Entering the Blogosphere

Posted: February 28, 2015 in Course 5
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Connected Classrooms? when pigs fly drawn on Adobe Ideas by Nicki Hambleton

Connected Classrooms? when pigs fly drawn on Adobe Ideas by Nicki Hambleton

Kicking off Course 5 in the Classroom

Photo Credit: dview.us via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: dview.us via Compfight cc

It is with trepidation and anticipation that I begin the final phase of my COETAIL journey. In my previous post, Classroom in the Cloud, I said that I know this is not the end, just the beginning, and as I start introducing my students to the concept of connecting globally it feels like a new start and the beginning of something great.

Middle Schoolers cannot hold their feelings, they don’t mince their words and they show in their faces exactly when they are excited or upset. As I explained about my own COETAIL journey and shared with them my wish for them to have the same level of connectedness, to learn from others usually out of their reach and at the same time have fun, their faces reflected my own positive thoughts (thank goodness!). You never know whether what we plan is right or even interesting to our students, even if we think, as experienced educators, that we know what is best for them. They were genuinely excited to meet other MS art students and share learning with them.

All under one roof

The concept began to take root at the end of Course 4 where Matt McGrady and Anne Dirilgen, both Art teachers too, were thinking through their ideas for their final project. As we had connected long before COETAIL we wanted to build on this connection of like-minds and share that with our students. My initial idea, and still a huge part in my plan, is to develop a digital classroom that connects Middle School students in the ways that older students can interact: sharing videos or stories, commenting on photographs, chatting in a group or starting a discussion in a forum for example. Finding a format or platform is not so easy, especially for younger students. Edmodo exists and Nings are a possibility but I want the students to own it, design it, develop it and build and grow within it.

Previously many of my Middle Schoolers have had blogs which I connected to each other through my initial art blog (thisisallaboutart). It started out as a way for me to get to know them better as a person and to encourage interaction, positive sharing, pride and feedback. But teaching over 250 students every week made this very difficult to manage. Google Reader, at the time, made it slightly more palpable by allowing groups to be added to my blog and tracking when an individual posts. What a shame Google Reader ceased to be as I haven’t found a similar widget or tool to embed the collections in the same easy go-to fashion. Sadly, since starting COETAIL my time has meant my first blog has been on pause, whilst I developed my own voice here on Thinking Tradigitally. Perhaps the students will allow me a little space on their pages?


Following initial contact on Twitter and the decision that we should continue to work together, Matt suggested Quadblogging, developed by David Mitchell, Deputy Headteacher of Heathfield Primary School in Bolton, UK. Since its inception in 2011, over 500,000 students from 50 countries worldwide have taken part, connecting their classrooms. Connecting students outside of their usual domain is the underlying takeaway of this phenomena and when Mitchell asked on Twitter, “A blog without an audience is like…..” the responses came back such as:

“A library without books, a car without an engine and Beyonce without a ring!”

I asked a similar question to my classes, “Why do we share online” and their responses were equally heartfelt:

“When you are proud of your work, you want to share it”

“To share your story and to create memories”

“To receive feedback, to be noticed”

“You want to know what people think, what you are doing right or need to change to make it even better”

You can find out more about Quadblogging on the Edutopia post, from September 2012 or more about David Mitchell on his website Ask Sir.


Some Grade 7s and 8s have Instagram and share their photography through this method, trying for the most amount of “likes” and it is this that, to a 13 year old narcissistic girl, signifies their success or popularity. But do participants really add value to Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest? Comments range from “great shot” to “Love it” often with many emojis. So do they grow as a photographer, artist, writer or as a person as a result? What is its purpose?

I teach feedback to my students through the Visible Thinking routines with the favourite one being I see, I think, I wonder, as Silvia Tolisano eloquently describes on her post, Reflecting in the Learning process. With this framework peer and group feedback models useful yet positive commenting to take the artist forward and it is through this that my students are gaining insight into how to grow.

