In a previous post, I examined blogging software for educators. Most teachers will probably want to go with a blogging service, especially if they don’t have their own domain and would like to attach to a sort of community. Several good, free blogging services exist, and many of them are great for teachers.
If I didn’t have my own domain and wanted to blog either with or without my students, I would select Edublogs as my blogging service. Their service is geared toward teachers and students. They are free. They run on WordPress, and have a large variety of themes (templates) to choose from. Teachers who blog with Edublogs also receive a Wikispaces wiki bundled with their account. No advertising will appear on your account. You can upload pictures and embed videos. You have an easy WYSIWYG editor. The support forums are helpful. What I really like about Edublogs is that you are surrounded by a community of educators, which is not the case with some other blogging services. This means that surfing around the site should be safe for you and your students.
WordPress has a hosted blog service called WordPress.com. Many of your favorite teacher bloggers use it, including the Reflective Teacher, Jennifer Breaux, the ELAR Classroom, and A. Quiram. Quite a community has developed among WordPress users, whether they have installed the software on their own sites or use WordPress.com to host their blogs. WordPress.com blogs do not have as many features as blogs running on WordPress software, but they still have quite a few features, including 50 MB of storage space.
Arguably the most popular blogging service for educators and everyone else is Blogger. Blogger blogs are as easy as WordPress blogs to obtain. As a bonus, you can become part of the largest blogging community in the world. As I mentioned in my last post, you can use Blogger to post to your own domain. If you choose to host your blog with Blogger, your blog will appear on its Blogspot domain. Blogger has some nice features, including clean-looking templates, access to editing templates (the more HTML and CSS you know, the better), and makes it easy for you to display your profile, which can stand in for an About page. However, I have quite a few problems with Blogger. Now I get ready to make some education bloggers mad at me . First of all, I hate Blogger’s commenting system. As the largest blog host, Blogger is surely the target of comment spammers, and Blogger’s solution to this is to offer Word Verification in the form of CAPTCHAs. I hate, hate, hate CAPTCHAs. I loathe them with a deep and abiding passion. I can’t always tell exactly what the “word” says, which means sometimes I have to enter comments more than once. I find this frustrating. Blogger’s comment system does not invite users to comment. Many Blogger users, such as EdWonk, have abandoned Blogger’s comment system in favor of Haloscan, which integrates nicely with a number of blogging systems. I also don’t like the fact that the comments pages on Blogger do not look like the blog’s template. Maybe this doesn’t matter to some, but I like some fluidity of theme. Haloscan can solve that problem easily, but I don’t think one should have to go outside of one’s blogging service in order to get a decent comments system. Another thing I really hate about Blogger is that navigation bar along the top. It’s very easy to wind up on a sex blog or other inappropriate blog simply by clicking the “Next Blog” button. Given what has happened to some teachers who didn’t know their way around a computer and wound up on porn sites, I think this is a dangerous window to possibly inappropriate sites. You just never know what that next blog is going to be. Unfortunately, many school networks have picked up on this unsavory aspect of Blogger and blocked it on their networks. Considering how many really good blogs are hosted by Blogger, I think this is a real shame, but it is something to consider when selecting a host. By the way, my husband tells me that you can either disable the navigation bar or select a template without one (which also disables searching your blog — a valuable feature for your users), but a random sampling of education blogs I checked all had the navigation bar on the top. Of course, you can always add Google “Search within this site” to your blog. I contend you shouldn’t have to just to get around a feature you don’t want or like.
WordPress.com and Blogger both allow users to associate multiple blogs with a single user name or profile, which is a nice feature if you have more than one blog (like me). I think most users of either service would find them similar. You can also switch between the two services without too much trouble.
Typepad is also popular with quite a few teachers, and I have to confess, I don’t understand why. A basic level blog (one user, one blog) costs $4.95 a month or $49.50 per year. When so many free blogging services exist, I am not sure why one would pay for Typepad. I personally think Typepad URL’s are somewhat clunky: username.typepad.com/blogname. Typepad runs on the same software as Movable Type, but one big bonus is that you don’t have to install it; Movable Type’s difficult installation is one of its biggest drawbacks. Typepad blogs look nice. You also don’t have to rebuild your pages when you make changes, which as far as I know is still necessary with Movable Type. Some bloggers who use Typepad, and therefore probably more inclined to share its good points, are Fred the Fish, Bud the Teacher (if you two hung out too much, you’d sound like mobsters!), K. Lehman, Liz Ditz, Shamash, NaniRolls, and Tim Frederick.
If you plan on sharing your education blog with students or parents, I would recommend steering clear of blog hosts such as LiveJournal, Xanga, MySpace, or Diaryland. These sites are blocked by school networks sometimes, but aside from that, they tend to be rather insular in nature. The user audience in many of these sites also tends to skew young. On the other hand, some teachers I know have made a real go of using one of these services. Laura Huertero has a great blog hosted by Xanga.
If you have an opinion to offer about a blogging service, feel free to share in the comments.