Classroom Blogs – How to Protect Your Students’ Identities

If you publish a classroom blog, are you putting your students at risk? Maybe. The internet is a powerful tool and like cars, glue and the force, it can be used for good and evil.

The Risks

Here are three reasons why we need to consider how much personal information is intentionally or accidentally revealed.

  • The most obvious is the creepy stranger lurking on the internet that your parents always warned you about.
  • Less obvious is the custody battle that may be taking place behind the scenes.
  • Finally, there is the issue of student-on-student bullying – either this year, or somewhere down the road. (You google someone’s name, find some old student work and make fun of them about the content or writing quality.) Continue reading “Classroom Blogs – How to Protect Your Students’ Identities”

Building Self Esteem – Using Blogs to Send Compliments

Building self-esteem in our students is something that teachers are often looking for ways to do. We already use blogs to publish student work online… so why not use blogs to build self esteem as well? Say Something… Nice is an example of how you can use technology to facilitate a classroom activity.

I remember reading a story in Chicken Soup for the Soul about a teacher who gave her students a class list and asked them all to write something positive about each classmate. She then compiled all of the compliments and gave each student a list of what their classmates thought about them.

I’ve done this activity for the past few years. I would then take the compliments, type them in to insure anonymity, and then at the end of the school year, give my students this list of positive feedback. You could hear the proverbial pin drop as students read their pages. Every year, I hear a few students say, “I never knew people felt that way.”

This year, I’m trying the same compliment activity online using a WordPress powered blog. Here’s how I did it:

  • I created a user account for each student. They only had subscriber priviledges which meant they could leave comments but not create posts.
  • I created a private post for each student with their name in the title. Private posts can only be read by users who are logged in. They cannot be accessed by the general public. (I use the private post plugin to allow my subscribers to read the private posts.)
  • Unfortunately, because of the way that the core WordPress software deals with comments, it’s currently impossible to hide unpublished comments from other subscribers. To put it another way, all of your students can see all of the comments waiting in the moderation queue. I tried using the Role Manager plugin to take away the ability for subscribers to see other people’s comments, but it’s not possible. (The IWG Hide Dashboard plugin, however, lets me hide the dashboard so that users don’t get distracted with unnecessary details.)
  • Each student logs in and works through the class list of private posts to leave a positive comment.
  • At the end, I plan on moderating all of the comments, hiding all of the comment authors and printing a list of student comments for each student.
  • I might post the comments on the site as examples of positive compliments. (No student names appear anywhere.)

How do you use technology to build self esteem?

Locking Down Your EduBlog to Prevent Unauthorized Access

There are two situations where you might want to restrict access to your educational blog to just a few specific computers.

  • First, you might want to restrict the entire blog so it can only be accessed by people using school computers.
  • Second, you might want to restrict the login pages of your blog, so that students can only edit or modify their work using school computers. (This also helps prevents your site from getting hacked by observant students who have figured out your password.)

If you are pretty comfortable around computers and run a self-hosted blog (or have access to your website’s servers), then you should be able to lock down your class website to a few locations (IP addresses).

Why would you want to prevent your students from logging in at home?

I usually don’t allow my students to take their English work out of the classroom; I’m tired of dealing with lost homework. Besides, you can never be sure how much help a student receives at home.

Over the years, I’ve developed a folder system where all of our work stays in the folder. It’s great. First, students always come prepared to class (because their notes and drafts never leave the room). Secondly, the students have a portfolio documenting their learning over time. It’s great for metacognition because students can flip back through previous assignments in an attempt to prevent the same mistakes from happening again. Finally, I know exactly what a student is capable of because I can see all of their prewriting and drafts leading up to the published version.

However, a blog potentially ruins this keep-it-in-the-classroom policy because students can log in to their user accounts from home. The beauty of WordPress and other blogging platforms is that it can you can blog from anywhere in the world.

