Medium as student blogging platform

with Adobe Voice & Adobe Slate

Experience shows us that students’ performance increases dramatically when they know their work will be shared with a wider audience. This is even more true when students are sharing their work with a wider public audience.

Ever use Blogger or WordPress on mobile? It’s like taking a time-machine back to 2005. Can we really expect teens to embrace this?

Many schools have been using student blogs to give students an authentic platform to share their learning with a global audience. Some schools use Blogger, EduBlogs or some blogging feature of an LMS. These tend to provide the structure and control that schools want, but are so locked-down and walled-off from the rest of students’ social media identity that they really have zero chance of being valued by students.

Terry Heick really nails the point:

The truth is, every platform has its strengths and weaknesses. My argument here is pretty simple–there is no perfect platform for student blogging because everything that does exactly what a teacher wants sucks for students, and anything that is exactly what a student wants will probably get a teacher fired.

Terry concludes, as I do, that if we want an authentic, valued experience, we must move toward the students rather than trying to jam them into our little box. His answer is Tumblr, and I almost agree. We use Tumblr for school trips and some larger school events. It’s easy for students and staff to use, it has a strong modern mobile platform and it’s very social. But Tumblr has one fatal flaw: the user doesn’t have their own stream that contains all of their posts regardless of which blog they were posted to. This means that students cannot post to a class blog, but still have it be part of their growing body of work. Students (or other readers) cannot follow other users, just the blogs they write to. This is ok if all we want is a simple platform for a class to share links on, but it doesn’t provide a place for a student to set down digital roots and to start growing an online identity.

It may be naive, but here’s my wish-list:

  • Social media paradigm
  • Modern mobile interface
  • Simple media embedding
  • Equally strong at quick posting and long-form writing
  • Posts can be grouped or submitted into collections or publications
  • User, rather than school owned with super-simple setup

Medium

Medium is all of that and more! I’ve loved Medium for a while, but didn’t really consider it for a school environment until recently. I reached out on Twitter, and nobody knew of anyone doing it, but everyone loved the idea.

Over the last month, I’ve been working with a select group of grade 6 students. (I like testing systems with this age because they serve as a good indicator of how well something could work with both upper primary students and secondary students.) Not only does Medium hold promise as a student blogging platform, but possibly for all of a school’s publishing needs.

Aesthetics matter to our students. Medium has a simple, modern interface.

Student blogs & student portfolios

Students publish everything to their Medium stream. Whether they love cupcake recipes or video games, we can encourage students to write about them on Medium. If the post is related to a class assignment, teachers simply ask students to use a unique tag. That way, teachers don’t have to follow students, but instead follow tags, so they only see relevant posts.

Students will all set up a Medium Publication to serve as their online portfolio. Portfolio posts would simply be a currated collection of their best school-related posts throughout the year. As they are the owner of the Publication, the content would travel with them from year to year.

Class blogs

Primary teachers would also create a Publication to serve as their class blog. It’s incredibly easy for teachers to re-post (embed) student posts if they want to share student work and it’s an attractive platform to share with parents. Some teachers may find it limiting, since they can’t set up complex pages like they can on WordPress or Google Sites, but I actually see this as a positive. I don’t want teachers to feel pressured to set up complex sites. I don’t want them to spend lots of time setting up resource pages when instead they could be posting casual updats and photos of students working. I don’t want them spending hours playing with layouts and colors instead of creating content. Medium forces students and teachers to focus on actually creating content, and it’s almost impossible to make it look bad.

Secondary school class blogs would work a bit differently, but I still haven’t finalized how. Should secondary teachers create a publication for each class? Each subject? That seems like too much, so I’m inclined to have one Publication for each homeroom cohort, which all teachers of that cohort contribute to.

Rich media

As excited as I am about Medium as a blogging platform, I’m even more excited about tools such as Adobe Slate and Adobe Voice to empower students to move beyond text. In the past, the difference between student-published work and professionally published work was so great that students couldn’t even imagine moving toward more professional media creation. Adobe Voice and Slate change that. When combined with a modern blog publishing platform such as Medium, students can quickly achieve amazing results.

Examples

The following are two examples from G6 students who were asked to write a brief reflection on a unit from their MYP Design class. As part of the unit on the client-designer relationship, students were asked to use the information gathered in client interviews to create a brand/logo pitch. They drew their logos in Adobe Draw and put together the pitch in Adobe Voice. Later, they took their refined logos and created a simple brand concept using Adobe Slate to create a simple website. Voice and Slate URLs embed beautifully in Medium.

Conclusion

There’s a lot left to figure out, and I’m prepared for pushback on two fronts: some teachers and administrators may worry that a consumer product is too ad-hoc and doesn’t offer any domain-wide automation or auditing. Others may worry about having public blogs. This isn’t Medium specific, but it is an issue that some schools struggle with. I’m firmly in the camp of if it isn’t going to be public, it is almost completely neutered of it’s educational power, and it isn’t worth the trouble of doing.

Is anyone else using Medium in a K-12 environment? Am I crazy?

Crossposted at bradycline.com. If you liked what you read, be sure to follow Brady Cline for more on Innovation in Education, and The Synapse for more authentic voices in Education!