Discussion Boards or Blogging

Here is an excerpt from a message by recent alum and cuurent Lockport teacher
on the topic of using the Web in teaching:

Hello Dr. Bonadonna,

. . . I am looking at doing another classroom
webpage. This time, rather than bothering you with discussion boards, I wanted
your opinion on web logs. The NCTE electronic newsletter contained a couple:
tblog.com, and movabletype.org. My only concern is that other people outside
of my class can log in to classroom discussion. What do you think about blogs
and their feasibility for classroom use?

Monika S.

Here’s my reply:

Wow–funny you should ask, Monika. All I’ve been thinking about lately is
the issue of blogs vs. discussion boards in English education.

I’ve taken the plunge and decided to ditch my Blackboard discussions boards
for blogs. I can identify several advantages to blogs (involving issues of
the writing process, authority and ownership of content, flexibility, etc.)–but
there are issues involved.

In short, I like blogs for MANY (English-teacher-type) reasons, but one
problem they create is the "dispersion" of the discussion. Instead
of being organized in one spot, the discussion is distributed across many
different Web sites (i.e., each individual’s blog). Another problem is the
password restriction issue. A bulletin board in Blackboard or PHPBB makes
it easy to restrict access. This is not always the case with blogging software.

But there are solutions to these issues, and I’d love to discuss them with

The blogging software I’m using with my classes right now is called bBlog.
It has several excellent features, but one that I really like is the ability
to "tag" each entry with a user-defined category. It doesn’t sound
like much to get excited about, but what it does is let the blogger do true,
chaotic, random, chronological, "processy," Grammar B blogging–the
"real thing" in blogging–and while doing that, to mix in some quality,
teacher-assigned, essayistic-type blogging–all without any fear of creating
a disorganized, impenetrable mess. With the "category tagging" feature,
a teacher could go to a student’s blog, click on a category (e.g., "Antigone
Journal") and foomp! get a sorting of all the entries that the blogger
had tagged with that category.

The mind ‘gins to spin…. Would you like to experiment with me? What if
we created a project of some kind with your students and mine…? It doesn’t
have to be all that involved. It could be as simple as your students blogging,
and my students reading or perhaps even responding to some of the postings
in a kind of reading buddies sort of way.
Of course, I’m getting way ahead of myself here, but hey, it doesn’t hurt
to ask. I’m always looking for creative ways of "bringing" real
kids and real experiences to my pre-service teachers. With everyone blogging,
it just becomes a little easier to do all the "bringing." So don’t
feel any pressure. But there is this other thing:

Monika? I have a category, "On Blogging," set up in my blog….
Do you see where I’m going? May I have your permission to use your email and
my response in my blog? :)

As far as tblog and moveabletype.org go, I’m not sure of their exact features.
I’ve used www.blogger.com in the past. But maybe we should talk… You might
find some advantages to using bBlog…. How many students do you have? :)
–Angelo, who yells: "Hey, Congrats on the Lockport gig!" Much good
luck to you.


Volunteer Technology Committee Work

The principal audience
of this blog entry is my English Education students–to give them a kind of
"behind the scenes" look at one type of professional involvement
and volunteer work. The entry also presents some leads on an educational administrative
technology system–the Centre system–which
students might find very useful, as a sample of the type of record-keeping
system they will need to employ in their student teaching and teaching. The
text below (in
green and maroon)
is a letter I wrote in July 2004 to Principal Bill Donegan of St. Odilo School
and Paul Rau, the school’s Music Director and technology guru.

I think this entry also
shows some of the "sprawl" of professional/personal/community relations
that is inevitable if one wishes to be an effective, dedicated teacher. I
am or have been the parent of five St. Odilo schoolchildren; I’ve served on
the St. Odilo School Board as member and president; I’ve taught teacher in-services
at the school; I’ve conducted several clinical programs with the Language
Arts and Computers teachers–and I’ve served on the school’s technology committee
(Techcom), in which capacity the current letter was written. There’s been
a connectedness and trajectory to each of these roles, even if there wasn’t
a clear sense always of the purpose and direction and feasibility and worth
of each endeavor.

