Lots of teachers are taking their lessons out of the physical classroom and into the digital learning space. Now, students can talk about books in literature circles at school, and also online if the teacher sets up a class website or blog.
Blogging software is a great way to get students to start talking about books online. There are a few different ways to run an online literature circle:
- You can write blog posts. For example, students can write a reading response to a book or teachers can ask guiding questions about the book, etc.
- You can leave comments to blog posts. For example, students could respond to guiding questions written by the teacher or to a book review post written by a fellow student.
Here are some things to know about how to encourage (or throttle) online student discussion:
- WordPress software – five different user options for your students to meet your classroom website needs
- What user level should I make my student accounts on my class blog?
WordPress software – five different user options for your students to meet your classroom website needs
[stextbox id=”alert”]Class websites or online literature circles created using Google sites are limited to only three different user accounts: 1) administrators, 2) people who can edit all content (including posts and comments), and 3) people who can only view content.[/stextbox]
The question is, how much power do you want to give your students? The answer to that question will dictate how easy and quickly students can “chat” online with each other.
- You can set up students as subscribers, which means they can only view your site (if it’s a private site that is not visible to the public) and they can also submit comments (if your website allows comments/discussion at all) , but a teacher has to approve the comment before it goes up on your site.
- You can also set up students with contributor accounts which means students will be able to write and edit posts, but they can’t publish them to your online literature circles website until a teacher approves it. They can also submit comments but a teacher has to approve it.
- Your third option is to set up students as authors which means that students will be able to write, edit, and publish posts on your class website for the world to see. (Use this option if you don’t want students to have to wait for a teacher to approve every post.) Students can submit comments, but it teacher will have to check it before it will go online.
- Your fourth option is to set up students as editors. Chances are, you don’t want to do this because editors can not only write, edit, and publish their own posts on your class website, but they can also edit and modify other people’s work (including the teacher’s.) People with editor accounts (i.e., other teachers or perhaps trusted students) have the power to moderate and approve comments from other students.
- The fifth option is to set up students with an administrator account. The teacher (or student) with an administrator account can do everything, including delete the site. You would only want to give your students administrative powers if you were giving each student their own blog.
How much “talking” your students do on your online literature circle blog depends on how much power you give them.
[stextbox id=”info”]In other words, are you (the teacher) the bottleneck that is slowing down the online conversation between your students?[/stextbox]
You really have two options depending on your goals and how much control you want / need to have over what gets published on your class website. It’s a delicate balancing act between facilitating conversation and making sure the conversation is appropriate.
Set up your student accounts as contributors. This means that they can write posts and submit them for review, but nothing get seen on the class website until a teacher (or someone with an editor accounts) approves the post. You also need to set up your discussion setting so that each comment must be approved by an administrator (or someone with an editor account) before the comment can be seen by everyone.
- The benefit to this option is that the teacher controls all content. Nothing inappropriate will go online. Also, because you are manually checking each and every post and comment, it’s easy for you to provide feedback to students right away. For example, if you don’t want students commenting using MSN or texting slang, you can stop that right away.
- The downside to this option is that the teachers are the bottleneck to online conversation between students. Let’s say you have 30 students writing a blog post every day. The number of posts that you have to personally read and approve grows very quickly. Let’s say you take your class to the lab to have them respond to a guiding question that you posted. 30 students responding to your initial blog post (as well as to each other) will quickly add up to hundreds of comments for you to approve before other students can see (or respond) To those comments.
Set up your student accounts as authors. This means that they can write their own posts and when they are ready, they can publish the post themselves to the front of your class website. (They don’t need to wait for a teacher or someone with an editor account to publish their work.)
You also want to set the discussion settings so that comments get approved automatically. (You also want to set your class website so that “users must be registered and logged in to comment” so that only students can leave comments. If you have a public site and anyone to leave comments, then your class website will be quickly filled with ads for pharmaceutical products.
- The benefit to this system is that students can chat with each other in real time. They don’t have to wait for teachers to improve their post or comment – their ideas can be seen by other students right away, which means that other students can comment on those ideas right away as well.
- The problem with this option is that teachers have less control over what gets published online. There is always the danger that a student might post something inappropriate or offensive.
There are a few ways you can deal with this:
- Make sure that only registered users can leave comments. This means that students have to log into their accounts in order to post ideas on your class website. In other words, you can track down who made the inappropriate comment.
- There are also a few WordPress plug-ins that you can install that will help you to crowd source and monitor content on your site. Students can click a button to report inappropriate content which you can then investigate and follow-up on.
- Generally speaking, when students know that they are not anonymous and their actions can be traced back to them, the comments and posts tend to be more appropriate.
- Having said that, keeping your class website a private site that is not visible to the public might also help your students’ bad choices not be instantly splashed across Google search pages.
If you’re thinking about using WordPress in the classroom, then you want to read this post about two big problems with using a basic WordPress blog for your class website. You might also want to check out Educircles which is a customized version of WordPress for the classroom.
- When students login, by default, they can see a list of all of the posts on your class website, and not just their own.
- The second problem with a basic WordPress blog is that when students are logged in, they can see a list of all of the (unapproved) comments on the class website, and not just the ones that they submitted.
Photo credit: Boudewijn Berends – Seagulls. (CC By 2.0)
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