Blog Hosting Services for Educators

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.

[tags]blogging, education, Blogger, WordPress.com, Typepad, Edublogs[/tags]

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10 thoughts on “Blog Hosting Services for Educators

  1. Hi, Dana!

    What a great, comprehensive post!

    The main reasons I use typepad are:

    1. It has a "service" component. If I have a problem in setting up a page, etc… there are actually "humans" on the other end to answer my questions, sometimes within hours, if not minutes.

    2. I have 200 MB of space

    3. I'm comfortable using typepad in my personal blog, so this translated nicely to helping my students build their class blogs.

    4. I can administer multiple blogs and invite all my students to co-author at class blogs.

    5. I can build as many blogs as I like, and can transfer typelists (blogrolls) easily among multiple blogs.

    The number one reason I chose typepad:

    6. It's visually appealing. I like the choice of templates, and the obvious attention to design and aesthetics that the creators gave to building quality blog software.

    Considering the time I spend in the blogosphere, a small monthly fee that's less than the cost of a "meal out" is worth the cost, considering I have built and maintained 8 or so blogs.

    Downside to typepad:

    1. The same photo (from the "about" page) in the sidebar is used for multiple blogs- it's one photo, or no photo.

    2. Only one blog is permitted to have a fold, so most blogs have long bits of text, which make it visually messy, IMHO. I prefer a blurb, with a link to "read more" if the reader is interested.

    3. Text that is cut and pasted from a Word document often doesn't "translate" easily into a post, so I often have to "repost" the text. For example, before and after any countries, cities, or words that begin with capital letters within a sentence, there is a return space.

    All in all, however, I'm happy with typepad. I am, however, interested in converting to edublogs, especially since so many teachers are using it! Thanks for the informative post, Dana!

  2. The edublogs/wikispaces pairing is unbeatable and it allows for an expansive "class website" were you to build one.

    Recently I've been trying out something I saw through Will Richardson's blog (I believe he had a hand in molding the teacher-student version): 21classes

    It's a great idea, but it's a little difficult to navigate, and I don't know if I 'll use it if I have to spend much more time trying to figure it out. It's just not as intuitive as the wordpress system.

    Right now I'm working on creating a class website that allows for students to take part, and 21classes seems like the right solution. That said, I think wordpress is the way to go, whether you choose to use edublogs or to use WP.com.

  3. From one of your favorite teacher bloggers: I have used WordPress since November 2005 and love its relative ease of use, Akismet spam catcher, and Blog and Feed Stats.

    By the way, Dana, I like the "Currently Reading" on your sidebar. On WordPress, I'd probably create a Widget (a feature not currently working well on WordPress).

  4. K., thanks for sharing your experience with Typepad. It is really valuable for readers here to get the perspective of someone who is happy with Typepad.

    Reflective, I agree (obviously).

    Rebecca, I am not sure if Now Reading is available as a widget. I don't use widgets yet (I might some day, but for right now, all the template tweaking involved makes my head hurt). It's a WordPress plugin called Now Reading, and you can learn more about it here: Roblog: Now Reading.

    However, something you might want to try is All Consuming. You can get the same basic feature, and I think you can just add it as a widget.

  5. Dana

    Excellent post–especially for the newbies out there. I encourage anyone reading this and contemplating blogging to just start!

    I chose WordPress for its ease of use features and the great support department is constantly upgrading features all the time. I am still on the lookout for a platform to use with my students and will check out the 21classes suggested–thanks reflective.

  6. Hi, I work with the team at Six Apart that makes TypePad, Movable Type, LiveJournal, and Vox (which actually has a pretty active community of educators as well) and thought it might be handy to clear up some info.

    When so many free blogging services exist, I am not sure why one would pay for Typepad.

    We find, first and foremost, that a lot of people like being able to get professional support direct from those of us who make the tools. I think K. describes this well above.

    In addition, there are lots of unique features — TypePad lets you use any widgets you want, so if you want to do things like show the weather or let people subscribe by email, it's just a few clicks. (99% of widgets don't work with wordpress.com blogs)

    And for those who are concerned about showing up in search engines, we deliver your blog posts directly to search engines like Technorati or Google Blog Search or Bloglines, so your posts show up immediately. (Conversely, you can password-protect your blog if you want it to be private.)

    I personally think Typepad URL’s are somewhat clunky: username.typepad.com/blogname.

    Actually, TypePad's always supported using your own domain name, if you have one. You can even use yourname.yourschool.edu or something like that, if you prefer.

    Movable Type’s difficult installation is one of its biggest drawbacks.

    This has gotten significantly easier. Lots of big schools use tools like Movable Type Enterprise to support blogs for tens of thousands of students and faculty, and the basic installation of MT Enterprise is just double-clicking on a Windows installer.

    rebuild your pages when you make changes, which as far as I know is still necessary with Movable Type.

    MT hasn't required rebuilds for a few years. So no need to wait for that, either.

    As you mentioned, we do have very active communities of educators on LiveJournal, and we also offer resources for educators to help create blogging policies, or to help you make the case to administrators or other decision-makers about why you'd need to start blogging in the first place.

    And of course, all of our tools support having an unlimited number of blogs, with the ability to create custom communities in Vox and LiveJournal. Those custom communities can even be limited-access, so individual posts or even individual images or videos can be accessible by only the people you select. We're seeing classrooms using Vox communities as private gathering-spots, where only students can see the pictures that are uploaded, and parents can be invited in on a per-post or per-blog basis to get access.

    Anyway, hope you don't mind the digression, but this stuff is extremely exciting for us to watch at Six Apart, and I just hope that enthusiasm is evident! :)

  7. Thanks for the clarifications. I was using MT up until version 3.0 and switched to WP in about January or February of 2006, and at that time I recall having to rebuild, but my memory could be playing tricks on me. It's a good thing that you all figured out how to make it easier to install and got rid of rebuilding. I don't use widgets on WP, but I have to say I don't think I've seen that statistic before. Perhaps some WordPress widget users can chime in? Thanks again, Anil.

  8. Hi, I am on the team that's behind 21Classes. Unlike blogs at wordpress or blogger 21Classes is a multi-user solution that consists of two layers. The first layer is for the teacher and allows to manage content and students accounts. The second layer is made of all the individual blog accounts for students. As a multi-user system 21Classes is certainly a little more complex for the teacher/administrator.

    But it offers a lot of features including review of student entries and security settings that makes it valuable for teachers and their students.

    Anyway it would be great to get more feedback on usability while we are still in beta. thanks, Stefan

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