So you want to blog with your students? Great! Blogging is an amazing tool that helps move writing from the realm of “for the teacher only” to “global – gasp!” If you’ve already decided that blogging is a good idea, I’m not going to get into all the whys of why blogging is a great idea. (And if you’re not convinced, check out the posts here and here.)
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Once you’ve decided to take the plunge, the biggest question I usually hear is, “What platform should I use?” This is particularly important, since different platforms have different purposes (and pros and cons). I am a huge fan of WordPress (it’s what I use for this blog), so that’s where we’re going to start. There are three flavors of WordPress that I recommend: Edublogs, WordPress.com, and self-hosted WordPress.org.
Edublogs is probably my favorite platform to use with my students. This year I’ve been experimenting with another option, but I keep coming back to Edublogs.
Target User: teachers and students
Cost: free, with premium upgrade ($39.95/year)
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Pros: Edublogs is set up to be used by educators and students. Teachers can create their account and then connect their students’ accounts. This means that each student blog can be monitored easily, posts and comments can be set for approval-only (if you prefer to check all posts and comments before they go live), and any premium benefits the teacher has paid for are automatically shared by connected students (so, if the teacher purchases the premium membership that includes access to all the themes, the students also gets access to these things). Another nice thing with Edublogs is that the plugins are curated to weed out poorly coded and/or dangerous ones. They’ve also wisely, made it so that students don’t necessarily have the ability to install plugins.
Cons: Edublogs is a company that hosts your site. There are some things that are limited (although I’ve never found this to be an issue since they’re very smart about what users can and can’t do). The biggest challenge with Edublogs (and any WordPress-based blog) is teaching students to use it. It’s not complicated at all, but at first glance it can be intimidating. Students will need to learn the difference between a page (static) and a post (dynamic and changing). They’ll also need to learn how to insert images and media. But, these aren’t hard to teach, and many students will figure it out quickly.
Check out Edublogs.
Target User: humans
Cost: free, with premium upgrades
Pros: WordPress.com is another great option for students, especially older ones. Since this platform is open to anyone and not geared towards the education world, students can take their blogs anywhere, even after class ends. Wordpress.com give students access to the wide world of themes and plugins (both free and paid), without limitation (except cost). This means that students can decide to really personalize their blogs.
Cons: Because this is geared towards every day people, there is no option to connect students to a master account. This means that you can’t pre-approve posts and/or comments. It also means that students can accidentally add a plugin that crashes their site. And because there is no way for the teacher to moderate comments, anyone in the world could, possibly, comment (although the students can change their settings to require approval of all comments prior to them going live – which I highly suggest). As with Edublogs, there is a learning curve to understand the structure of a WP blog and to figure out some of the basic functionality. However, it’s definitely worth learning.
Check out WordPress.com.
Target User: corporations and power-users
Cost: cost of hosting ($4+/month), domain ($10+/year), themes/plugins (optional)
Pros: By self-hosting WP, you gain complete control over your site, its themes, plugins, and content. You can monetize your site, make it multi-site (with BuddyPress – which makes it a bit like Edublogs), and event sell things. Although this blog is a self-hosted WordPress install, I don’t recommend this for average students and teachers, just because the initial setup can be a little overwhelming to some people. However, many hosting sites have made it increasingly easy to install due to the high popularity of WP. And, with some plugins, you can actually turn your site into a small version of Edublogs (using multi-ste or BuddyPress plugins). The biggest pro to self-hosting is that you can almost literally do anything with your site.
Cons: The greatest con to self-hosting is the setup and maintenance. Edublogs and WordPress.com will update your installation and plugins automatically (usually). However, with self-hosting, you usually do this yourself (some hosts give you the option to have this done automatically, and you can use a service like ManageWP* to manage your site and update things for you, too). Another con is that, as with WordPress.com, you will need to learn (and teach) the basic functions of the site, as well as the more advanced functions such as managing settings, themes, and plugins.
Target User: humanity, although there is an educational version aimed at teachers and students
Cost: free with premium upgrades
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Pros: One of the strongest arguments for Weebly is its drag-and-drop editor. Weebly makes it super easy to add content to a page or post, although sometimes its formatting options are limited (which could be a good thing for some users). Another pro for Weebly is its easy setup. Signing up and getting a page on the web is super easy, and they’ve got a great tutorial/help section. There is also an education version that allows teachers some control over student accounts. Overall, I think this is a really good option for younger students. It’s also a good starter option if you aren’t really sure how to make things work.
Cons: Since most teachers will choose a free option, some options are unavailable, like some video options. Also, the limitations to arranging the drag-and-drop building blocks can be frustrating. My students have also pointed out (and repeatedly demonstrated) that publishing their posts can be confusing because it seems to allow users to change their URL every time they post (and this is not something anyone should want to do). I think this is a marketing thing, to try and encourage users to upgrade to their domain option, but it can cause issues if students don’t understand that the URL shouldn’t change (I tell students the URL is like their home address – they remodel or upgrade their house, but they don’t change their address).
Check out Weebly. (this link takes you to the educational version).
Target User: Anyone with a Google account
Cost: free (with premium options)
I haven’t used blogger, so I wouldn’t consider myself an expert (or even knowledgeable) in Blogger. However, it integrates with Google, so teachers who use Google products (including Google Apps for Education) might prefer this option. It’s free and easy.
Check out Blogger.
But Wait, There’s More
Your students don’t have to be limited to traditional blogs or websites. I’ve heard of students blogging on Instragram, Tumblr, and other platforms. Some of these platforms depend on what the student wants to talk about. Students who want to focus on photography or short “day-in-the-life” stories, may want to use Instagram or Tumblr. That’s something you should decide. I don’t mind this, but it does sometimes make things more complicated, and it may not accomplish the goals of your blogging initiative. Also, often, sites like Instagram and Tumblr have plugins that allow students to integrate their feeds into their blogs (we’ll talk about that at a later time).
My recommendations for younger bloggers is Weebly (or possibly Blogger) for its ease of use.
For older bloggers and class blogging, I recommend Edublogs.
For tech-saavy teachers and administrators, I recommend self-hosted WordPress.
Regardless of the platform (or platforms) that you choose, don’t forget that you can change things up if you want. This year I’m using Weebly. Next year I’m going back to Edublogs. Also, since most of these options have a free account, you should sign up and play around. That way you’ll have a really good idea of what each platform offers.
Do you have a favorite blogging platform? Please share it in the comments!
*disclosure: affiliate link