Platform to success

The increase in mobile technology has led to a new way of teaching. Helen Dorritt looks at the rise of blogging and vlogging in the classroom

It’s an oft-quoted fact that the smartphone which so many of us carry around in our pockets has more technological capability than the computer which sent Neil Armstrong to the moon. And with this type of powerful technology becoming the norm, it’s no surprise to learn that it’s having an impact on the way children are taught, too, with the use of blogging and vlogging increasingly being used in schools. But what exactly are these platforms, and why have they become so popular?

The normalisation of technology

A blog is a regularly updated website or page, which has entries (or ‘posts’) written in an informal or conversational style. A vlog is a blog where the posts are primarily in video format. And those smartphones in our pockets, plus tablet computers, seem to be the main reason why blogging and vlogging are now a vital tool in the teaching arsenal. Engaging digitally is now seen as the norm, with mobile technology allowing us to chat, share photos and watch videos instantly. But while a lot of adults may feel this is an add-on in their worlds, it’s a different story for children. “The four-year-old of today is very different to one from five years ago,” says Simon Pridham, a director at educational digital consultants Aspire2Be and author of the book Freaked Out: The Bewildered Teacher’s Guide to Digital Learning. “Mobile technology is pervasive in their world, so they expect to use it. Making teachers understand that they have to react to this new world can be tricky, but it now has to drive pedagogy.”

There are lots of positive statistics to show how these platforms have raised attainment in schools, especially with boys and those who struggle with numeracy and literacy in the traditional format, as well as lots of first-hand experiences from teachers. Shorny Malcolmson, who teaches English at KS3 and KS4 level, began using blogging as a way in which students could work on creative writing and share it with others, which allowed for peer-review opportunities and also for others outside of the confines of the classroom to read and comment. A positive side effect of this was discovering that students took a great deal more care over their work on their blogs than in their exercise books, something which Simon has also found. “The traditional format of writing something in schools used to be do a rough draft, copy it into best, and then write it out again to be displayed on the wall,” he explains. “A lot of children couldn’t see the point of this. Blogging, however, instantly gives an audience and a purpose.”

Shorny also uses blogging for reflections on learning. “This allows other students and me to comment on reflections and to ask questions to extend thinking. As it’s an online form, students can easily access it wherever they are. It’s something they can use to track their progress across key stages and their whole school experience to demonstrate their progress.” 

The wider benefits

Another advantage of using these platforms is the global opportunities they can create. Dave Cormier, an educational consultant, sees blogging and vlogging as an excellent medium to engage students with what’s happening in the wider world. “Global citizenship is difficult to build inside of a four-walled classroom, but seeing other parts of the world presented from the perspective of people your own age can be much easier to contextualise.” School networks such as Youth Voices bring students together from all over the world and can be a valuable way of creating opportunities for students to make international links.

Blogging and vlogging’s benefits are also not just limited to students, but also extend to parents. “They’re a great way to increase community engagement, especially in areas of deprivation where parents may have lower social skills,” says Simon. Vlogging in particular is a good way of engaging parents with school activities, and can strengthen the relationship they have with a school. For example, if a parent is unable to attend an assembly or sports day, a vlog post can enable them to still be a part of the day.

Amy Muir, a Year 2 teacher at the Marlborough School in Cheshire, started blogging to link in with the curriculum for the term. “Our cross curricular theme is ‘Bears Bears Everywhere’, so we created our own ‘bear blog’ in Word to get the idea of blogging, and then blogged on our class homepage. Currently there are only a few blogs but the children are taking charge of this from now on.” Amy has found it takes a lot of promoting and encouraging to get parents to log onto the blogs, mainly due to a lack of time, but she’s in no doubt about how much the students enjoy it and the benefits it’s creating. “The children love seeing pictures of themselves on the blogs and no doubt go home and tell parents about it.” 

Making e-learning safe

While the advantages for students’ literacy, numeracy and communication skills can’t be denied, with the news full of the dangers of children spending too much time online and viewing unsuitable sites, is bringing blogging and vlogging into the classroom really appropriate for schools to do?

Absolutely, says Geoff Millington, the founder of PrimarySite, the UK’s leading provider of websites for primary schools and academies. “It allows children to learn about e-safety and how to behave online within a safe and secure environment that is monitored by teachers and parents. Making and learning from mistakes on the school blog is safer than on Facebook or Twitter!” A school could just set up a page on its website, but Geoff recommends using a platform that has been specifically made for schools. “Features such as teacher approval controls and separate log-ins for each pupil make it safer than other options available that may be less secure,” he explains. Using a specific school platform is also very easy. “Systems like ours have been created especially for schools where videos can be uploaded in a couple of clicks and blogs can be created even by very young pupils,” states Geoff.

Getting started

So what advice would our experts give to teachers who want to use these platforms in their teaching? Dave’s first step is to make it meaningful. “Find a project that students can engage in that will capture their imagination and combine it with real face-to-face activities.” Simon agrees, and also advises on keeping it small to begin with. A system he has found useful is to do it as a group, where one class writes a blog, three other classes comment on it, and then all swap round. “This can then be opened up to the rest of the school, then other schools in your cluster, and then even internationally,” says Simon. “You just need to start the culture off so it becomes an integral part of your school’s learning.”

Shorny’s advice is for teachers to blog with their classes, so students can see that you are learning and developing just as much as them. “I would also suggest encouraging others to comment on the blog posts so that students have a frequent feed of comments from those outside of their class, to ensure the strengths of their writing is highlighted by a variety of people.”

And while there may be initial resistance for your scheme, says Geoff, this won’t last long. “Some staff and parents might be wary initially, but they will soon notice the benefits both within and outside the classroom of such a social, inclusive and creative activity.” So what are you waiting for?

Five top tips for starting blogging and vlogging

✔ Keep it simple at the beginning

✔ Consider investing in a school-specific platform

✔ Make it meaningful and connect it with the wider curriculum

✔ Encourage comments on posts from other students, teachers and parents

✔ Check out school network sites for international opportunities

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