At the beginning of the semester I wrote a little about the technical issues of aggregating content for the nearly-400 person class I’m teaching. I finally solved the problem (mostly) by using a copy of Gregarious. (That aggregator is set up here.) I’ll write shortly about how I think that the big blogging course worked out pedagogically, but first a quick technical note.
WordPress.com is the best of blog hosts, and it is the worst of blog hosts. On the best side, it gives you a lot to play with, neat bells and whistles, and a great deal of control over your look. It does this all for free: really free, not ad supported free. However, putting it to a stress test, requiring that students each set up a blog on the host, revealed a few cracks. (In practice, I only required that people have a blog set up on an RSS/Atom capable blog host–but those are fewer than you might first imagine!)
Set up & Login
First, setup was far from intuitive. I’ve had students play with Blogger before, and their set-up is still much easier to understand for many students, I think. I have a feeling the same is true of Livejournal (“liverjournal,” as one of my collaborators manages to malaprop consistently). Obviously, “Site Admin” is not that hard to understand, but it takes some getting used to. Most students end up bookmarking the “wp-admin” url so that they can find it. This is especially true when they are used to the idea of the aggregator being the end publication of their blog. Most didn’t even think about their non-aggregated version.
More troubling is that WordPress.com seems to have had some crashes and periodic slowdowns. Of course, it is hard to blame them for this; in some ways it is probably natural growing pains. But the emphasis there is on the “pain.” Receiving fifty emails from students because they are down just before a deadline is not fun. I decided to go with wordpress.com rather than my own host to increase responsiveness and reliability, and while it saved me time, I’m not sure it really led to more reliable service.
Well, now that I’ve decided not to continue to support my own blogging server (except for the legacies), I guess I’ll have to stick with WordPress.com and try to build a set of materials to help students make better use of it. Alternatively, I might give Edublogs a run, though I’m not sure James is ready for a few hundred bloggers concurrently hitting the site. I may be back to Blogger. I’ll probably also be pushing for more team blogging, especially in smaller classes, with four people on the same site.
I do want to pick one and go with it, because whatever the platform, it needs more documentation, at the most basic level. As I will discuss in a later posting, when students succeeded with blogging it was very, very good, but when they did not it was horrid.