Successes and Struggles with the Art Class Blog

The art class blog is surprising me in both good and not-so-good ways. The best way to describe how I feel about it right now is positive validation combined with a hint of frustration. Or perhaps indecision mixed with determination. Or, probably, all of that plus more…

Let’s start with the successes of blogging with my art class. It is very rewarding to see 30 students sitting at computers engaging in Web 2.0 technology. It feels promising to me. I strongly believe that students need to be taught about technology and I also believe that students need to be taught using technology in transformative ways. Blogging with my art students fits with those beliefs, so I know I’m on the right track.

Another success is that the students learned how to use the blog pretty quickly. I’ve said this before – students never cease to amaze me with how smart they are. They have all customized their themes and their blogspace, some more than others, which I expected. Many students worked on their blogs over Spring Break. How many students do you know who willingly did extra work during a week off school!?! There is noticeable enthusiasm in the students, albeit a little tentative in some, surrounding the project. They do seem to like Edublogs, and so far, overall feedback is positive.

Now for the struggles. Even with all my advanced preparations, there have been a few unanticipated difficulties. I’m hoping that writing it out will help to dissipate my frustration. The first struggle, and I have to write about this first, is the absolutely horrible laptop that I use to teach my ‘how to’ blogging lessons.

Let me explain. There are two computer labs so fortunately lab access has not been an issue. What has been an issue is trying to teach once inside the lab. The available lab has no teacher workstation so you need to sign out the one school-wide laptop cart in order to teach using a computer and a projector.

While the cart is almost always available (again, access, thankfully, is not an issue), the laptop on the cart needs to be replaced. Actually, the laptop on the cart needs to be run over by a pickup truck (hard to believe that I couldn’t find that image on Flickr – Laptop flambe gets the message across nicely though). It is, to put it mildly, painfully slow, and to complicate teaching with it even more, it sometimes picks up the wireless network in the school, sometimes, not.

I’ve had the tech crew look at it and apparently there are five other laptops exactly the same around the district and they’re all glitchy. Frankly, that laptop is ruining my blog teaching time. I won’t quit the project because of it though. The last time we were in the lab, my solution was to pull a student workstation onto the cart, hook it up to the projector and teach from that. It worked, but the whole project would be so much better if the laptop on the cart worked properly. 

Aside from equipment difficulties, the other major difficulty is connected to the students themselves. My art students love art class. They look forward to their time in the art room. Sometimes, if they have art first thing in the morning, they complain because then they have nothing to look forward to for the rest of the day. Their time in the room is really precious to them for many reasons that I won’t write about at this time. If you’ve ever taught an elective, you’ll understand. Teaching students who can’t wait to come to your class is a beautiful thing and I am grateful to have such a wonderful teaching position.

Now, imagine taking those students out of that precious space. Those art students, who need their time painting or drawing or being creative or just being themselves for 77 minutes, are now in a computer lab (not nearly as cool, or aesthetically pleasing, as my art room) working at a computer workstation.

While the students have never complained about going to the lab to work on the blog project, I can certainly feel a shift in the tone of the learning environment. Like I mentioned earlier, they are enthusiastic about the blogging project, but that enthusiasm is tentative. If I had a small computer lab attached to my art room, the problem would be solved, but I don’t, so I have to carefully acknowledge the shift in the learning experience and work with it to ensure a positive outcome. That’s tricky, and completely unexpected.

That’s an update on the art class blog. I’m hoping that next week will be a turning point for the project as students are at the end of a painting project and the plan is to do the end of the unit critique online using the student’s blogs.

Anyone else want to share successes/struggles while blogging with students? I’m sure there are many good stories to share…

Imagery – “Laptop flambe” by Chris & Lara Pawluk on

Helpful Tips for Setting up a Classroom Blog

I’m sure there are many ways to set up a classroom blog for art students. For clarity of thought, to share with others, and to enter the Edublogger’s Birthday Celebration Competition, I thought I’d write and offer some advice for setting up a classroom blog. Although student use of the site hasn’t started, I’m surprised at the amount of preparation that’s already been done. I feel like I’ve been building the blog for awhile now, one block at a time…

Here are some helpful tips to set up a classroom blog. It’s my classroom blog ‘to-do’ list so far:

1. Read Will Richardson‘s book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms.  It’s an excellent resource and a great place to start.

2. Start blogging – part one. Find and read some blogs you enjoy or feel you can learn from. Subscribe to the blogs you want to read all the time. Gather up the courage to leave a comment. I found that once I started commenting last summer (was that only last summer?!), the dialogue with other educators started and I was hooked!

