Saturday, December 3, 2016

Sharing Our Stories

My final post for this course will be a follow-up from my last post about blogs.  I chose this topic because this year I have working with some students in one of our very rural school districts.  One of the blogs that I referenced in writing this post was Using Blogs to Engage English-Language Learners by Jon Schwartz, who stated “blogs provide a virtual workbench that students can use to find their creative muse and learn about the technological world they are inheriting.”  This is a fantastic and astute statement about the potential of what blogs can provide students in their learning.  In this post I want to share the experience, in addition to a couple great resources.  

The students I work with use Edublogs to create and share blogs about stories they are learning about their area.  While they are still working on mastering this form of communication, they have not yet made their posts public.  Making their blog public is creating a lot of anxiety with many students.  Their anxiousness has impelled the students to increase focus on their communication skills.  The teachers have definitely seen a drastic improvement with some students in their written communication.  There was more critical discussions among students about their writing.  The discussions were rich with suggestions that could improve each student’s writing skills and assisted them in creating a more engaging blog with the audience.  This could prove a very valuable resource when it comes to ESL students.  It appears students are taking more time on drafting, proofing and analyzing feedback with their written work.  

On top of contemplating about their writing, they also looked for ways they could make their blogs more entertaining through the use of links, videos, and maps.  Students created a digital map using Google’s Power My Map tool available to students with Google Apps for Education accounts.  By utilizing these tools, students  have the ability to give the audience an interactive experience that shares the location of all the events.  Students made a collaborative map that they linked to their blogs. The map allowed visitors to go to other student’s blogs and view stories they shared.  Students were able to go to all these locations and get pictures and videos to share on their blogs.  This experience was a great way for students to become more of the creator, by getting their own pictures and videos, and not just using ones they found on the internet.  This whole project has allowed their stories to come alive, and they are looking forward to publishing for a global audience.  Therein lies the power of this tool, giving the students a chance to reach out and share their stories with an audience bigger they previously knew possible.

Although these students are part of the Google Apps for Education, and had access to the awesome blogging to Blogger as part of the Google services, they chose a tool they were familiar with using in the past.  Edublogs is also a great tool to help students create blogs.  The only disadvantage is it is a paid service, but being that this services solely focuses on blogging, teachers are given a ton a features and functionality.  They are definitely more administrative features on Edublog for use with a classroom of students, than there are with Blogster. It integrates well with Google, so students had no problem sharing maps, documents and presentations created with their Google Apps.  As an Instructional Technology Specialist, I would recommend the Edublog service, but if you don’t want to spend the money and have Google Apps for Education, than Blogger might be the way to go.

There is one more tool you might want to look into if you are thinking about having students publish works like blogs and eportfolios and are using GAFE, Google Sites.  This is Google’s website creating tool. They have finally redesigned this service, and it is their best overhaul yet, making the service more like the website builders Wix, Squarespace and Weebly.  Best yet, it is free for students and teachers to create as many websites as their heart desires!  Sites can be collaborative, so more than one student can contribute to the site at a time.  It’s easy to add anything you create or save in your Google Drive, and it’s simple to organize and publish all your work to the web!  Using it as a blogging tool, gives students more access and functionality to design their work anyway they like.  It is much easier to add media elements than it is in any blogging platform.  It is probably best if you use it like an eportfolio and a blog, a place where students can share all their great work and all of their great ideas!  Below is a video I made about Google Sites and how it can be used as an eportfolio.

Feel free to share how you have used blogging tools or websites in your classroom to share student’s work with a global audience!