Encourage Reflection, Improve Involvement, and Sharpen Writing Skills with Student Blogging (in Canvas)

By Tyler Isbell 

Are you looking for different ways to incorporate more student writing in your classroom? Consider student blogs.

Students blogs can provide:

Screenshot 2019-11-19 06.33.12

  • A way to have your students write frequently in your classroom without having to assign (and grade) more term papers or essays.
  • A creative means to have your students reflect upon their thoughts, experiences, and course content in a space they can design.
  • A platform for students share their ideas on a course topic, work with their peers, and connect with an authentic audience.

If you are unsure what a blog is, check out this four minute YouTube video.  Essentially, we understand that a blog is a collection of one’s “thoughts, ideas, experiences, and more” presented in one place online (WPMU DEV, 2013).  The creation of this collection will allow students to practice writing and improve their communication skills, while also sharpening their brain’s performance and boosting their confidence.

All of this is in a space that students can design to be their own and be shared with more than an audience of one instructor (Thomson, 2018). Furthermore, students work with and learn from both their instructors and peers virtually. Blogs provide chances for students to see others’ perspectives and to explore other resources included in posts.  These opportunities promote active learning, student ownership, and reflective practices, provided that the purpose of and expectations for blogging in the classroom is clearly defined to the students (Chawinga, 2017).

How Do I Create Student Blogs (in Canvas)?

A quick search of the Canvas Guides for student blogs will turn up no results.  Although I did find three interesting videos from previous InstructureCons (the Canvas annual conference – See the list at the bottom) regarding the benefits of student blogging, Canvas currently does not have a native blog feature or tool.  However, instructors have developed a few options that others may adopt in order to include student blog posts within their Canvas courses.  I will highlight two main solutions in the table below:

Solution 1:
Native Tool Substitution – Discussions
Solution 2:
Third-Party Tools – Blog + Aggregator
Individual discussion boards are set up for each student as a ‘blog.’ Students use a third-party tools such as WordPress, Blogspot, or Tumblr to create their own blog.  Another third-party tool knowns as an aggregator is then embedded into Canvas in order to present student blog posts within a Canvas page.
Example Examples
Canvas Discussion Example Blogspot/Inoreader Feed (Gibb’s Example)Tumblr/Inoreader Feed
PRO
Benefits of using the Canvas discussion tool
PRO
Benefits of using third party tools
  • Easier setup for faculty.
  • No third party app to learn, use, and teach to students.
  • Administrative rights over blog content — Faculty will retain owner access to student work.
  • Speedgrader integration
  • Students control content and design; picking colors, style, etc.
  • Lives after course — Students can reference their work and/or continue to contribute to their blog even after the course is over.  This could make it more authentic and meaningful to the students.
  • Unique – Blogging will be less confusing because it won’t look like a Canvas discussion board.
CON –
Setbacks for using the Canvas discussion tool
CON –
Setbacks for using third party tools
  • Less customization and features — It’s a discussion board, so it looks like a discussion board.
  • Students lose access when the course is over (unless they save the content externally).
  • Could be confusing to students when trying to use the same platform for blogs and/or journals and/or discussions.
  • Learning curve for faculty and students.  Integrating third party tools — training and supporting students in the creation of their blogs goes BEYOND Canvas support.
  • Faculty does not retain owner access of the student work.  Faculty can remove posts from course feed, but cannot directly edit/remove a student post from the web.
  • Speedgrader integration is NOT automatic (but there is a work around!)

Solution 1 GuideCanvas menu

  1. Go to ‘Discussions’ on your Course navigation.
  2. To create a student blog, click the +Discussion button.
  3. Input the name of the blog.
  4. Use the Rich Content Editor box to add a description of the blog.You may also include instructions for the author and/or guidelines for replying to a post.
  5. Choose ‘Options’ – Allow Threaded replies should be checked.
  6. Click the ‘Save’ or ‘Save and Publish’ buttons.

Screenshot 2019-11-21 15.01.54

 

Screenshot 2019-11-21 15.02.03

*In your course ‘Settings’, it is recommended that you uncheck ‘Let students create discussion topics’ and check ‘Let students attach files to discussions’ and ‘Let students edit or delete their own discussion posts.’

courses setting

Solution 2 Guide

DIY Instructions

Step 1: Student creating blogs and aggregating their feeds into Inoreader
Instructions on collecting student blog posts into Inoreader for easy instructor access.

Step 2: Embedding Inoreader feed into Canvas
Instructions on embedding Inoreader feed in Canvas in order to share/publish student blogs in Canvas.

Tested Third-Party Tools

Here are a few tools tested to work well for student blogging and Canvas integration.

Learn more on our ‘Exploring Student Blogs’ Canvas Page: https://cbu.instructure.com/courses/3988/pages/blogs-in-canvas

Note:  Whether you wish to use solution 1 or 2, feel free to contact our team if you have any questions, concerns, or difficulties setting up or facilitating an activity in your course!

OLET@cbu.edu             (901) 321-4004

Extra Canvas Resources:

References:

Chawinga, W. D. (2017). Taking social media to a university classroom: teaching and learning using Twitter and blogs. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 14(1). doi: 10.1186/s41239-017-0041-6 https://educationaltechnologyjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41239-017-0041-6

____________________

Tyler Isbell is an Instructional Designer and Trainer for the Center for Digital Instruction at Christian Brothers University. He holds an Educational Technology Master’s Degree from Boise State University and masters-level certification in Technology Integration and Online Teaching. Before coming to CBU, Tyler was a trainer and instructional specialist in secondary education. 
 

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