Monday, March 27, 2006

The Moodle/Blogging Connection

Our student blogging project has taken a serendipitous turn. Students were writing their first blog entries in Blogmeister and submitting them for my approval. I was writing them carefully thought out responses, and then the responses were disappearing. Not all of them, but most of them. Not just once, but twice. Each time it took me well over an hour to comment, and now those comments are gone. Not Good.

I contacted the ClassBlogmeister discussion group but no one was able to offer any suggestions. What to do? These were the first student blogs in the school, maybe in the district. Oversight was definitely called for, but how to proceed?

I figured our most likely solution would involve our Moodle. I decided to create a blog post forum. Students could post their draft to the forum and then not only I but the rest of the class could conference with them on the piece by leaving replies. In addition to helping the children learn to conference on their writing, this could be the tool I was searching for to move them away from the inane, "Look at me!" type of responses they were currently leaving, to more thoughtful, helpful responses.

When I introduced it to the class, I tried to help them see that this was not the place to actually respond to the writing-- we'd do that in the comments section of the blog when the piece was published. Here in the forum, we are to respond to the following questions.
  1. Does the lead grab your attention and make you want to read more?
  2. What other parts of the blog post really held your attention? Why?
  3. What questions do you have after reading their post? Ask questions that will help them improve the article.
  4. Help them edit the mechanics if you notice mistakes.
After a week, I'm pleased to say that this solution has been a success in a number of ways. Most of the children are leaving thoughtful, honest comments. Most of the comments are constructive and many are the ones I would have made to help the writers craft their articles. Many of the children are revising their writing based on the comments they received. Many of the children are reading the comments I left for other children and that has expanded the types of comments they are writing. Finally, the children are enjoying it, asking to go in and leave comments in their free time. They don't need to twist my arm on that one!

A new challenge with this solution is that the children are not able to revise their post in the forum. They could make the revisions in Appleworks and then add the revised piece to the forum as a new discussion item, but that separates the piece from the earlier comments. Another challenge is that it became difficult for me to track what I had read and what changes had been made by the writers. We needed to tweak this solution to solve these problems.

I have been playing around with wikis in another context so I decided to use the wiki module in Moodle. If the children created a new wiki page for each of their articles, the rest of the class could comment at the bottom of the page. The writer could continue to revise the article and the class could continue to comment until the piece was ready for publication. I thought tracking what needed to be read could be tricky, but this process would expose my students to a wiki, which is a goal I've had for a while.

Unfortunately, after I set up the wiki I realized that the Moodle wiki doesn't allow comments. I know that the Moodle folks are preparing to roll out a different wiki module. It was in beta testing the last time I checked.

Since the wiki wasn't solving our problem, I set up an assignment module. Now, students draft their blogs in Appleworks so that they can make use of the spell check. They post the drafts in the blog forum. They revise their drafts based on the feedback from peers and the submit the blog article in an assignment module.

Only the teacher and the writer can view the post in the assignment module, but the teacher can leave comments and the writer can make revisions right in the module. When the piece is ready for publication, they post it in Blogmeister and I publish it. It sounds ridiculously complex, but it has grown organically, so the children have been there each step of the way.

Most importantly, the children are writing and writing and writing. When they can't be in the computer lab, they are voluntarily using the eMates to draft their blogs. [They love to use the eMates.] Some children have written more in the past three weeks than they wrote for me all last term! And this doesn't take into account all the writing they are doing when they leave replies for other students. Along with this, our Moodle forum and assignment modules are allowing me to conference with each child, and for other voices to join in. It is creating a rich conversation. I'm eager to see where it goes.