School library blog – stay in or go out?

Recently I’ve moved my school library book review blog from an internal one within the school intranet (Sharepoint) to an external WordPress one. Just today I received an email from our Computer Systems Manager:

Do you realise that by using the WordPress site, you are denying most of our students easy access to your work. Sure, a few students might check it out in the Library at lunchtime but by the time most students get home, other priorities will have come to the fore. So, why not place your blog in the public section of the College Intranet? There you will get the best of both worlds, public access and, immediate and unhindered student access.

I should explain that we are a laptop school, but that internet access has to be booked by teachers, and is otherwise accessible to students before school, at recess and at lunchtime.

It was difficult to answer this email without writing a thesis! This is the best I could do:

 In answering your email, I started thinking about the meaning of ‘Sharepoint’ – a place where the school shares resources, information, etc.  Sharepoint’s  centralised, sharing facility is a powerful way to synchronise and share resources and activity in the school.  Yes, I did realise that by transferring my fiction blog to WordPress, students wouldn’t be able to access it during class times. I made the decision to move after using Sharepoint for almost a year, and I didn’t make that decision lightly, but based on important considerations.

 Funnily enough, the sharing within Sharepoint was limiting what I wanted to achieve with the blog. Sharepoint is an excellent school-based resource, but it didn’t meet our needs entirely. Firstly, there were restrictions, such as the fact that I couldn’t link to specific posts, so that when I posted more than one post, I couldn’t link to a specific one which had been pushed down by others.  I also couldn’t embed videos. Book and film trailers are popular with students, and often lead them to reading and discussing books.

 Access during classtimes did not increase readership, and I can only estimate this through anecdotal evidence with the Sharepoint blog, because, unlike WordPress, it doesn’t provide me with valuable data on readership.  As you say, students can only access the blog during lunchtime and recess, but they wouldn’t be able to read it in class anyway, unless given permission by the teacher, or when the teacher specifically books the internet. Since the move to WordPress, I’ve actually had an increasing number of emails from staff who prefer the appearance and options within WordPress, and following from their interest, I’ve been booked into classes  to introduce the blog and talk about books.  The blog is not generally something students are reading, unless I set a challenge or competition, but teachers who realise its potential are beginning to use it as an interactive medium for students.  

 Author visits are expensive, and so I find that embedding videos of author interviews  allows students to ‘get to know’ authors as real people, people they can relate to. When I show students the blog and give them time to browse, they inevitably veer towards the videos – not surprising considering their preference for media. We do what works in encouraging students to appreciate books and authors, and we must do what works best in engaging students in learning.  When students use Web 2.0 technologies, they are also learning netiquette – an important skill considering the dominance of technology in their future lives of work.

 The sharing aspect is the most important feature of external blogs . Just as teacher librarians and librarians encourage students to join local and larger libraries, so do we strive to share our reviews and comments with students and teachers in other schools, even in other countries. Every comment received is emailed to me for moderation before it is published.  I write the fiction blog for the whole school community, and I hope to extend our community to include other schools. We benefit from this interaction, and it enriches our discussion. Currently I’m compiling a list of excellent reading blogs of interest to both staff and students, which will be added to the blog as widgets.

 The work we do with Web 2.0 technologies at Whitefriars can be shared with others, and I find this enriching. I share, and I receive tenfold if not more. The School Library Association of Victoria blog, Bright Ideas, features what schools in Victoria are doing online, and our school has a positive profile throughout the state already, through its educational projects in wikis, blogs and nings.

 There are many more reasons for our choice to go with the WordPress blog, but it’s important to note that it is based on our commitment to Web 2.0 technologies rooted in the latest pedagogy. We are not ignoring Sharepoint, we are just selecting the best application for our needs.  As with any technology, it must be rooted in best pedagogical practice. Choice of online space should also be dictated by student learning within the context of the school’s mission statement. If we educate our young men ‘to take their place in society as valued individuals’, then  learning should take place not only in the classroom, but within the context of broader society. This, then, is the most appropriate context for blogs.

