CATs and muddiest points

The "muddiest point" (one which you will find a number of posts on this blog) is one of many classroom assessment techniques (CATs) which are popular in US colleges.

The muddiest point basically involves giving your learners a slip of paper on which they record the one thing they are left most puzzled about at the end of the lesson, which they have understood least clearly. You then collect these in, and respond to them.

It could be that you respond at the beginning of the next class; if you have a blog, however, you can respond there…

Some CATs at least you could apply to language teaching…

How do you set up a blog (with Blogger.com)?

Setting up your Blogger account is very easy, but I've provided the screenshots below to guide you through the process.


Step 1: Take a quick tour
First of all you have to go to www.blogger.com and create a new account. Remember when you set up your Hotmail or Yahoo account? Well, this is pretty much the same.

To give you an idea of what blogging involves, you might "take a quick tour" first. Choose that link (shown above).

To set up your account, click where it says "Create your account now" (also shown above).


Step 2: Set up your account
The first screen you get is shown above. Your "user name" and "password" you could make the same as what you are using on Yahoo, or wherever — which makes it easy to remember them.

Your "display name" is what it says when you post to a blog (what appears on the webpage). Under what you write it will automatically say "posted by" and whatever name you have chosen. I suggest you use your own preferred first name, with a capital letter. My "display name" is Tom, for example.

Accept the "terms" and then click "continue"…


Set 3: Give your blog a name
The next screen looks like the one above. For a first blog, I suggest that you choose one of your hobbies and use that as the "blog title" (you can always change it later, or create a completely new blog) — "Mountain biking in Spain", for example.

You'll see another example below — "Jumping up and down on the bed", my favourite sport when I was a kid!

The "blog address" is the address you will have to go to to see your blog. Don't put any spaces in it — "mountainbikingspain", for example.


Step 4: Choose a template
You then have to choose a "template" (screen shown above). The template controls what your blog looks like. You don't get many choices, and you can change your mind afterwards (and will in fact then get more choices).

I suggest you choose whichever you think is least horrible!

Click "continue", and then you'll get this:


Step 5: Sit back and watch
"Your blog has been created" (above). It really is that simple!

Step 6: Create your first post
Now you can start "posting" to your newly created blog. The interface is shown above, with lots of those buttons probably already being familiar to you:

You will need to write something in order to be able to actually view the blog, and have to click "publish post" (not shown above) first. You also get a "save as draft" button, which allows you to save what you've written and post it later.


Your "Dashboard"
One final thing… Top right, you'll see a link "Back to Dashboard" (circled above).

Your dashboard shows you all of your blogs — you can have lots of them — and you can access and edit them from the dashboard.

My "dashboard" (I would click — for example — "Young Learners" to edit my Young Learners blog, circled):


There's more to learn about blogs, of course — but the best way to do that is to try a blog out for yourself…

>> Go to blogger.com in order to set an account (and blog) up for yourself

How do you set up a blog (with Zoomblog.com)?

I originally chose Zoomblog.com rather than Blogger.com for this blog to some extent because Zoomblog offers a particular tool that Blogger.com doesn't have (yet), namely categories.

Without categories, you can only really navigate a blog chronologically. With categories, you can also navigate via author-defined subjects (blogs and blogging, the introduction session itself, muddiest points were three that I set up).

As on blogger.com, a Zoomblog account is remarkably easy to set up…

Step 1: Choose "Start a blog now"
Go to Zoomblog.com, ignore anything you don't understand, and hit that button!

Step 2: Choose your "level of expertise" — easy, intermediate or expert

Basically, "easy" means you don't get all the options — I'd recommend you go for "expert" (even if you are not!): you can always change if you find all the different options confusing.

Step 3: Fill in the form…
I suggest that you stay with a password that you already use, say, on your Yahoo or Hotmail account, as it will then be easier to remember.

At this point you'll have to wait for Zoomblog to send you a confirmation link — which will go to the email address you fill in above.


Step 4: Start your blog
Think of a subject that interests you — fishing or crochet or bike mechanics, it doesn't matter want — that goes in the blog title (the first field, above).

The important field is the "blog name/address" — that's where you will go to actually view the blog once it's online. No spaces in it.

The other field that is important is "who can read this blog". Pick something other than the default "everyone" if you are concerned about privacy.

