Reviewing the Class Blog

This semester, I had teachers in my masters class blog together on a single site as opposed to having their own individual spaces. Previously I had always asked the teachers to maintain their own blog. This wasn’t complicated. The issue was that it takes time to build an audience, particularly if you are starting from scratch (which I think I can say everyone always was).

For me, the idea behind blogging was for my students to connect their ideas with a larger audience. I also thought it was important for my students to have a professional online space that they could call their own and develop after the class was over. I saw having a blog, and an online space, as part of something they would benefit from professionally.

However, the majority of my students – at both the masters and doctoral level – do not have a consistent and well developed online presence. It can be a bit disheartening to learn that no one is really reading your work or that it doesn’t get read very consistently. So I switched over to a class blog this semester. It solves the issue of providing readership.

So what I want to do is evaluate how well it provided readership, but then I want to reflect on the limitations of having a class blog.

How Well Does The Class Blog Perform?

If the intention is to generate an audience, then the class blog lives up to what it’s supposed to do. It’s easy to manage, and if there are any issues (which almost never happens) I can handle them as the administrator. As of this writing, we have had views from 34 countries that are not the U.S. Our top five countries are:

  • United States
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • New Zealand

bloggingwordleWe have good numbers in terms of views. And yes, I know that we are our own readers. But I do like that everyone’s writing is all in the same place. It’s much easier to read what your peers are writing when it is located in the same spot. I know – from doing this with my Politics of Reading course – that it takes awhile to grow your readership. If we continued on with this blog in Year 2 then the numbers should grow.

In the end, I do agree that having a class blog – as opposed to individual ones – was a good move for building readership.

The Limitations

The limitations of the class blog is that it is a class blog. Stay with me for a minute. In my Politics of Reading class I think the class blog is an excellent idea. This is an undergraduate course, and the limitations I am about to describe I don’t think apply in that context. But in my masters course, where this particular class blog sits, I actually think that there is a trade off. And here it is –

Because we have a class blog, the teachers do not get to develop a site that fosters a professional digital identity.

Now, of course, for years I had teachers create their own blogs with the idea that they could do this and that they would continue to do it after the course. But it never happened. Here is why I think it didn’t happen (this is based on my own personal opinion and some anecdotal evidence):

  • teachers were flat out not interested; as much as I didn’t want them to see the experience as JUST another course assignment many of them did, and many of them were happy to walk away from it when the course was over and never return
  • the concept of developing a digital identity/presence was never embedded into the program, and it should have been.

Ok – if I’m being honest that second point was probably not going to happen. Why? No one else who teaches in the program has a digital presence. If you do not have a digital presence, if you do not understand what one looks like and what it takes to cultivate one, then you cannot help others do it. I did see instances where an instructor would have students use their blog for a course but it wasn’t done at all like a blog. It was done in the manner of writing papers and posting it to a blog. That’s not 100% accurate, but it’s the best way to describe it and get my point across. The idea being that when a different instructor attempted to have students utilize the existing space they were unable to do it well because they didn’t understand the format and purpose of that space.

At the end of the day, here’s my point:

As professionals, we need to cultivate a digital identity. We then need to help others who comewho are you through our programs do the same thing. For me, this doesn’t make sense in the undergraduate programs I teach, but it does make sense at the doctoral and masters levels. However, creating a digital presence needs to be an expected and embedded part of the program. It cannot be part of an isolated class. Students need opportunities to learn about how to do this and how to do it well. They need consistent and sustained opportunities across the duration of their program to develop it. Some of this they can initiate on their own. Other times, as instructors, we need to be pushing them to do it and giving them assignments to make it happen. However, we cannot help our students develop digital identities unless we do it ourselves.

So for now, the class blog makes sense. It brings in a diverse, world-wide readership and draws attention to the work of my students. But, as professionals, it limits them. While they do own the content they created as part of the blog – I do not care if they take that content and repost it elsewhere – they have not developed a digital presence or identity (or, if you want to argue that they have, then it would be a very limited one), and I do believe this is a downside for them. I do believe we are operating in an age where, as professionals, we have a lot to benefit from mindfully crafting and sharing our work with others. Not only can people benefit from our ideas, but we can benefit by getting feedback and expanding our professional network.

If done well, and embedded within a program, I think it’s a win-win. Let’s talk about how to make it happen.