Also, some older students might be flexing their computer literacy (or vandalism) muscles. The login page for any blog powered by WordPress can usually be found by adding /wp-admin at the end of the website address. By locking down the wp-admin folder to a few specific IP addresses, you can greatly limit access to the administration back-end of your class blog.

How to lock down your (educational) blog’s administration / login folder.

If you have a self-hosted WordPress blog, the following trick will prevent students from logging in (or hacking your website) at home. Note: You need to have access to the .htaccess file on your website. Our web host, BlueHost, provides access to this file, however, apparently not all web hosts do.

  1. Figure out the IP address of the computer that you want to use to access your blog. An IP address is your internet address online. There are various sites that will tell you your current IP address, including this one.
  2. Use a text editor (i.e. notepad) to create a file named .htaccess and cut and paste the following into the file:
AuthUserFile /dev/null
AuthGroupFile /dev/null
AuthName "Example Access Control"
AuthType Basic
order deny,allow
deny from all
allow from 123.456.789.123
allow from 12.345.678.123
  1. Replace 123.456.789.123 and 12.345.678 with your real IP address. Hint: If your Internet Service Provider gives you a range of IP addresses (For example 123.456.789.000 to 123.456.789.999), just drop the last octet number to allow a range. (For example, allow from 123.456.789)
  2. Upload your .htaccess file to your blog’s wp-admin folder. Now the only people who can access any file in the wp-admin folder must be using a computer with an IP address on your safe list (white list).Note: If you want to use the .htaccess file to limit access to your entire blog from specific computers, then you’ll need to copy and paste the above code into the existing .htaccess file on your website’s public folder (or wherever your WordPress blog files can be found). You must add the code into the existing .htaccess file instead of overwriting the file because WordPress has some important information in there already.

If the .htaccess file is modified correctly, whenever you try to login to your blog from an unauthorized computer, you should receive a 403 error that looks like this:

Question: Have you ever had a student hack into your class blog before?

How to Start a Classroom Blog, Edublog or School Website

4 quick and easy ways to set up a classroom website, an educational blog (edublog), or even a school website.

Update #3 (Feb 2011): We’ve created a new website to help teachers make better looking class websites:

Update #2 (Dec 2009): Why we’re thinking about leaving Bluehost. (We still love WordPress, mind you…)

Update #1 (Sep 2009): We’re still using WordPress and BlueHost to run our classroom website.

We created a free ebook with step-by-step instructions on how to create a classroom blog, educational blog or school website using WordPress, but don’t bother reading it.

You can still download it below, but the quickest and easiest way to install WordPress is by using a web host that offers Simple Scripts: you can read step-by-step instructions to set up WordPress or you can watch a video tutorial on installing WordPress.

  • Download our Free eBook with step-by-step instructions to start a class blog using WordPress: [download#1#image]

Heard some of the reasons why teachers are bringing blogs into their classrooms? Want to start an educational blog, but not sure how to do it?

Well, you have several options, depending on how comfortable you are with technology:

  1. Use your school website
  2. Use an online educational community
    1. Ontario Blogs
    2. Edublogs
  3. Use a free blog service
    1. Blogger
  4. Use a self-hosted website
    1. Problems with using a free service to run your classroom blog

This post will give you an overview of how to start your classroom blog. When you’re ready to actually set up your classroom blog, download our step-by-step instructions to get your classroom blog set up.

NEW: You might be interested in setting up an online literature circle for your classroom. Read this post for more information.

Continue reading “How to Start a Classroom Blog, Edublog or School Website”

6 Reasons To Get Your Students Blogging

More and more teachers are blogging in the classroom. And, why not! There are a lot of reasons to consider blogging in the classroom.

  1. It gives your students an authentic purpose to write. The idea that their stories will be published online for the world to see may motivate them to do their best.
  2. Students have a real goal in sight when using the writing process. Not everything needs to be revised, edited, and published, but because this work will be on public display, there’s greater incentive to polish the work. Continue reading “6 Reasons To Get Your Students Blogging”