I think it’s important
for beginning teachers to know how "messy" it can be to get a foothold
in a school and build a professional role there. I confess that from the beginning
I always had ulterior motives for my contributions to St. Odilo School.
Those motives involved not only helping the school be the best it can be for
my children, but also finding a "partner" site where I could conduct
some of my clinical programs–which required a high level of technological
capacity and dependability. As I engaged in technological work at SXU, I knew
immediately that work could pay off in other contexts–everything could fall
into place neatly–but only after a lot of indirect setup and involvement.
Anyway, this blog is just an illustration of that…

Dear Bill
and Paul–The Centre School Information System (administrative school package)
is installed, upgraded, and ready for use. The current system is four upgrades
beyond the first system that was installed about a month ago. So the product
has had an intense development this summer by its creators. The current version,
1.02, seems to have most of the bugs worked out, and I think you can depend
on it in terms of data safety and security. (But there may be kinks lefts,
FOR EXAMPLE: On my Mac at home, I find that Internet Explorer doesn’t always
work for every feature (namely, for editing data); I haven’t been able to
test on a Windows machine yet, so if you experience a problem, and you’re
using Explorer, try switching to Mozilla or Netscape or some other browser
to see if the problem persists).

you intend to use this system, you’ll probably need some assistance in figuring
it out and finding all its uses. It took me a couple of hours of tinkering
to get the hang of it (once all the installation difficulties were overcome).
Some of the features are pretty obvious; some, however, I found counter-intuitive
or a little odd. Some of the features won’t be needed at all by St. Odilo,
but most seem pretty useful.

is editable from within an admin account, even though it often doesn’t look
so. If you see something you’d like to edit (e.g., a password), try clicking
on it, and you should get a text box or pop-up menu for editing. (Here’s where
I had the problem with Explorer. Explorer lets you change the data, but after
you click "Save" the change doesn’t stick.)

I’ve created
an Administrator account for each of you. One feature I don’t like is that
an administrator can see the password of every user (not just CHANGE the password,
as is the typical admin power with such systems). So I’m sending this message
with your password at the same time, since either of you could look at each
other’s passwords at any time. In fact, to keep things simple at this point,
I’ve given you each the same password: ******.

It’s important
to know that every administrator will always be able to view every password,
so you’d want to know who your admins are, of course, and you’d want to advise
users not to use a super-sensitive password (for instance, Paul, I don’t think
we should use our master Odilo password in this system).
Here’s the login info you need:


Password: **********

are some test accounts created for us to tinker with. Feel free to create
some new accounts.

Go ahead–log
in. You’ll see eight icons across the top. Click on "Users" ("Users"
are parents, teachers, and administrators; students are administered from
another icon). To see a list of all the current users, clck the "Submit"
button with all the search boxes left blank (this procedure for displaying
all the users is one of the less obvious features I referred to above). Try
to edit any of the users by clicking on their names, and then clicking on
the text you wish to edit.

are four types of accounts available in the Centre system: student, teacher,
parent, and administrator. To download a brief manual on each, go to:


Do either
of you think it would be a bad idea to go to Techcom with some kind of call
for assistance in using/testing the system? I don’t think we should create
any "spare" administrator accounts on our system, but there is a
demo site set up for the general public to learn about and practice with the
system. If you decide to use Centre to handle the school’s record keeping,
you’ll want, eventually to get parents and students on board. First, of course,
are the teachers, but my hope is that it won’t be too difficult to give them
a start in using it. Perhaps Paul and I could prepare some type of in-service
for the start of the year?
But what do you think about sending Techcom something along these lines?


Dear Techcom–This
summer we’ve installed a new system on our server for managing record-keeping
and various administrative/communicative tasks for the school and school community.
The new system is call "Centre," and it is Open Source software
developed by the Miller Group (http://www.miller-group.net/). The Centre system
can be used for scheduling, record-keeping, turning in grades, making reports,
taking attendance, recording grades for assignments, quizzes, and quarters,
making mailings, determining sports eligibility, etc.

an implementation of Centre would involve the whole St. Odilo community (there
are four types of log-in: parent, student, teacher, and administrator), Techcom
should probably lead the way in learning about the system and testing it out.
If we decide to go with a full implementation of Centre, Techcom could probably
best advise on how to announce and promote the system, as well as to educate
users–primarily teachers, but also parents and students.

A demo
site has been created for people who wish to get started in Centre:


You can
log in with one of four demo accounts (the different account levels carry
different permissions and functions):

Username: admin; Password: admin
• Username: teacher; Password: teacher
• Username: parent; Password: parent
• Username: student; Password: student

For user
manuals for each of the four types of login (Administrator, Parent, Teacher,
and Student), go to



Bill–If you like this message, you may send it, or any version of it. Or
I would be happy to send it or something else, if you wish. Or Paul could
send something. Or, we don’t have to send anything. But getting the word out
might generate some interest and assistance….

it for now. Take care, Angelo