Friday, July 07, 2006

The Case for Classblogmeister

I've been following NECC blogs and presentations pretty carefully over the past three days. With my Bloglines Notifier going off pretty regularly, it's been real easy to stay on top of much of the action, thanks to Technorati and those who tagged their posts.

I must say I'm disappointed and stumped not to have heard a single mention of Classblogmeister. I feel like I should have been there - I would have put out a great sales pitch. David Warlick, the genius behind this incredible tool, is moving right on, and rightly so, with those who are pushing the tech envelope in daring ways. And I think he may be a little shy about pushing hard on something he has personally developed.

I see people at NECC setting up free personal blogs, student blogs, and staff collaboration blogs - on Blogger and Wordpress. It will be interesting to see the expressions on faces of all these new bloggers when they get back to their school districts and find access to those sites are blocked. Lots are trying out Edublogs, but frankly, this system is not as stable as it should be, and I worry about the huge load being put on its server(s) - and it does not offer a controlled environment in which students can learn.

So here's my testimonial, my sales pitch for Classblogmeister. First, it's not blocked. Next, it offers TOTAL teacher approval before any student post or comment on a student post (take that, MySpace fear mongers). Teachers can leave online feedback for students to improve their writing (like if they want to get it published) that is hidden from public view. Next, it's free (thanks to David W's generosity). It also has a very active list on Yahoo! Groups for sharing and problem solving. Last, I have never, in 25 years of teaching, seen a more powerful classroom tool for motivating students to write. Nothing else even comes close. It is the perfect blogging tool for teachers.

So it absolutely stuns me that I hear so little mention of it. I should have put up a presentation at NECC. I've been asked to present regionally on this, but there is no money, either in my wallet or my school's to make that happen. So I'll continue to preach from this little corner. Maybe this would make a good topic for my first personal podcast - I'll have to think more about that one!

Anyone reading here who is looking for a safe blog for students, look no farther than Classblogmeister. It is especially suited for elementary and middle school aged children. Please be clear about this, students EACH HAVE THEIR OWN BLOGS. In my opinion, having students leave comments on a teacher's blog is NOT blogging, nor does that practice empower students to deal in any way with the reality they face when they go home and go online - which is part of the reason to start young, and at school. More importantly, it does not present a learning opportunity for writing.

My own experience using Classblogmeister with my third graders this year has been absolutely phenomenal. I'll close by leaving pointers to a few posts I have left on my year with them. I encourage the reading of all their blogs (oh, and they are still blogging this summer, even though school is out) at roomtwelve.com:

14 comments:

Cheryl Oakes said...

Hi Mark,
I totally agree, maybe you should present in Atlanta next year, I'll be looking for you. Last week at a teacher workshop the participants chose Classblogmeister to start their class blogs. I think they were pleased with my description, and my testimonial regarding the community, the yahoo group and the blogs. I don't thank David Warlick enough for his generous support and vision by providing this for us. So, thank you David! Cheryl Oakes

Dean Shareski said...

Interesting observation. I agree with you on most points but I've found classblogmeister seems to lose its appeal with students beyond about 6th grade. It lacks a bit of control and customization that is so important for students. Clarence Fisher can elaborate on this more.
But in terms of filtering and for younger students, it's the tool of choice.

gordon brune said...

Can't agree with you more, Mark.

I had been thinking about and playing with blogs for several years (when it was pretty much just Manila run blogs out there)but was not willing to use them as a classroom tool in the elementary grades until blogmeister came along.

The structure of each student getting their own space and link made so much more sense to me than having them submit articles to one blog and filing it as a category.

The moderation controls for articles and comments was also crucial.

If David adds "hot link" and archiving options than I just may get back on the staff development horse and wholeheartedly endorse it to my colleagues. These may seem like minor options but to promote the "read\write" web thing on a small scale with elementary students I think they need to be able to "hot link" to other websites and not just copy\paste a url.

I also see the work the students do through the blog as an "electronic portfolio" that can be archived for future classes and for self-reflection. I want each class in it's entirety saved as an archived blog and not each student "orphaned" to obscurity.

