Monday, December 10, 2012

Balancing Personal and Professional Information on a Student Blog

For most of our IS students, this is the first year they have had their own blog.  Thus far, the blogs are mostly being used as an eportfolio and a home for digital projects. It is also a lab in which they are practicing digital citizenship as they decide what is and is not appropriate to post online.

While this slow, controlled launch of the blogs is appropriate, it does not build a sense of ownership. To increase ownership we first had students select the template for their blog.  Blogger provides a wide range of backgrounds and most children ended up pleased with the look of their blog.

Now we are taking that a further in two ways.  The first way is by creating an avatar. They are learning to be cautious about where online they post their photo.  Creating an avatar lets them represent themselves in a safe and enjoyable way. We used Clay Yourself.  In addition to being great fun, it taught students how to download images and edit their blog profile.  Here is Roman's avatar.

Another way we are helping students personalize their blog is by adding widgets/gadgets to the sidebar. For practical purposes we need them to have a labels widget and a vistor's map.  Neither of those are very exciting to a nine year old. 

A Sidebar Pet
We decided that giving them choices of other widgets would expand their web skills and provide many opportunities for them to find that balance between personal and professional. It would also give them repeated practice in embedding web codes.  That is a skill they will use often.

Left to their own devices, most children will fill the sidebar with animated pets, You Tube videos and games. As a class we work through which things help share their personality and are appropriate for their professional blog. We talk about the problems of using widgets that have advertisements. We discuss how much is too much when it comes to widgets.  We know we will need to keep revisiting this discussion as children practice new digital citizenship skills in this safe space.

Students use this sheet as a guideline and a source of appropriate gadgets. Then the fun begins.  After working together step-by-step to install two types of widgets, the teachers step back, encouraging children to troubleshoot on their own and with others.  This leads to a bit of frustration. Fortunately, students are so motivated that they keep working until they master this new skill.

Soon the classroom is full of friends dragging each other over to see the new widgets they have added. There is lots of laughter, collaboration and even a few happy dances. 

Someone discovers how to change the color of a sidebar pet and they ask to bring the class up to the carpet so she can teach everyone.  Another student figures out how to add a poll to their sidebar and soon this information is being passed from one child to the next.

By the end of the class most students are able to embed widgets on their own. More importantly they've have begun to find that balance between personal and professional online. 

The best part is hearing them ask as they leave, "Can we work on our blogs from home?"

Click these links to see a few examples of how the blogs look with their spiffy backgrounds and sidebars.

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