You might have seen John’s recent blog post about the new WordPress.com Education and classroom initiative and got really excited about the idea of blogs revolutionising education. As a teacher of English as a foreign language and a keen blogger I have looked at ways to make use of blogging for both my students and my own personal development as a teacher for a while now.
In the former case I ran several blog projects with students to publicly show off their best works and chronicle their learning. In the latter case I started my own blog to reflect and improve myself.
As I learned more about blogging and connected with other English Language teachers who blogged I heard about Edublogs a blog platform for educators, teachers and students.
Seeing as Edublogs has a free sign up I decided to give it a try and to my surprise (though it really shouldn’t have been) I found it was based on WordPress.
But how different is Edublogs from Standard WordPress and the WordPress.com education initative in particular?
As I mentioned Edublogs is targeted at those in Education rather than general blogging. As such they envision blogs being used to
- Facilitate discussion
- Replace paper newsletters
- Encourage students to blog
- Post videos podcasts and presentation
- Create a class publication.
With ideas about semi-autonomous learning and the “flipped classroom” on the rise, using blogs within teaching to both provide resources for students and for students to record their progress is becoming ever more popular.
Perhaps it is no wonder then that Edublogs currently has a community of 1,651,193 blogs.
To achieve this, Edublogs has built in a few features that you won’t see on your standard WordPress.com account (but could get via self-hosting).
Personal, Class or institutional accounts
Edublogs offers a range of accounts not limited to an individual. The basic version is a free account that anyone can open with an email address. This gives you basic features comparable to WordPress.com but without some of the themes and Ad free (a nice incentive to an educator)
After that there are educator accounts (at $7.95 a month or $39.95 a year) which opens up more options like embedding html videos and the ability to set up, and monitor, blogs for students. Other perks of an educators account include custom domains, use of plugins and visitor stats.
Finally there are institutional accounts (that come in a range of sizes). These accounts allow for a whole educational establishment to use edublogs as their offical blogging platform. To do this they add in customised branding, more network facilities so you can manage hundreds of blogs and different access levels (for example, administrators, teachers, students).
Edublogs have a range of themes that differ from the standard themes you find on WordPress.com (such as the copyblogger based theme I run on my test site).
However, you can still find your old WordPress favorites like twenty twelve and a couple of other themes by Auttomatic. Although some of these new themes are very attractive, in general the best ones are also found on WordPress.com (the worst probably are too but are hidden amoungst the other themes)
Manage other blogs
One of the great features is the ability to manage other blogs. A feature vital for a teacher. In the past I used posterous as a way to collaborate on a blog, provide feedback and check on what my students were creating. Edublogs management features is a great addition though with the changes in collaborative publishing coming in wordpress 3.6 this feature may be less attractive
Branding is important and for an educational institution to be able to change the login images and other give away clues that the blog is provided by an alternative company is an important feature.
Wikis can be a great features for project work and collaboration. However, they can also be a useful way to provide resources for students to access in their own time and at their leisure to continue their learning beyond the walls of the classroom. Although you can set this up on a self-hosted serve it requires more skill than some teachers have.
Although many people want to have their blogs found by search engines, students might be more self-concious about their work than your average blogger. The built in privacy features (including password protection) are a great way to help students to build up their confidence.
What is different from WordPress.com education
As James Framer of WPMU,com and Edublogs points out on in his recent article, WordPress.com Education is really just a landing page and a new Chalkboard theme.
Where as Edublogs has several seperate functions that aren’t avalible on a Standard WordPress.com system. To gain the best extra features (such as the ability to upload videos and manage other blogs) you do need to pay but the prices are comparable to Hosting options.
Overall I think Edublogs is a great system and I know many other teachers who make use of it…It isn’t enough to tempt me from my Self-hosted blog but I would certainly recommend it to other teachers.