One Year Ago

Two Years Ago



The Struggle with Blogging

As you know, I am a big fan of having students blog. And, as you also know, I recently decided to have my masters class move into having a multi-authored class blog as opposed to individual ones (see our blog here). The semester is now in full swing, and students are in fact blogging (it’s required in one class and optional in my other). There are, currently, no major issues. However, I did spot some interesting struggles that students expressed before anyone had ever written a single word for a post.

The struggle some of them faced was grounded in freedom.

Now, the directions allow students to write about anything they wish so long as it relates back to the class in some manner. They have a very wide berth of acceptable topics. It’s so wide that they would actively have to work at NOT being on topic to fall short here. So my advice is to pick something they are interested in and write about it.

Once you’ve got your topic, then you have any number of decisions to make about future topics. You could do a series of posts on the same topic. You could explore one topic the entire semester. Each post could be different. Again, any variation is fine.

Then of course comes the time when you actually write it and post it. You decide when you will do this. You schedule it (I have a sign-up sheet so posts don’t get double-booked), and then write it when it pleases you.

What was expressed to me was that the act of blogging – as I have it structured – was practiceoverwhelming (at least for some). Students explained that they had always been told exactly what to write about, when to do it, when it was due, and so on….It’s not that my assignment lacked structure – there are boundaries to it – but the structure does allow for a lot more freedom than they have experienced in their academic careers.

This really isn’t surprising when you think about it. This is pretty typical of how students experience school. What I’m asking them to do – while I don’t think it’s all that out there – is radically different. I think, but this is my interpretation, that the blogging assignment might have raised some anxiety levels.

So, what do you do when your students express this kind of discomfort? Well, if you’re me, you feel pretty ok about it. However, I recognize that it’s an unpleasant position to be in as a learner. But here’s my advice from the teaching end of things:

  • Acknowledge that the discomfort makes sense
  • Tell your students to go forth and do it anyways

I know. That’s all I got. I totally understood why anyone would feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable or any number of things. It made perfect sense to me. That said, the only way out is through. All you can do, as a student, is pick something to write about and get to writing.

What’s the worst that could happen? I can’t tell that much of anything bad will happen. Even if you fail to get something up one week, I have bonus opportunities worked in. You have to make it your goal to fail.

So I did exactly what I suggested. I acknowledged the discomfort and told them to dive in. And you know what? So far, everything is peachy awesome fine. Yes, sometimes I have suggestions to make for improvements but they are minor things.

However, what does this say about our educational system at large? How are we moving students through it, and what are they experiencing? How are these experiences shaping them in ways that support their abilities to be creative and how are they being constrained?

One Year Ago Today

Two Years Ago Today


The Decision to Blog as a Class

I’ve written a decent amount about my experiences with blogging as a teaching tool. In this post, I want to stop and reflect on my decision to not just have students blog in individual spaces, but to have a class blog. If you’re interested, some of my previous posts on blogging include:

At the masters level, I’ve had students set up individual blogs. I did this for a reason. First, I really believe it’s important to teach my students (classroom teachers) the importance and value of having a professional blog. I thought that if they had their own space, and used that space throughout the program, they might continue on with it on their own. I knew that not everyone would do this, but I thought at least some of them would. I don’t think anyone ever has.

In my Politics of Reading course (undergrads), we do a single class authored blog. When I initially made this decision, it was born out of practicality. Students were going to be blogging about issues relevant to the course, but those issues fell under a specific umbrella (the political nature of reading instruction in schools). We didn’t need 20 or more blogs on that, and I thought we could also better promote a single blog if we did it as a class.

With my masters course, one of the biggest struggles has been to gain readership for the teachers. I assume this is because most are not super active on social media (beyond FB) and do not have an audience in place to read their posts. While I can and do share their posts – and have a larger audience to share it with – it’s very difficult to keep up with sharing posts from a bunch of individual blogs. Plus, I start to feel like I’m the only one who cares when I seem to be the only one doing the sharing. If I’m just sharing off a class authored blog I don’t feel overwhelmed – even if I’m sharing the same amount of posts. That’s likely because I just log in to one place instead of 10+ different blogs.

Why Am I Leaning Towards Class Authored Blogs?

It comes down to this: better readership. My Politics of Reading class blogs January-April of each year. The rest of the time the blog is silent. No new material goes up (although I did just compile a Best Of page). And yet, the darn thing continues to grow in terms of readership. Between January 2016 and the end of June 2016, the blog had 400 more views than it did for the entire 2015 year (granted, that was the first year of the blog, but still!). It’s about tripled in average page views per day for the 2016 year when compared against 2015.

