Advice from the world according to Tim: If you have never done anything like this before and/or have a limited technology knowledge base, I recommend you start small, learn what the issues are, and then expand slowly or at least methodically on your success. This is like starting an exercise program: If you launch too far too fast, you will probably become overwhelmed and give up–the last thing you really want to do.
Many different blogging solutions exist. What are some of the considerations you should explore?
- Do you want a blog for just you or just your class? Or are you wanting a school-wide or system-wide solution?
- Do you have a budget for this adventure, or do you need a free solution (usually with limits or advertising or both)?
- If you're using your own server, does your server and the infrastructure surrounding it have the capacity to handle a significant surge in traffic? (As a point of reference, within a very short time, MabryOnline.org began serving up over 1,000,000 files a month and as of this writing is serving up over 2,000,000 files a month!)
- If you pay for bandwidth and for server space, are you prepared for additional cost as traffic increases-–especially when hosting podcasts! This can be significant!
- Do you have access to a web server and want to install and control the blog system yourself? Or do you want to avoid installing softeware on your server and setting up a database? Do you want a simple initial setup/sign up process and then start posting away?
Each option has advantages and disadvantages. You want this to meet your needs, not be a source of constant frustration.
Some blogs are free. Some are a one time license purchase–then you own the software, install it on your own server, and begin posting. Some services will host your blog for you and you pay based on the amount of space your blog needs on the server and how much bandwidth the traffic it generates requires.
All of the blog posts for MabryOnline.org is hosted by DreamHost. This means only the picture files and the text content sit on the DreamHost server. DreamHost offers many affordable plans. Importantly, all of the digital media (audio and video podcasts) created by the students, teachers, and administrators is hosted on the school district's server which provides schools with unlimited free bandwidth.
When a video podcast or movie file appears on MabryOnline.org, the blog post is linking to the school system's server where the media file sits. Mabry Middle School would not begin to have the financial resources required to pay for the bandwidth these digital media files consume everytime someone someplace in the world watches a movie file.
When the school first began using blogs, we purchased an account from TypePad, which hosts everything on their server. Within half a school year, we had exceeded the storage capacity for our account, and we did not have any digital media files on the blog system at all! We therefore decided to purchase MovableType and host it on the DreamHost server.
We purchased a license for MovableType 3 (As of this writing version 4 is available). The company, SixApart, offers educational institutions a discount. MovableType is not for the faint of heart or those without some level of "geek factor." The solution is powerful and massively extensible. Frankly, I love it! But it requires a good bit of technical know-how. If you are interested in this solution, your IT department would probably have a significant role in installation and implementation. If you think you might be able to do it yourself, download the free personal version and try it yourself first before purchasing a license.
Free solutions exist. Some require more knowledge than others. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
For the novice beginner, I would suggest exploring Blogger (free and hosted, just three easy steps to setup). Play with it personally first. Then you can learn what the issues might be for educational use. You might also want to look at Tumblr, another free (as of this writing), hosted solution that has easy setup. It has a different look and feel than Blogger. See if that would meet your needs.
WordPress is a free open source solution, but you have to install it yourself on your own server. I think it can be licensed, and some companies have repackaged WordPress, offered support and hosting, and charge a fee for service.
Explore blogging. Once you get through the brief learning curve, you will be very glad you did!