 I apologize for the wordy reply, but I thought it was important to give you a detailed answer. In conclusion, let me suggest you look at the Global Teacher website where you will find lists of school library blogs (under ‘Bookrooms’), school blogs and teacher blogs.

I appreciate the opportunity to define my reasons for external blogs in education, and also to receive excellent advice from my professional network. Just as you would ask friends for advice, so I ask my Twitter network for opinions and ideas. In a short space of time, seven people offered support for the use of external blogs. One even provided me with a  link to the exact webpage where I could find my school’s mission statement! (Thanks, Marita)

Here are some of the points raised in Twitter supporting Web 2.0 applications:

  • a global audience is important
  • so students can have input from a wider audience – authors, scientists, explorers – who knows who else can assist their learning
  • develop netiquette
  • students can see their work published.
  • Can share work with parents, grandparents.
  • Can make networks.
  • Show people they can use ICT.
  • schools should have policies that have been thoughtfully crafted by all stakeholders
  • online policies should be consistent with the Vision and Mission Statements of the school

I’m really interested in hearing your views on this subject. How would you answer this email? What approach would you take? I’m wondering if my answer is too heavy-handed. What do you think?

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44 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, blogging, debate, learning, network literacy, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

44 responses to “School library blog – stay in or go out?

  1. jennylu

    I think your letter is great Tania. We have Scholaris that is based on sharepoint. One thing we can do within Scholaris is enable an RSS feed to our blog. Perhaps you could talk to your network administrator about the possibility of enabling this. Best of both worlds that way.

  2. Jenny, I knew I could count on you for feedback. That sounds like a good idea. Meanwhile, I’ve already moved the blog, and also transferred the whole thing, except comments (can’t do that). Don’t you find that formatting is also clunky on the internal blog?

  3. Jenny is right! You can have an RSS feed coming into Sharepoint. But i understand your difficulty as Sharepoint is not visual and responsive in the same way as a WordPress blog. The traffic is the key thing – if people like it they will visit your blog. Good luck with your wonderful work.

  4. jennylu

    The internal blog is a nightmare. Stand your ground Tania and keep the WordPress blog going. I was talking about this with teachers from another school just today. What we are facing is a time when people are adjusting to changing ways of doing things. We can’t expect adoption straight away but I really do believe that we are on the right track and our actions will be justified. We are the innovators facing criticism for our actions. I bet Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Graham Bell heard the same sort of thing from their critics!!

  5. As long as we don’t get burned at the stake! I’m not going back on the WordPress blog, in fact, this exercise is an example of the power of networking, and I’ve learned from my network, as well as getting their support.

  6. An excellent reply Tania. Your point is justified and you back it up with much evidence. Web 2.0 is evolving and so as Sharepoint can’t fill all your requirements, other tools will, such as your WordPress blog. It is all about evolving and changing and using the best tool at the time. Now is there a way to unblock the blog for use at school? Good luck!

  7. Thanks for your support, Judith. Interesting point you make about unblocking the blog for use at school. I wonder if the school will ever consider providing unlimited internet access. I’m presuming it’s a financial thing?

  8. Questions to ask:

    – how and why does using WordPress limit student access? For what documented and provable reasons is WordPress blocked or restricted?
    – for what reasons is Internet access time restricted? Filtering I understand (but don’t agree with). My daughter’s primary school has unlimited (or near enough) Internet access, as do most if not all schools where I am in Canberra. Again, ask for documented and provable reasons.

    Benefits to show:

    – greater access
    – wider community
    – benefits for students, teachers, staff and parents, as well as wider edu and general community

    This is an interesting case. I’m discussing similar general issues with a growing number of schools as they learn to come to terms with Web 2.0 and the technology and culture it involves.

    I’d be happy to help out if need be. Feel free to call or email.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Stephen. I can’t answer all your questions, but I should find out what the rationale for blocked internet access is. I’m guessing – cost, control??

  9. Hi Tania, To ensure full disclosure it is important for me to point out that I work for Edublogs. My beliefs about Sharepoint are no different from my beliefs towards any closed type blogging solution. The gains from open is considerably greater than you will ever achieve with closed.

    The following is my response to some one who contacted me recently by email regarding Sharepoint vs open blogs.