In 2016, we have had people from 65 countries – not counting the U.S. – look at the blog by mid-July. In 2015, 23 had people from 53 countries – again, not counting the U.S. – look at the blog for the entire year. Readership is definitely growing, and it appears to be remaining consistent.

This is what I want for my students. For me, a central point behind having students blog is to get others outside the class to read their work. And having a class authored blog, as opposed to lots of individual ones, seems to be the way to go. While I don’t have access to the stats for the individual blogs, it is something that has come up in class before. Most people report that their stats are very, very low to the point that it looks like no one outside the class is reading it. Although some do get readers in other countries and outside the class, most get very little (if any) of that.

Beyond the Class Authored Blog

Ideally, I’d like to move beyond the class authored blog. What I mean is this: While I would like to have a blog for my courses (as it makes sense to do so), I would like for others to join in as authors. I would like to have other classes connect with mine and join up to develop the blog. This gets us further along in developing readership and expanding what gets discussed on the blog. What I’m moving towards here is a multi-class authored blog.

Multi-class authored blogs do not need to be any more complicated than a single-class authored blog. And single class blogs are not complicated to run. All it takes is teaching students how to sign up for a time on a sheet for their post to go live and then scheduling themselves in wordpress. I don’t think I’ve ever had a student get confused or make an error here.

I’m hopeful about finding someone to partner up with in the future to make this happen.

Two Years Ago Today

One Year Ago Today


Tweaking Quests and XP

I’m back at work on my fall courses (started in May). Why? Because I’m super excited about them that’s why. This will be my second year applying principles of gamification to my courses. Last year, I applied it to three/four. In the fall, I will apply it to two.

Let’s talk about one of the course today – Explorations in Literacy. It’s a masters level for course for K-12 teachers. What I’ve done in this course is created three required quests. They are:

  • blogging (post writing only)
  • becoming connected (this quest is about issues in developing a personal learning network)
  • explore project (based on the genius hour)

You can see previous posts about some of these. For Explore projects check out here and here. I’ve got a number of posts on how and why I use blogging in my courses.

I decided it was important to have several quests that we all did together. This helps us form our community around shared experiences. However, I also think these quests develop important skills for my students – skills I didn’t want to allow them the opportunity to opt out of.

Next, I created four quests that were optional. They are:

These quests each vary in their level of engagement, and some provide a variety of choice in terms of what teachers can do and how much they can engage.

When it came time to grade, I thought about it as such:

  1. The university requires me to give one of three grades at the masters level H (high pass) P (pass) L (low pass).
  2. Here is how I arrived at an H:
    1. Total XP Earned = 436,950 and up
      Becoming Connected XP Earned = 194,850 and up
      Blogging XP Earned = 191,700 and up
      Explore Project XP Earned = 45,900 and up
  3. Here is how I arrived at a P:
    1. Criteria for a P
      Total XP Earned = 339, 850 minimum
      Becoming Connected XP Earned = 151,500
      Blogging XP Earned = 149,100
      Explore Project XP Earned = 35,700

If you don’t make it the criteria for a P, then you get an L.

Here’s what I like about the grade structure. First, there’s a minimum amount of XP that you have to get to achieve a particular grade. But that’s just part of the process. Students also have to be mindful of how much XP they earn for the required quests. In looking at an H, I can take the minimum amount of XP needed for the required quests, add it up, and reach 432,450. So that puts them 4,500 shy of the total XP needed for that grade (an easy number to get). Really, students probably don’t need to take up an optional quest. But I’m gonna let it run and see what happens. I’ll still also be giving out XP for doing various things during class like I have in the past, and I’ll likely have pop-up quests.

I am also going to be doing some new and different things over in my second masters class (content area literacy). Stay tuned for updates on that.

Two Years Ago

One Year Ago


Video Update for April

Near the end of each month, I’m going to be posting about new videos that have been added to my YouTube channel. I’ve been working to build up the channel and make it more consistent and relevant. The idea is that it adds another layer to this blog and gives you information you won’t find on here – or I’ve got it boiled down for you to the key ideas.

There are currently three strands. The first strand focuses on videos related to teaching in higher education. We’ll start there.