Hanging out

screenshot mid-hangout with Anne and Matt

screenshot mid-hangout with Anne and Matt

As part of the plan, Matt, Anne and I met online the other weekend to talk through the process, our aims, challenges and to discuss the timeframe. Matt set up the chat and we proceeded to try to record the hangout (just in case anyone was in the vaguest bit interested in the process and to laugh at us floundering with the new technology!). Google Hangouts on air will be our next learning curve when we should have our initial reflection on the first few weeks recorded.

3 became 4

Matt introduced us briefly through email to Alissa at The American School of Dubai and we are hoping that she and her colleague will join in the collaborating to spread the connections further afield. I am sure that there are other Art teachers with similar classes of youngsters that would love to take part in a programme like this. If you know of anyone, please connect them to me via Twitter: @itsallaboutart

The Class blog

This week, Matt’s classes will prepare their first blog page and introduce themselves to us. We wait in anticipation to see the first insights into life in Abu Dhabi, a country not many of us have had the pleasure to visit.

UWCSEA Dover High School Art Exhibition 2015

UWCSEA Dover High School Art Exhibition 2015

In the run up to the first week of commenting, my students took time out from the classroom to walk around our current High School Show to view and were amazed by the variety and quality of work on show. I asked them to chose just one student whose work had affected them and to write on a post it, these 2 things:

screenshot from my Active Inspire lesson for Grade 6

screenshot from my Active Inspire lesson for Grade 6


At the end of the week, I am compiling the multitude of post its (I currently teach 176 Middle School students in one week) to display as a “virtual blog post” alongside print outs of the artists’ work. In this way the students (and the artists) will get to grips with posting publically and how their comments can be viewed by many.

In addition, students are researching the look, feel and content of blogs on a theme of their choice to compare the writing style, design and layout and use of images for homework this week. This in turn, I hope, will inspire their class blog design to be both functional and attractive to draw viewers in and help them to want to return.

Under the same umbrella

Photo Credit: anettehustad via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: anettehustad via Compfight cc

I still hold on to the dream of the connected classroom in the cloud: a one-stop, all under one roof place for art students to interact. A place to connect artists, a little like the NING art teachers in Asia have with ARARTE, created by Kendra Farrell; not dissimilar to Michelle Anderson‘s IB Visual Art site, and not forgetting the wonderful GCSE and A Level Art site created by Amira Gale Student Art Guide. I also recall a site The Incredible @rt Department which has been going since 1994, originating as an Elementary Schools site, now serving not only the US but with some International Schools participating too. Deviant Art, started in 2000, is a wonderful community of artists too, but often open to comments and sharers that would leave my impressionable youngsters, and their parents, covering their eyes and leaving their hearts wounded.

Through this project I want to teach them the basics of digital citizenship, how to be safe and protected online. They need to learn about using their images properly, about licensing and sharing respectfully, about tagging and labelling. But I want them more than anything to forge friendships; to learn and grow without walls, to share and teach others about what it is to be a pre-teen, about culture and art. Not every 11 year old will be as keen to be involved and I get that. Just today I saw the face of a Grade 6 bubbly, impetuous boy, open as a book, clearly thinking more of the football pitch or what he was about to have for lunch than the prospect of blogging his latest masterpiece online! You cannot win them all, but it will be my pleasure and challenge to engage them all, in some way, in the wonderful world of global connections.

Where next?

Photo Credit: aturkus via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: aturkus via Compfight cc

The plan for the next few weeks is to test drive quadblogging and get the students up and running their class blog site, sharing content and connecting and commenting with the other schools. I would like to allow the students to be moderators and authors on a rotation basis to help them to organise and play with the system new to them yet also to work together to create a living, breathing space that reflects who they are, not that of the teacher. This is a crucial aspect of my plan.

The following weeks, not only will they be curating content but I would like to involve them in the design and structure of the major plan – the connected classroom in the cloud.
Through discussions with Peter Li, one of the Digital Coaches at UWCSEA, we looked at Edmodo, Pathfinder and Google sites as gatekeepers, settling on the possibility of creating a “landing page” that the blogs and other features could link from. What I am investigating over the coming weeks is HYPE, I will have some fun in the coming weeks learning keyframe animation and HTML5, but Peter will be there to help along the way. Students will design the base image and the buttons and icons that will take them forward to the blogs or galleries and we will discuss what makes an aesthetic yet functional initial webpage (see Course 3 Visual Literacy: Design Matters).

