Large-Scale Student Voices

While waiting for my next great idea (or my first great idea, but who’s counting) I stumbled across WordPress MU. Before I can move onto my idea and how I think it will benefit students, you need a little background. WordPress is blogging software that you install on a server to run your own blog. This site is run using WordPress. The MU stands for multi-user. WordPress MU seems to be very powerful and extensible. It allows an unlimited number of people to run their own blogs through a central station, so to speak. It allows each student to customize the look and feel of his or her blog without affecting the overall site or other users. It powers the popular free sites WordPress.com, which is open to everyone, and Edublogs.org, which is primarily for students and teachers.

Over my break last week, I read about MIT and their admissions department’s open stance on blogging. They pay several students to blog about their experiences at MIT which are shared online, but directed specifically to prospective students. This is very small number of students compared to the amount of people who attend MIT; the interesting aspect of how MIT allows the blogs to run is that they are not censored. They do not need to go through an editor or be approved by anyone. A student writes a blog about a topic of his or her choice and publishes it when he or she wants. I am a great advocate for student freedom and choice, even though I have seen it abused. Part of my personal philosophy is that if we can help teach them to think and to be good people, then that should be less of a concern.

I have a dual vision for this concept, which is where WordPress MU comes in. It is free and open-source. I currently am the library media specialist for a school of about 1,000 students. I would like every student who wants one to have a blog, to have a creative outlet where they can express themselves. I also want the school to stand behind their creativity, their passion, and their community. Having a set of blogs all run through one site adds to unity and community. For example, they will all already have accounts and there will be a directory each other’s blogs so that they can freely comment on each other’s posts.

Second, I think that there is great potential here for portfolios, reflection, and cooperation across curriculum. Teachers could require students to post essays, projects, videos, or any sample work. This could be the minimum requirement for every blog, although blogs would not be a graded activity. Honestly, if I am able to get the blogs up and running this year, I don’t envision this happening until at least the spring semester, although next school year is more likely. This will give the students a yearlong reflection of the work that they have done. Publicly displayed, it will be something that they can be proud of, tangible evidence that they have achieved something. By creating categories in their WordPress blog, they can keep their academic pieces separate from their creative endeavors.

I think there is great potential here, but if it is not done right, I could see it failing miserably. If you have any experience with this, any suggestions on how to go about it, any cautions or words of wisdom, please leave a note in the comments.

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