Personally, I'd suggest making it private at first (you can change later), at least until there's something there worth reading.


Step 5: "Format and style"
You then have to choose what is called a "template", which determines what all of your pages will look like. Click one of the buttons to make your selection.

Step 6: Create your blog
Hit the "create blog" button at the foot of the page to do so — it's really that simple.

Step 7: Your first post
If you chose "Expert" your editor looks as shown above. Click "publish" to create your first post.

If all those options look confusing, and you want to change your settings, clicking "Level" allows you to go back to "Easy" (shown below), or Intermediate.

For the sake of comparison, here you can see the Zoomblog version of this blog (no longer maintained).

In October 2006, I switched back to Blogger.com in order to be able to publish on our own server (ihes.com).

Zoomblog vs Blogger

Among the advantages of Zoomblogs over Blogger:

  • the availability of categories (so that you can navigate the content on a blog by theme, not just by chronological order)
  • the choice of 3 different levels of expertise
  • it uses terms anyone can understand — "blog address" rather than the technical "URL", for example
  • the "editor" (the bit where you write) is slightly more user-friendly than on Blogger (except for images, see below)
  • you can make a back-up copy of your blog
  • the fact that it is not owned by Google-is-Evil

Advantages of Blogger over Zoomblog:

  • if you are going to be uploading a lot of images (and images undoubtedly make a blog more interesting), Blogger is easier to use
  • the Blogger "help" file is much better — indeed there is no FAQs or single help file on Zoomblog (though each section has minimal help), a huge oversight
  • Blogger offers you a "delete format" button which is handy when your paste text from somewhere else and it looks "wrong" (because you also pasted in the format, font type etc)
  • Blogger is bigger and better maintained; in 4 years it's never given me a serious problem — in 4 weeks Zoomblogs has, and there are several blog service providers that have temporarily, at least, stopped service
  • Blogger also gives you better privacy, if that's important to you

Which should you choose?
I'd suggest Blogger if you want to include lots of images and want something really robust, Zoomblog if categories are important to you (which is why I shifted this blog from Blogger).

Alternatives
Another good free option is a blog at edublogs.org, also very easy to set up and giving you the option of setting up a wiki, too, besides also being a service for teachers. There is also eslblogs.org, specifically for ESL students.

Just out is a blogging service from Yahoo (still in its trial version). It's dead easy to use, but very limited in what it offers you if personalising your look (etc) is important to you. You want something really simple? This might be what you're after!

The professional alternative (not for the beginner!) is Word Press and they now provide a (limited) free service, which I can recommend. You get categories and the possibility of (new) "pages" (not just always posting on the same one) but virtually no possibility of editing the appearance of your blog — unless you go for the professional one. You can also import a blog from Blogger, complete with comments!

Firefox, not Internet Explorer


Firefox is a browser (shown above), for viewing websites — an alternative to Internet Explorer (IE). It's very similar from the user's point of view, but has a number of interesting features.

Among its advantages:

  • It's arguably safer than Internet Explorer, being less likely to trigger some of the malicious things lurking out there on the Internet
  • It adheres to "standards", not something that can always be said of Internet Explorer; standards — among other things — allow designers to create websites that you can then use no matter what browser or computer you are using
  • It has lots of neat little "extensions", which include the ability to add search engines (and other things) to your toolbar. In the image, right, you can see that I can thus make the same search ("lesson plan ELT") on several different search engines; I didn't find what I wanted on Google-is-Evil, so now I'm going to try Yahoo. My other additions include Answers.com and Wikipedia (good alternatives for search) and — for films — the superb Internet Movie Database (IMDB)
  • It gives you "tabbed browsing", which is great if you're the kind of person that likes to have lots of different web pages or sites open at the same time. You can just see the "tabs" in the image at the top of this post — I've got the Barcelona-Online directory open, as well as a site called PC Hell, for example
  • You can save bookmarks where they are more readily accessible. In the image at the top, you can see that the one on the left takes me to my Bloglines account
  • It works much better than Internet Explorer on some sites — like Hotmail for example (try downloading something from your Hotmail inbox in the Internet Room and you'll see what I mean: using IE you can't!
  • It's not Micro$oft

Among its disadvantages

  • Google-is-Evil is at least partly behind it
  • A few sites you can"t view properly in Firefox (generally because the design of the page was sloppy)