monitor nearly 40 student blogs and that's a manageable amount. If other teachers or schools wanted to ask me how to set up a program, I would be happy to consult with them. The main point of this site is to simply spread the word about this great teaching tool. If others are inspired by it, that would be great. It has certainly revolutionized my own classroom!
For my Master's Thesis, I may do research on the effect of blogs on student learning. Kid-friendly technology is something I'm looking into for future Ph.D work.