From the Syllabus

The Class Blog: Looks at how I set up and ran a blog in one of my undergraduate courses:

Tweeting in Class: How I have my students utilize twitter during face to face sessions:

Tweeting After Class: How I have my students utilize twitter between each meeting:

Extended Twitter Chat: How I had students engage in a week long twitter chat between meeting sessions. My first attempt and how it went:

Extended Twitter Chat (Revised): Examines the changes I made in response to the first twitter chat

The Healthy Professor

The Healthy Professor is my new second strand. Awhile back, I ran a pretty successful yoga blog. On that blog, one of my favorite things to do was find recipes and try them out. I miss that. Plus, it’s important to live and eat in a healthy manner (I think). So I’m bringing that mindset to this blog with this new video series.

Roasted Tomatoes, Eggs, & Quinoa: My pilot. 🙂 See original recipe here.

Find all the Healthy Professor videos on Pinterest too!

Writing Tips for Academics

This is my third series. I wanted to do a video series that was geared towards grad students and (perhaps) assistant professors. The point of this series is to give a variety of suggestions for how to address issues in writing ranging from actually writing to motivation and organization.

Here’s the introduction to the series:

Easter Eggs

After the first meeting with my Politics of Reading class, I decided to go back into the syllabus and plant some Easter eggs. Easter eggs are little hidden gems that allow students to do something to earn XP. I began the semester by putting in three.

The first one I embedded in the directions for doing Entrance and Exit slips. This one I am sharing with you in it’s entirety. I started them all off the same (explaining what an egg was), and then I gave specifics about what they needed to do to get the XP:

Are you still reading? Well congratulations. You have found an Easter egg. Easter eggs are little bonuses that get peppered in here now and then. To get this Easter Egg you must do the following: (a) participate in the entrance slip on 1/19, (b) use the words Easter, egg, or Easter egg in your response to the opening question, (c) typing JUST any of those words into Today’s Meet will NOT earn you anything, (d) the sentence you write must make sense in regards to the question being asked. Get 500 XP. Offer valid in class only on 1/19 until 11:05.

On 1/19, I plan to ask a general question for the entrance slip, “Tell me one new thing you have learned in the last week.” Then I will wait and see if anyone makes a sentence using the words Easter and/or egg. After class, I will delete the above from the syllabus as it will no longer be in play.

Can you find them all?
Can you find them all?

The second egg was embedded in the directions on blogging and looks like this:

Email me, and tell me, “I found the egg!” Also, tell me one thing you have learned about blogging or would like to learn. Get 500 XP. Offer expires 2/2.

They have a bit longer to earn the second egg.

The third egg was embedded in the directions for Tweet What You Learn. It reads:

Tweet out, “I found the egg!” In your tweet, include one thing you have learned so far in this class. Tag it with #educ511, #easteregg. Get 500 XP. Offer expires 2/2.

As of this writing, two people have found the twitter egg, and one person has found the blogging egg (but that person also found the twitter egg so only two people total have found them). I’m interested to see if anybody does what is necessary for the entrance slip egg.

I took a screenshot of all the eggs in the off chance I find a need to keep a record of them. Depending on how the class flows, I might show them to everyone at the end. Perhaps there should be a prize for whoever finds them all? Seems like there should be.

So – why do this? Well, first off it hopefully gets students reading the syllabus. I probably won’t be putting a whole lot more of these in after 2/2 because, realistically, how often does anyone need to be reviewing the syllabus? They are there now because I would hope that students are going through the syllabus and becoming more familiar with the details. We shall see.

At any rate, once I had a couple of students find the eggs it inspired me to make a scavenger hunt on twitter. Come back next week to learn what I did and how it went.

One Year Ago Today




BFT: Part 4: How to Write a Great Post

For part four of the Blogging for Teachers series, I wanted to focus on how to write a great blog post. Blogging, and writing posts, is its own genre. And as with any genre of writing, there are qualities that separate the great from the good from the downright bad.

There are obviously lots of components to writing a great post, and we could get super nuanced. However, for this video I identified what I thought were the three most useful components that would give you the biggest bang for your buck.

BFT: Parts 2/3 – Get Started & Find a Platform!

Welcome to the next round of Blogging for Teachers (BFT). This week, I have two videos to share with you. The first video focuses on getting started. I know, I know. You thought you were gonna run out and get yourself a platform and jump right into it.

Well, you could do that.

However, in this video I have a series of questions for you to answer about your blog. Answering these questions before you create your blog will put you in a better launch position.