The image I currently see is of a palette of many colours linking to the blogs, videos, artworks and forums; or of a classroom with different doors to take them to various sections of the site. But who knows what the students will design and whether this idea really is akin to “pigs flying”.

I know this process will take me beyond May 2015, but this is not a short term idea. I intend this to be  something that will evolve and transform as classes move up the school and beyond my four walls.

But however it ends up looking, ownership is everything.



  1. Tom says:

    I think quadblogging sounds like a great way to get students connected, and I like how you will have the students be involved in the designing of the buttons. I am looking forward to following the progress of your project.

    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      Thanks Tom. I am looking forward to the real possibility of students connecting authentically and imparting some of the COETAIL love to them!

  2. Joe Teft says:

    Wow, I’m interested to hear how the quadblogging goes, I’ve thought about it, but haven’t entered into it yet, let me know your experiences for sure. Sounds like an exciting journey.

    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      Thanks Joe. I am pretty excited about it actually and the letter I sent out to parents has triggered some very positive comments. One parent, a human rights lawyer, shared with me her own multi media global issues journeys for students, connecting kids across countries to talk about common issues. I am excited to meet with her and share experiences and ideas. I can’t wait to see how yours evolves too – let’s meet up soon!

  3. Wow an epic blog post Nicki. You have put a huge amount of effort into this and hope the kids are enjoying it. Hope Peter can help with designing some kind of interface to help student access.

    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      Thanks Andrew, I like to write a lot it appears. I would never have thought that before I started COETAIL! I am well into the quadblogging and our students have published their first posts each this week, so I am ready to share that process with the parent community so they can “look in”. Any advice or suggestions?
      I have 2 students per week looking at design and layout as “admin” which is working out fine, but now I need to pull it all together on a landing page of some sort. For the time being I am thinking it should be a PAGE on this site that has the links embedded but eventually my wish for something fancier will take me to play with HYPE with Pete and beyond!
      Any advice or feedback on documenting the process too for the final course video would be great!
      Thanks for looking in,

  4. Midge Madden says:

    Hi Nicki,
    I “stumbled” across your blog and found your study with quadblogging really interesting! A colleague of mine, Val Lee, and I have worked with Silvia Tolisano and we heard about quadblogging from her (not until later did I find out it originated with David Mitchum).
    In 2013 we launched a quagblogging project with middle school kids from Vermont, California, New Jersey and Qatar. Each school took the lead at different points. The kids selected the topic (a social issue or world issue that they all voted on). They posted the reading and their responses to them. Then the other schools were invited to provide feedback to their thoughts. This went on for several months – life interrupted re testing etc. so the sharing did not go as smoothly as we had hoped. Ultimately each middles school LA class posted found poems about their selected topic, built from all of the conversation around it. For example, the New Jersey school looked at the ways the toy industry is breaking through and/or adhering to gender stereotypes. The other kids form Vermont and California had provided their views as well in blog comments. Qatar was never able to fully participate as the school underwent some organizational changes and the time difference made it difficult.

    So not a complete success but a first attempt at connecting kids across borders outside of classroom walls to talk about important issues to them.
    We are planning to begin again in January. We middle school classrooms in New Jersey and Michigan, possibly California and North Carolina. Qatar is again interested.

    I would love to hear more about your experiences – our focus has been not on art but on writing. Would love to share some ideas. We used a word press site and invited all to join.
    Thanks again, for posting your stories. So very helpful!

    P.S. Val and I teach at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ and are very much interested in pursuing this work.

    • Nicki Hambleton says:

      Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving such a great comment. I am ever so happy to chat with you and compare experiences. As I only teach art to the classes once a week it was really hard to fit everything in. There were definitely some kids who loved it and others who loathed it! I haven’t started the process yet this year but I would like to but with my autonomy on the students and particularly the keen ones. We have an online learning platform that the students are actively involved in so they are used to the process but another platform might be too much. How are you planning to change or adjust things for the better?

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