This post has been a long time coming. I am writing it because some people asked how we started blogging in our school. Now, I am not an expert in this field at all, for that I would hand you over to @mattlovegrove, @johnmclear (from Primary Blogger) or @hgjohn and they have all helped and supported me through the trickier parts of setting up our blogs. No, I am someone that can fiddle and play and eventually get there. It might not be the best way and I am sure there are shortcuts I missed but hey, it seems to work.
So here’s a recount of what we have done, what’s worked, what’s annoyed me and as with anything I do, I hope it is useful to someone else in the future.
I wanted 1 blog per class that was capable of video, sound, flash files (for 2DIY/2CASS). It needed to be teacher-proof. It needed to link all of the blogs together and have a common-ish look and feel. I didn’t mind different themes, but all must have links to school website and e-safety resources for example. It needed to link to Twitter and our school website. It needed to be simple to set-up.
Often in a school, you will have 1 keen teacher. They might want a blog so they’ll go and make mraddison.wordpress.com or whatever. Then Mrs Smith says that it is a great idea so she tries to make one too but Mrssmith.wordpress.com is taken and she ends up with Mrssmithyear4.wordpress.com You will end up with the issue where each teacher and class has a different naming structure. Not a massive problem, but wouldn’t it be easier if there was a way of managing them all? A bit of research led me to WordPress MU (multi-user).
WordPress MU was a bit more complicated than a usual wordpress install and that makes sense really, I was setting up at least 12 blogs rather than 1. I set up a domain and installed wordpress. With my school being called St John the Baptist, we were limited to domains as many were taken, I settled with www.stjohnsblogs.co.uk
To setup blogs coming from the main one, I needed an email address per class. This wasn’t a huge hassle as I was intending to set this up anyway. These could then be used to sign up for accounts on Prezi, Wallwisher etc as well. These were all done through Google and they all automatically re-direct to one main account to make it easier for me to check!
Linking them all together:
I couldn’t find an easy way to do this. I started with writing some HTML code that I copied and pasted into a text widget on each blog. This meant I could quite easily replicate the links on each blog so class 1 had links to 2, 3, 4 etc and blog 2 had the same set of links. I wanted to control liks at the top and to have all of the others inherit these links. I can’t find a way to do this, so if anyone knows, please enlighten me. I ended up using the link widget and adding new blogs as we created them. This does mean logging in 15 times or so when we set-up a new blog (as we did with our after-school club) but it seems to work, it’s a shame I can’t manage these from the top-level.
Akismet is a key plugin to use as it will track and colelct spam that is sent to your blog. It wasn’t made clear if I could install this at the top-level or if I needed to do it per blog, so I set it up per blog. This required an email address per blog too.
I was torn between Clustrmaps and Revolvermaps to track visitor locations and in the end we have a bit of a mixture, but that’s fine. They can’t all be the same. Firestats is used to track the actual visitors per blog, but it seems to sometimes count per blog and sometimes for the whole domain. Either way, it’s fine and does a good enough job for us. I can then tell people in assembly,”we’re heading for 9,000 views” or whatever.It also shows which blog has had the most views so Class 5 are constantly asking me if they’re still top. Friendly competition is always good.
Unfiltered MU is another important plugin. Before installing it, only I as admin, was able to use HTML code from sites such as Animoto, Voki or Photopeach. I wanted everyone to do this and that is what this plugin allows you to do.
I found themes to be a bit of a pain to be honest. I need to install them at the top level before anyone can select them for their own class blog. This means I would need ot find enough decent themes to cover all classes when I would rather they did this themselves. We currently all have pretty much the same theme, this half-term I will sit with the teachers and show them my theme search and let them choose their own. I might do this as a class, but we shall see if time allows.
The key thing is to ensure that comments are approved by an admin (either myself or a teacher) before going live. This can be done through the discussion settings page.We have also had to double-check our photo permission letters to ensure we have the appropriate photo permissions.
There is a great WordPress app on Andorid which means I can approve comments on blogs from my phone. Very useful and quicker than logging in to do it.
Feeding to Twitter and our website was a breeze thanks to Twitterfeed and I discussed that here
I have made guies for my teachers so that they can always find them on our website. These cover sites such as animoto, photopeach and blogging in general. These are here.
I would like to see teachers including the blogs in their plans a bit more so that they think of ways to use them in advance rather than just as an ad-hoc thing later. I would also like to see us looking at other school blogs so we can start to explore the potential that is available.
This hasn’t been easy, but then it hasn’t been mega-difficult either. The hardest bit was deciding what I wanted and what the software could do. Once I changed my view a little, I was able to make it work for me and it now works brilliantly. There are a couple of issues, such as the links not inheriting from the main site, but apart from that, I am happy.
If you want to setup blogs across your whole school, I would suggest talking to @HGJohn as he does it for a living. I will help where I can too but I can only go through what we did.
Please do go and visit our blogs if you have 5 minutes. They can be found at www.stjohnsblogs.co.uk and most classes have now got started. Class 1/2 are reception and will start this half-term, as will class 4.