    I can feel for the situation you face as IT frequently pushes for solutions that are one size fits and will make their task easier. However these solutions aren’t necessarily best from an educational approach.

    The most powerful aspect of blogging is connecting your students with a global audience and the authentic learning opportunities that this creates. When done well it changes the way students learn.

    Writing blog posts increases reading, writing and digital literacy skills while also making the student reflect more deeply on the information they are sharing. Comments by both the student and other commenters makes each reflect on aspects that they hadn’t considered. When done with a global audience it’s common to see a considerably higher level of engagement and motivation. They want their posts to read well because others, besides other students, are reading the posts.

    Unfortunately your challenge is IT and your administration may not appreciate the importance of this global audience, and if any thing it will concern them.

    I’m not sure if this will help but it is my post on winners from the Student blogging competition with great links to student bloggers that are doing amazing stuff . Trouble with approaches like Sharepoint is you don’t necessarily see that level of amazing stuff.

    What I can tell you is districts and schools that do take strong role in supporting their programs in their districts are achieving great outcomes. We are seeing a greater adoption of all web technologies by the educators and students involved in some amazing projects. Global Teacher/Global Student are examples of a district wide Campus blogging solution. These sites have been set up for all public teachers and students in the Australian State of Victoria.

    Anne Mirtschin is an excellent example how Global Teacher program has not only impacted her teaching practice but has also spread across her whole school.

    • Sue, thanks for your comprehensive response. You’ve provided many, valuable examples of the pedagogical plusses of Web 2.0 applications in teaching and learning, not the least being the resulting ‘higher levels of engagement and motivation’ of students. I think all teachers would love to see this.

  10. Tania, I think you raise a valid agrument in this post. I’m still baffled as to the need to ‘book in time’ to use the internet for students at a laptop schools. I agree that sticking to the wordpress blog will give you more options and better suit your educational needs. You should also be able to display the content of the blog within a sharepoint shell through the dynamic page viewer options and as other have mentioned feed the posts into an RSS web part… but this would be a whole lot more usable if the site itself were ublocked and accessible to students as well.

    Thanks for posting!

    • Thanks for your comments and encouragement, Amanda. Interesting what you say about displaying the blog content within Sharepoint. I wasn’t aware of that.

  11. Tania,

    Picking up on your final point, it should not be a financial thing and if it is then it is incumbent upon your school financial controller and your support people to resolve this. I can’t imagine a school where internet “has to be booked by teachers”. My cynical side is suspicious that this is a control thing where someone has made the decision that the best way to handle kids with laptops is to lock them into a “pretend internet” by using Sharepoint (the walled-garden approach). Problem is that it is a bit like trying to teach the rules of the road by having kids drive around a track that is removed from the road network. It is just not like what happens in the real world.
    Students will mess up and try to access music clips on YouTube all day and a lot worse but it is better that they do it at school and suffer the consequences than to learn by being sacked from workplaces and end up with a disastrous CV.
    As someone who set up and ran a 1:1 in Perth and now work with schools in Hong Kong who are just getting into this and making all of the mistakes, I could go on forever.
    It sounds to me like the type of arrangement that would frustrate more than one teacher in a school. I am sure you have allies.

    Cheers

    Paul

    • Paul, you make some valid points. School is where the mistakes and learning should take place under supervision and with guidance. These are life skills. Thanks for your comments.

  12. There is no comparison between the aesthetic qualities of the sharepoint blog and what you can do with WordPress. Sharepoint or similar solutions are terrific when you are coming up from nothing, but it would seem churlish to insist upon staying within these restrictions when there are beautiful and creative things that can be done with WordPress (or other open blogging platforms) for free or inexpensively. It would be great to see a prominent link on the Whitefriars home page to Tania’s fiction blog.

    It is a shame internet access is so restricted, but finances are tight for many schools and teachers are used to living within necessary boundaries. Why put up boundaries which are not necessary? The email quoted above would indicate that student access to the internet occurs mainly within booked classes. In this context teachers are likely to have their agendas closely set to course requirements.

    The email also seems to indicate that the library at lunch is the only time students have voluntary access to the web, which is something. I manage a library reading blog and whilst we are not inundated with student submissions those that come in often do so on a Saturday evening, a Sunday afternoon, or late Wednesday night.

    Good luck with the blog!

  13. Linda Weeks

    When are IT managers going to realise that there is as much good (or more) in the world wide web as there bad? So much time and effort is spent protecting from the ‘potential’ nasties, rather than educating students to judge for themselves.

    The values of having a blog outside the school’s intranet are many and varied, but include access to other significant influences for students’ education. These could be authors, adventurers, many specialists in their field, or even students from other places around the globe.

    Speaking from personal experience, students can ‘hear’ from authors about their books and reasons or inspirations for writing, on a very personal level. (It would certainly be difficult for an author to comment on an internal Sharepoint blog, unless personal arrangements had been made!) Some of these experiences have been sought out, others have been authors coming across the comments on their works themselves – this would not have happened if we were having the conversations with ourselves on the school intranet! It can be an exciting, inspiring time for students.

    There are also many examples about of school to school collaborations and sharing on blogs (as with Global teacher/ Global Student), which really reflect the state of the world with access to the internet. Let’s teach students ‘best practice’ in using these options, and not hide them behind the protective world of learning managements systems, which have their place, but should not define the whole experience.

    • Many people are afraid of ‘going out’. I say, try the things before you criticise, and then you know what you’re dealing with. For example, I can moderate blog comments. I can moderate ning comments. I can limit membership. Thanks for your valuable comments, Linda.

  14. Funny as I sit here wondering if I’ve ever read even one Sharepoint blog in the eight years I’ve been reading blogs. Students will not be blogging in Sharepoint for long (if at all) in their lives, and we can blog safely and with more flexibility in open, online spaces. Why shouldn’t we take advantage of that? Not only will it provide more ownership from students, it will also increase our ability to teach the multiple literacies of these online spaces.

    • Thanks for dropping by, Will. Good points. How do we answer our students when they leave school and realise that we haven’t taught them what they need for work and life?

  15. Tania,

    I find the tech policy/philosophy at Whitefriars troublesome. I don’t quite understand the logic behind being a laptop school and then having to book access to the internet. Where is the trust or the excitement to develop a passion for learning whether it be during school hours or beyond.

    It seems to me that your WordPress issue is more a symptom of an outdated policy that considers the web as a dark and dangerous place. Your PLP experience and the supportive comments you have received indicate that you are on the correct path. I would encourage you to continue to press the issue and continue the dialog with those whom can assist in revising your school’s policy so that it is in line with the mission of the school.

    I hope your post will also serve as a teachable moment for members of your school community to promote change, trust, and a love of learning. But remind them that they would not be able to experience the support of your colleagues b/c it’s not on sharepoint. 😉

    • Thanks for your comments and support, Hiram. For me, this experience has been interesting, and the comments and tweets I’ve received demonstrate the power of collective responses within a global context.

  16. publicrejoicer

    Not heavy handed at all. You are the client, using tools to get your message out there. If the tool is broke (or not setup correctly) and school admins can’t guage the it landscape you gotta do it yourself. Bravo.

  17. Hi Tania,
    Great to see this dialogue about what I’m sure is a ‘hot button issue’ in many schools. Also heartening to find so many people offering constructive comments. The power of the blog to quickly elicit informed views from far beyond the boundaries of the school is exempified right here!

    As I’ve said before, I think there is a shift that started some time ago among some (but not yet all) key players at Whitefriars about the rightful place of external blogs and other web 2.0 approaches in educating our students – opening those students up to engage in rich dialogue about their own ideas and about a cornucopia of other ideas and perspectives ‘out there’.

    A few misconceptions about what we can and can’t do at WFC though need correcting. Despite the impressions that some correspondents have been left with, students do have unrestricted access to the internet (through the school server) on weekends, as well as before and after school, recess and lunchtime. The only time they don’t have open unrestricted access is during class time (when the booking system operates).

    The College used to provide students with unrestricted access during class time but found that, probably because of the sorts of things that one of your blog correspondents alluded to (such as students down-loading MP3s and videos and whatever else in the background while they were hopefully attending to their work) the speed of access slowed to a crawl (because of high-volume traffic) and many kids would time-out when trying to access various sites on the internet. Extremely frustrating for students and teachers alike!

    As it was, we were paying many tens of thousands of dollars for internet access and didn’t have the means to throw many tens of thousands more dollars at the problem (i.e. to pay for a bigger capacity internet ‘pipe’). So the booking system plus a few other measures were introduced to try to ensure that students who wanted quick access to the internet for valid educational reasons were not continually frustrated by a problem that was previously significantly exacerbated by those students who were indulging in educationally less-defensible internet activities.

    Currently, we have a good deal through the Melbourne Catholic Education Office where we pay a five-figure sum annually for our internet access (for what would otherwise, I’m told, cost us a six-figure sum for 20Mbps access). So yes, money is a big factor in what we can and can’t do (not the only factor but a significant one).

    I.m.h.o., educating teachers and I.T admin staff (and the College Principal whom, it must be said is very open-minded about the issues) about the place of external blogs and other web 2.0 tools, and how they can and should coexist with the College intranet for best educational outcomes, is more the issue that we need to keep focused on (for the various reasons that have been so eloquently articulated by various contributors to your blog).

    I, for one, have much appreciated the sort of discussion that you have catalyzed both here at school and in the broader world. Keep it up! 

    K

    • Hi Kevin,

      Great to see you here. Thanks for clarifying the internet access issue.; it’s good to get the full picture. I think that a deeper awareness of Web 2.0 applications can be achieved through discussion.

  18. steveshann

    Tania,
    For what it’s worth (and if it’s relevant), the school I’m at started an internal intranet some years ago, then graduated to a commercially produced intranet (Studywiz) which has lots going for it. But I’ve found that using wikis, nings and blogs which are accessible over the internet so much more useful and stimulating.
    Good luck.
    Steve

    • Hi Steve, and thanks for your comment. I agree with you about the blogs, wikis and nings. I don’t know what I would do without them now. Certainly, I wouldn’t know you or any of the other people who have commented here. Love your blog.

  19. Last year I created a blog for the school book club. 25 students were reading 10 new young adult fiction novels. They posted regularly, reviewing their books. I was happy with their involvement and it was open to the world with easy accessibility at home as well.

  20. Hi Paul, thanks for dropping by. That level of involvement is impressive. I’ll have to get back to you for some tips.

  21. Jodie Heath

    Dear Tania,

    Hear hear! I think that your email gives more than sufficient reasons for your decision – and is very well expressed. Well done!

    Since your original ‘tweet’ and then reading your blog post, I have been thinking about the situation further and I have some more thoughts I would like to share:

    1. YOU are the best person to judge what platform you use for your blog – after all, it is not the blog of the Computer Systems Manager. YOU interact with students about the content and YOU teach them how to leave positive digital footprints, not the decision makers (who are often removed from the coal face of education).

    2. From your explanation, it seems that students would not make use of the blog in class time whether they had access or not – unless it was being used for direct classroom instruction – in which case they will have access to the Internet. I imagine that although the blog is educational, your students are expected to be completing set work during class time so where is the issue in regards to their ability to access it in class?
    What many Reading related blogs do is extend students and their learning and oh what joy there is when they use their ‘precious’ time to become engaged and actively involved!

    3. A global audience, for example, is much greater motivation for blogging for many students which is one of the reasons why many schools have external blogs. If there had been any issues with external School Library Fiction Blogs, there would not be so many schools/teachers/teacher librarians using WordPress, Edublogs, Globalteacher, etc. As an individual, Tania, you are a role model and have your personal (yet professional) blog on wordpress demonstrating the advantages of blogging in the ‘real world’.

    4. Book promotion today has a highly digital component such as book trailers which you have said you are unable to include when using the intranet for your blog. And links to relevant sites – students are digital learners in a hyperlinked world. If you can’t have basics on your blog, why on earth would they read it?
    I am wondering, does your Computer Systems Manager allow external applications such as wikis and nings for classes? If not, how are you able to apply best practice in teaching and learning? If so, how is your blog any different?

