Thursday, September 22, 2005

Blogging Safety

I have received notes from teachers this fall asking my opinion of using blogs in the classroom. As with any publishing by our students on the Web, it is important in a school setting that we keep them safe from unsolicited contact. The "anyone can comment" aspect of a blog both allows for the desirable feedback on a published piece, but can also lead to unwanted communication from a stranger.

It is also, at times, too easy to identify a student from a simple comment in a blog posting or essay-- the school is already identified from the title of the blog or the originating URL, and, by the student simply stating he/she is the "goalie on the soccer team", it may lead to an encounter. Even without any names on the blog, at a game, just the simple cheering on by the crowd can provide the student's name for the stranger.

I know I sound paranoid, but this is a different world we live in. We have been careful over the years to keep student pictures and names off of any Web pages we have created. Blogging in the classroom should be no different. Throw in the ease of publication and the interactive commenting, and the chances for a potential problem may be compounded.

There are a couple of solutions I feel can be utilized to still allow this powerful type of tool to be used in a classroom setting.

1. Get parental permission to use this publishing format with their children.

2. Do not use names, only initials or a "handle" for student posting.

3. Take advantage of a blogging tool created by David Warlick. Blogmeister was created especially for the K-12 arena and it will not allow any postings or comments to go live on the blog without the classroom teacher's approval. The teacher creates a class list of those who can post and also can monitor any comments and work to ensure the students are safe (and the student work is acceptable before going public!)

On a related note, if you are conducting a workshop for parents on Internet safety and home use of computers, you may want to take a look at this article dealing with blog use by students.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Free online applications

I have spent some time today with two (free!) online applications that are fun to use and work well both on the Windows and Apple operating systems.

The first is ThinkFreeOffice, a Java-based office suite that has a version which allows you to create word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations online! You are allocated 30MB of online storage space, you can easily edit a presentation created with Microsoft Office applications, and ThinkFreeOffice allows you to "save as PDF", too!

Think Free Office Online:

The other, mycardmaker, requires the Flash plug-in, but it is easy to create you own greeting cards with their beautiful designs or by using a picture or photo from your own computer.


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Finding old links

There are a few sites I use all of the time, and sometimes I forget to share these gems with other teachers. The Internet Archive is dedicated to collecting Web sites to allow permanent access to these sites for researchers.

One of their easy-to-use tools is the Wayback Machine. Simply type the URL of a site that no longer works, and you will be presented with a list of clickable dates that the page was cached and saved to the Internet Archive. Sometimes the images and external links are broken, but it just wonderful to be able to get at information you thought was gone forever!

The Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine may be found here: