Creating an Online Classroom With Posterous – Guest Post

© Nathan Hall

Before becoming an English language teacher, I had primarily worked in the photographic industry as a salesperson, manager, and teacher/trainer. I was a prime example of the old adage, “those who don’t, teach” since I don’t have an artistic bone in my body (I blame my older sister for taking all the talent with her when she was born). My focus was on the technical skills, helping people learn how to use their cameras, especially during the seismic shift from film to digital. Once I started teaching English, I thought I would never again have the opportunity to use my photographic knowledge in the classroom. I was wrong.

Shortly after moving to a new city and starting a new teaching position at a language school, I was approached with the idea of starting an English and photography class. I had never even considered the idea before, but since I was in the middle of a curriculum development class for my MA TESOL, I thought it might be an idea to explore further. I scratched out a few ideas and started planning my course with the idea of integrating the four main language skills into a content-based photography class. Knowing that it would involve a fair amount of technology, I sought out a place online for the students and myself to post and share what we were learning and creating during the course. It would be a spot where I could post classwork, lectures, and homework and the students could share their creative projects, presentations, and homework. That was when I came across Posterous.

There is a plethora of blogging and online website creation options such as Wikispaces, Blogger, WordPress, etc., but I wasn’t overly impressed with how each of these sites handled images and documents and didn’t feel that they were simple enough for what I was asking the students to do in the class. I wanted a place where photos could be displayed in a gallery type viewer, presentations could be watched, and documents such as PDFs could be read and downloaded. Sure, some of these sites could do this with the help of other online tools such as Flickr, Picasa, or Scribd, but I wanted it to be straightforward and simple for the students.

With Posterous, I can integrate photos into the post as a gallery, upload documents and presentations directly into the post for the students to view and download, and students can contribute and comment. All of this could be done without third party plugins or storage limits.

The following are some of main features of Posterous I think that could be useful in the classroom.

Mobile use: With mobile apps for iOS and Android, it is easy for students to read, post, and comment directly from their smartphones. Students even posted pictures and did homework directly on their phones. Also, each Posterous site is automatically created into a mobile site making it easy for the teacher to create interactive classroom sites that students can view anywhere. I even have some of my students doing their homework on the bus ride home. 

© Nathan Hall

Embedded files: Posterous automatically embeds files such as videos, audio files, documents, and photos without installing any plugins or using HTML codes. Photos are put into a gallery that can be viewed fullscreen, PPT presentation are converted and can be played fullscreen as well, and videos and audio files are put into their own players to be used directly on the site. This is really helpful when you want to have students give presentations on a SmartBoard, give them listening homework, or you just want to use something in class. Also, there is no limitation on the amount of space you can use for the files.

Simplicity: Everything on the site is meant to be used with the minimum amount of learning. While other sites are more flexible in regards to expansion and customization, the functions of Posterous are more than enough for a class site while making it easy on learners to use.

Integration with social media: Posterous allows for autoposting to various social networks and also has links at the bottom of each post for sharing on Twitter and Facebook. This can be turned off quite easily if the teacher wants to remove it. I found it was nice for students to be able to share their work on their favorite social network and gave them a sense of pride regarding their work.

Email posting: This is an excellent option if a teacher doesn’t want to make students register for Posterous. I had one class where I had the students email in their homework to the site instead of web posting. The email posts did not appear on the site unless I moderated it. This way, I didn’t have to give my students my email address and they could ask questions at any time. Email posts with attachments will automatically embed the files into the post.

Posting information from other sites: Posterous has a wonderful bookmarklet that allows users to post text, videos, or photos directly from other sites. This can be used in a WebQuest style format and then students can comment on each others discoveries.

Price: Free. Can’t get any better than that. Oh, and ad free, too.

Posterous can also be a helpful tool for professional development. Our school has started using a Posterous site for teachers to share ideas and post questions. The ease of adding and removing contributors to the site make it a great place to collaborate on and search for ideas to use in the classroom. Teachers can also have separate sites as well to share their ideas to educators beyond their own school.

No, Posterous isn’t perfect, but it certainly works much better than most of the tools out there, even those you have to purchase. As education moves more and more online, sites such as Posterous could play a valuable role for smaller institutions that can’t afford a large scale integrated IT operations.

Have you used Posterous in the classroom? What has been your experience? Do you have anything to add?

About the Guest Blogger
Nathan Hall is an ESL instructor with Global Village Calgary in Alberta, Canada. He will be completing his MA TESOL at Trinity Western University in April 2012. He has taught in five countries, including 4 years in Klaipeda, Lithuania as an English in the workplace instructor. He is an advocate for using technology in the classroom and has given various PD sessions on the topic. He can be found online on his blog, and on Twitter, @nathanghall


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