    5. This conversation has highlighted how fantastic it is being able to network using Web 2.0 tools? If students only use these tools internally, how will they experience this?

    Again, well done! You have my support and I look forward to reading your blog…

    Jodie Heath
    Teacher Librarian

  22. Thanks for your very comprehensive thoughts, Jodie; well expressed. Some of us are only beginning to play with wikis and nings at our school. I suppose more people know about the blog because I email out new post alerts. Otherwise, we’re taking things very slowly, and being careful.

  23. Thanks for sharing your situation. At the small university where I work, similar situation, in that we have Sharepoint and Blackboard, both of which have blog/wiki features. Whenever I ask about starting one or the other or when instructors want to do the same, they are told to “use the ones we have already available.” But that negates the whole idea of being open, transparent, and part of a larger conversation. Plus I find Sharepoint to be clunky, and Blackboard not much better really. There is a HUGE fear here of loss of control, which is think is extrememly misguided, and perhaps a lesser fear of new technology that people don’t always understand. (How can we ask students to learn one more thing? Log in to one more site, etc.)

  24. Good points, Susan. It does negate the whole idea of being open and part of a larger conversation. I think the fear needs to be addressed, and I think it’s irresponsible to ignore it. By the way, thanks for dropping by; now I’ll add your reading review blog to my fiction blog list. I’ve discovered interesting people and work during the course of this conversation.

  25. I don’t know Sharepoint, but I don’t want to either. Nothing against that product/service… but philosophically believe in removing barriers as opposed to building walls when it comes to supporting the academic endeavors of students and teachers.

    It seems that my students feel similarly: http://mwsu-bio101.ning.com/forum/topics/virtual-classroom-reflection

    Sean

    • Sean, what you’ve done with your students is brilliant; I’ve known that for a while. I’m guessing your students are later adolescents, because I’m not sure that younger students could reflect so well? Or could they? I’d love to be a fly on the wall and watch the interaction between you and them which obviously goes on in between. What is your secret?

  26. Hi Tania,
    Wow, what a huge response to an interesting issue.
    We have a sharepoint setup at my school. It’s ok for some things but very clunky for others. Our network manager always tells me this or that is easy to do but when I come to try it usually isn’t (and I’m no dummy when it comes to this stuff). For example, a teacher who has the responsibility of collating nominations for awards for students came to me about setting up something online. Within minutes I had a suitable google form ready for her but she was keen for it to be safely housed within the confines of our school network. Three months later I have figured out (almost) how to create the form using MS Infopath but despite a couple of conversations with said network manager about how easy it is it still isn’t actually functioning.
    I’ve heard about the blog feature of sharepoint but not acutally seen it in practice. I think the bottom line is that a wordpress/edublogs/globalteacher blog is easy and intuitive to use (as is a wikispace or pbworks wiki or a ning) whereas the (not quite) equivalent on sharepoint is unfriendly, not so pretty and completely not intuitive.
    You’ve made the right decision!
    Heather

  27. Thanks for your interesting observations, Heather. It’s true, people have no idea how many, many hours we spend on all these things, and when they don’t work, frustration mounts. And since the switch, I’ve made some interesting connections with other teachers and teacher librarians. It all adds another dimension to the teaching and learning experiences at school.
    Do you write a reading blog? (sorry to demonstrate my ignorance). We could share material!

  28. Talk about timely. Today the network manager asked me why I want a ning for the year 12’s instead of using the intranet!! Having only just caught up with your post and the discussion it generated I was well armed with reasons!
    On the reading blogs…well yes and no. We (as in my library team) manage two reading blogs, one for staff (http://mpscrc.globalteacher.org.au) and one for students (http://mpscgreatreads.globalstudent.org.au) but both are languishing in the face of too many other things. But I have plans for them both and will let you know when they acquire some fresh content.

  29. How about that, Heather! Don’t you love that when it happens. Shows you how beneficial networking can be. Thanks for your links. Separate blogs for staff and students, hmmmm…. How did you go with convincing the network manager about the educational value of the ning?

  30. Pingback: Reflecting again (still) « Brave new world

  31. Pingback: Still kicking. « Brave new world

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