Our next video (Part 3) focuses on finding a platform for your blog. Someone, somewhere, has to host your blog. There are a ton of options out there, and it can get overwhelming. I’ve identified three that I think are worth your time to look at.


Doing Quests & Badges Differently

I think we’ve got to be 50% or more through the semester now. Seems like that should be the case. Anyways, at this point I’ve had the opportunity to think about what I would do differently in regards to how I have structured quests and the opportunity to earn badges. Let’s start with badges.

How I Bombed Out With Badges

Ok….maybe I am being hard on myself here when I said that I bombed out with badges, but let’s just say the whole badge thing got canned within a month for both classes. I think only two badgesstudents supported the idea of badges when I asked.

Initially, I created a system where you could, if you wanted to, gain more badges (by demonstrating specific competencies). I found keeping up with things to be a fair amount of work. It was doable, but still a lot of work on my part. But I started to get the feeling that most students didn’t care about the badges. Don’t ask me why or how I got to that place. I just did. So I asked both classes if having badges was important to them. Most people didn’t respond.

Badges were not tied to grades so to speak. Students earn XP which eventually gets them to badges, but I can take away badges without any impact to XP or overall grades. Since most people did not seem to care, I wasn’t really sure why I should care and force it on everyone. So I withdrew them.

I Don’t Know Why the Badges Failed

I didn’t ask anyone why they were or were not into badges. From my standpoint, a badge is something you can use to demonstrate learning and professional development. Instead of saying, “I took X course and received X grade” to a principal, a student could say, “I took X course. Part of this course required me to blog. I have a badge saying I am a Level 3 Blogger. This means that I am capable of doing ABC…”

However, I don’t think there was ever any real value placed on the badges. I see the value. I don’t know if my students see the value. I would be surprised if their school administrators saw the value. Let’s be honest, badges and competency-based education are not mainstream for most people. At the end of the day, I am guessing what most students care about is their grade and less so the badge.

We Need the Badges

Having said all this, I think future classes need to go back to having badges, but in a way that makes less work for me. I think badges have value because they have the opportunity to say something about you as a learner and what your areas of knowledge and expertise are in.

That being said, I think I need to adjust how I do quests to make the whole badge thing easier to do for us all.

pathLet’s start with the free-for-all approach I have taken. Most students have opted to chart their own course for their XP/grade. I am fine with this. It has it’s issues (future post!), but I think, ultimately, it needs to stay. But here’s how to make it better:

  • Instead of asking people to select a path of either navigator (free for all) or traditional (i map it for you), everyone automatically goes into navigator
  • within navigator, you select up to three paths (i’m making this up as i write this; i don’t claim that three is a good number; go with the larger point that a student makes a commitment)
  • you must select one path that you wish to specialize/become an expert in. going back to this post, you could choose to work your way towards Master Blogger.
  • in the other paths, you might not elect to go all the way to a master level, and that would be ok

I like this approach of asking students to gain mastery on at least one path (or quest) because it has the potential to alleviate some issues I am seeing – which is largely students hoping all over the place grabbing XP. My set-up made it possible for this to happen, and I take responsibility for that. But I see the limitation in that no one is going super deep on anything in either class, and I think there is value to going super deep in at least one area.

I’ll be revamping this approach in the future, and I’ll share the changes I make. I do plan to game one of my spring courses, but it is an undergraduate course and I am not sure what I want to do with it in terms of the gaming. We’ll know soon enough.

One Year Ago Today

Blogging for Teachers: Part 1 – Why Blog?

A goal of mine for this blog is to get it better connected to my You Tube channel. I say that like I have a solid You Tube channel – I don’t. It’s kind of a mess. But it’s a goal of mine to develop it more and connect it to this blog.

In that vein, I have decided to launch a series on blogging for teachers. If you are a teacher at any level then this series will be for you. Some videos might get a little specific in terms of topic or age range/teaching level, but most will be broad enough to cut across grade/age. Videos will be posted on Fridays and kept to five minutes or less. I might post more than one video now and then to keep the pace moving,

As an educator, you might already have your students blog or you might be interested in using blogging as an instructional technique. I (of course) think that’s great! But, as I thought about this series, I decided that it’s important for you, as a teacher, to think about being a part of the blogging community.

There are so many benefits for you to have your own blog. And I think that being a part of the blogging community will make you better at using it in your own instruction. Plus, you will get tons of personal benefits out of it as well!

This first video focuses on why you should consider blogging as a regular part of your practice.