With today’s students so familiar and comfortable with technology, it can be a great tool to enhance the learning experience. But educators are busy enough, both in and out of the classroom, that creating and monitoring classroom sites on their own is just not feasible. By harnessing the power of WordPress and adding their proprietary functionality tailored to educating, Edublogs has made it easy (and free!) for teachers and students to create vibrant, safe, online experiences for their classrooms.
This interview was originally published on September 16, 2018.
Please tell about Edublogs and its use in the educational community.
Edublogs is a platform where teachers and students can sign up for a free blog site. We’ve been around since 2005, so we are starting our 14th school year! Developing within the open source WordPress project, which today powers one-third of the Internet, we’ve tailored it for educational use. When WordPress was initially released, it was pretty much just a blogging platform. It has since evolved to do so much more, and while we still have the word “blog” in our company name, so have we. We have added all types of features for teachers’ classroom use, including communicating with parents, showing what’s going on in the classroom, organizing field trips, and uploading files, activities, homework, and calendars.
Students use Edublogs for various purposes, such as discussing current projects and building a portfolio by uploading and showcasing their work to a live, public, authentic audience.
Outside of traditional classroom use, are the professional educators who use Edublogs to share their thoughts, work, and studies. Many have built up a large following.
If a teacher has several classes, is there a way to have individual blogs or is everything accessible to everybody?
Some teachers have a unique site for each classroom. However, I was a teacher before working here, and strongly recommend working with just one site. There are many ways to organize a site using categories and menus so visitors can easily find their particular class.
In the case of an assignment where students are broken up into groups, is there a way to set up an area where only students in that group can collaborate?
Yes. A teacher can create a group blog and add specific students. Now only those students can access the group to organize their project, collaborate, and comment on each other’s work.
When dealing with young children, there is probably information you would not want available to the general public. Is there a way to keep parts of the site protected?
For sure! We have several privacy options and settings available. The easiest way is to set up a shared password where there is a single password for all students and parents. Additionally, a lot of our teachers are blocking their sites from search engines, so it will not show up in a list of search results. They then share the link, so it is kind of like Google Docs where anyone with the link can access, but they need to know the link. There is also the ability to individually password protect individual pages or assign unique logins to individuals.
What are some of the modifications Edublogs has made to tailor WordPress to the educational community?
Firstly, we have content monitoring and filtering which is an important safety net, especially when dealing with K-12 students. We’ve built in several teacher management tools, including the ability to attach student sites to teacher accounts, so teachers can monitor and approve all content before it goes live. Teachers can also give private feedback to the students within our system. So, we’ve created and integrated this entire student management functionality that’s not part of the standard WordPress platform.
We’ve also built or curated dozens and dozens of WordPress plugins such as form creation, surveys, and polls. We have all sorts of widgets (and students do love widgets!) for adding images and videos. Essentially, we have built in anything a teacher or student would want, all they have to do is select and enable it. If they were creating a site by themselves in WordPress, they would have to search for the plug-in that fits their needs, evaluate which one is best and install it. We’ve taken care of all that with a plug-in area, kind of like an app store which is familiar to them, where they can activate the features they want. We also provide documentation, support, and training videos for the plugins that we’ve added.
Can you please share some specific scenarios of how teachers are using Edublogs?
Many teachers post about what’s happening in class – things like a daily activities summary, tests and exams schedules, and what projects are due. Teachers can also enable comments, so students can publicly ask questions. They often find students answering each other’s questions, which is nice for them instead of having to answer the same question 100 times!
Posts can also be used as lessons. Teachers will post a reading selection or video with an assignment to answer questions based on what they’ve read or watched. Students can post their writing, and other students can comment and give feedback. There’s even the potential to open these assignments up to family or community members.
We have a lot of cases where teachers will partner with other classrooms at their school, another city or even another country, where students can collaborate and give feedback to each other on the work they’re posting.
Periodically, we offer free “blogging boot camps” for teachers and students to generate ideas and training on how Edublogs and our tools can enhance their site.
Tell me about your CampusPress product. It seems to encompass multiple Edublog sites.
With CampusPress, we’ve taken everything that we offer with Edublogs and made it for school or school district use. This way, all the Edublogs sites are branded under the school or district’s URL, and access is limited to those who have accounts. If a school district already has a system for managing student logins, they can use that same system for managing Edublogs logins without having to create a second set of usernames and passwords.
All schools have a student management system, a lot use Google Apps for Education, with information including which student belongs to which class and which class belongs to which school. CampusPress can access that information and help manage it in a more automated way. School districts can also choose to have CampusPress automatically generate teacher and student sites and create those connections by using this enrollment information.
Can users install any plugin available for WordPress?
Edublogs users are limited to the plugins we’ve provided. With CampusPress, however, there’s a lot more flexibility. If a district wants a plugin we do not offer, we’ll add it for them.
What some of the most popular plugins?
For starters, there are accessibility plugins, which makes the site more accessible to users, specifically to those with visual disabilities. The calendar plugin which creates a Google Calendar type feed is also extremely popular. There’s a “subscribe by email” plugin for parents and students who want to be notified by email whenever the site is updated. There are also quite a few content editing plugins for adding buttons, popovers, tables, etc.
What hosting platform and security measures do you offer?
All our sites are hosted securely as https on Amazon Web Services and fully managed by our team of network administrators. With a massive database of over four million sites, we’re pretty confident Edublogs is the second-largest WordPress installation in the world, right behind WordPress itself, so it has to scale pretty well. We have multiple methods of backups and redundancy as well as scanning and DDoS protection.
To protect against viruses and malware, we only allow users to upload harmless file types like PDFs, images, and Word documents. In the event a CampusPress administrator wants to add a plug-in or theme that we do not currently offer, they need to contact our team, who will do a full manual code review and audit before uploading it for them.