I used to think the buggieness of blogmeister kept me from endorsing it but it's gotten just as stable as many other education-blogging tools out there. And in many ways that is what I like about it. The major bugs are usually caused by David trying to make changes to it and that is ultimately a good thing and reflects his commitment to the process. The esprit-de-corp that has built up around the blogmeister user community as we try to problem solve and tweak its use has been a major benefit of for me -- sometimes I feel as if I correspond with some of the blogmeister users as much as some of the colleagues I work with in my same school building!

I can understand the reservations about the levels of customization and can appreciate the moves to other tools that Clarence and others have made. But the levels of moderation and control blogmeister offers are the ONLY reason I am blogging in my classroom. If it wasn't for the moderation there would be NO way I would take the risk of something being posted that is inappropriate. (Hey, I've even asked for more controls, like having an approval system for the students changing the iconic image for their blog!)

Rick said...

Thanks Mark. I just started using a blog in my classroom as the year ended and I experienced the power of this tool too. I am using Edublogger and I agree that by having students comment only and not create their blog is doing a disservice to them. You have sold me on Classblogmeister.

Mark Ahlness said...

Great to hear from you folks. I am kicking myself for not writing something like this sooner. But maybe this is another one of those good things that comes from having a big conference, even if you're not there - it just gets minds to humming.

I mentioned doing a podcast on the topic of classblogmeister, and I shall do that. The wheels keep spinning... hmmm.... wait, I know - a Skypecast! I'm going to try. Stay tuned. Thanks - Mark

Wesley Fryer said...

Mark, your idea for a skypecast on blogging tools sounds brilliant! This may be too soon but, I went ahead and setup a skypecast on this topic for this Tuesday, July 11th at 8pm Central time. I titled it Pros and Cons of Educational Blogging Options. I think you should definitely start your own podcast though! Whether or not this time works for you next week, hopefully you'll do your own podcast on this topic.

Thanks for continuing to share your ideas and thoughts, and challenge others in their thinking and practices as well! :-)

Mark Ahlness said...

Wesley, cool!!! I'll be there for your Skypecast - Mark

Tom Hoffman said...

Classblogmeister is a great idea, until it gets too expensive for David to run, he gets tired of it, or he is run over by a truck.

Small-scale free blogging hosts don't have a very good track record for longevity, and they tend to die ungracefully.

And I'd apply the same argument to edublogs.org.

Kyle Stevens said...

Mark

Good write-up regarding Classblogmeister. I agree with most everyone that David's program is great. The controls of the program allow the students to focus on the writing process and communicating with students beyond the wall of the classroom. I like that the students have some, but limited ability to personalize their pages. The students can change the template and add some personal touches, but the limits do not allow the students to spend so much time with add-ons that they neglect the assignments.

I must disagree with Dean regarding age appeal. I teach sophomore English and sophomore History and found through student responses that the blogging activities were some of the most appealing to the students. My students enjoyed the ability to read the responses of fellow classmates. By adding a Clustrmap my student were in awe over the locations of people viewing our class site.

I'd like to public thank David for all of his work because it is truly a great site and program. The fact that he can provide this service and support for the program without charging the numerous teacher who use the website is even more phenomenal.

Kyle Stevens

Dean Shareski said...

Kyle,

I guess one has to decide whether or not you see your blog as disposal and also whether you hope students will maintain it beyond the life of the class.
I highly doubt that high school students will continue to blog after the class has wrapped up. Further, are you willing to continue to monitor the site.
Part of my belief that blogmeister has a limited shelf life in terms of age is the popularity of myspace. Ugly as most of the sites are, they are popular because of the high level of customization. Customization is not simply a frivolous waste of time but I think is critical to develop ownership.

Tamera said...

Thanks Mark! I was at NECC as well and echo your comments about blogmeister. I am fairly new to blogging but began using it in my Spanish classes (high school level) at the end of last year to give students an opportunity to improve their Spanish writing skills. They were energized to have the opportunity to communicate in a cyber community instead of just to me. This year I plan to continue with the same concept, but hope to solicite the participation of some international classrooms through an iPoPP (International Projects or Partners Place).
Tamera Terndrup

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