3. Start blogging – part two. Create your own blog. It’s the only way to figure everything out on your own without the added pressure of having students using the blog while you learn how to use it too. That’s the real reason for this blog, I wanted to test drive Edublogs before committing to the space with/for my students.

4. Find good examples of classroom blogs. I’ve learned a great deal from reading Remote Access, Huzzah, Technology in our classroom, Tidertechie, and Teaching English using web 2.0. The nominated and winning blogs from the Edublog Awards is a great place to locate examples of excellence in blogging.

5. Decide on a purpose. Why are you creating the blog? What do you want your students to learn using the blog? How are you transforming the learning in the room with technology? A clear, concise purpose is very important to help get you started and keep you on track. Because my purpose is connected to critiquing, I’ve taught lessons on critiquing to the students so they are familiar with the process.

6. Create the blog. The easiest step! I checked out Blogger and Edublogs. I signed up for my first blog on Edublogs in less than five minutes. This was, of course, after agonizing over a name for a couple of weeks!

That’s where I’m at as of today. My next steps include:

  • collecting student email addresses to ease with set up
  • playing with design (adding pages for the sketchbook assignment, changing the banner photo, etc.)
  • sending a letter home to parents telling about the blog
  • booking lab time to show students some examples, introduce the project and create their own blogs
  • finding extra support for the 1-2 students that will need one-on-one assistance to be successful

Imagery – Colourful bricks by ntr23 on

Art Students’ Blog Coming Soon!

Is it normal to be insanely excited and absolutely terrified at the same time? Perhaps when riding a roller coaster, yes, but as a teacher? Actually, now that I’m writing this, I’m thinking that there are probably many teaching stories that fit that description.

I’m excited, and yet terrified, because the introduction of blogging into my art program is about to begin.

My excitement is due to the fact that I can’t wait to get started with the art blog. I envision photos of fantastic student artwork, thoughtful artist statements that offer explanations to those who visit the blog and comments which are both insightful and encouraging to those I work with each day. I hope for new motivation and more excitement for my students. I want to use technology as a tool to inspire and create new learning at my school. I want my students to become more knowledgeable when responding to the artwork of their peers and I want them to grow as artists from the comment dialogue I hope blossoms on the site.

And yet, at the same time, I’m terrified, probably due to those high expectations mentioned above(sometimes, perhaps, I may be a bit of an overachiever – understatement of the month if you know me at all…). Those persistent ‘what-ifs’ keep floating into my mind. What if the students don’t enjoy using the blog as part of their art course? What if I can’t get enough time in the lab? What if I have technical difficulties? What if the comments are not helpful, but hurtful? What if I can’t manage all the comments and co-comments and postings I’m ultimately responsible for as the teacher in charge of the project? What if, what if, what if…

I guess the logical approach is to do my best to be optimistic, but with a realistic perspective. I have a great support network if I need help, I have lots of recent personal blogging experiences to draw from, and I have the best group of students possible for introducing blogging to the art department at my school.

Wish us luck…!

Imagery is Screeeeeeaming by scene*s on

So Many Web 2.0 Choices…

One of my professional learning goals for the first semester this year was to learn about blogging and other Web 2.0 tools that I could use with my art students. More specifically, I want to enhance their learning associated with perceiving and responding to their own and others’ artwork.

My goal for second semester is to implement the technology to start transforming the learning in the classroom. The problem is, there are so many Web 2.0 tools, I can’t decide which technology to use! So, I decided to use technology to decide on technology. Here’s my first Wordle created from this post:

I could create a blog using Edublogs. I’d probably format it similiar to Huzzah, Technology in our classroom, and Clarence Fisher’s Thinwalls blog. These blogs are designed so that each student has their own space to work within and call their own. I believe that this student ownership over the space would lead to increased student motivation and, in turn, more engagement and enhanced learning.

I could, however, use a classroom Flickr account for the same purpose. Students could upload photos and photos of art projects and use the comments section as the space for artist statements and responses. If I decide to go the blog route, a Flickr account could be part of the blog space, too. I’d like to experiment with different ways of using Flickr as a tool regardless.

Many people I’ve discussed the project with have recommended Voicethread. Of the three, this is the only tool I haven’t used and the one that I know the least about. It looks like you upload a photo, then people leave an audio comment about the image. It sounds like a good match for visual arts. Once again, if I decide on the blog, then I could embed a Voicethread into a posting.

I have to decide…soon. Any ideas? One person (thanks Marianne!) suggested that I let the students decide. I like that option. I think it’s important that students take part in the decision making in the classroom.

What do you think – blog, Flickr, Voicethread or a combination of all three? I’d love any insight you have or helpful tips you can offer. Which Web 2.0 tool would you use?