I like to consider myself an open minded individual. However, I know that when it comes to how much control/freedom we grant students in the area of blogging, I become as stubborn as my bulldog when it is time to wake up because I run a hard line on my position: blogging is a public form of writing that fosters a collaborative network, period. Anything else simply isn’t blogging no matter which way you slice it.
Of late, this stubborn position has been met with much opposition amongst many of my colleagues who feel making student writing public in blogs (or other Web 2.0 tools for that matter) is just not a good thing for a number of reasons: safety risks, academic problems, and/or content issues. While no doubt valid, I’m convinced we can turn these concerns into goals instead of saying “well, too many problems so ban, block, & stop these tools”.
The primary concern for many teachers, technologists, and stakeholders is the safety risks of having students blog. Will blogs open the risk of online predators? stalkers? How about students bullying students online? What about other cyberbullies? Will student work today come back to haunt them in the future: college, professional, and personal?
Another major concern is having students write in a public sphere while they are still growing in their skills. Will this hinder their growth? What about their confidence? Will there be time for reflective thinking in their writing? How ethical is it to force students to write publicy? What about Andrew Keen’s points in The Cult of the Amateur about loss of creativity and thinking? Is this rigorous enough? Do students have enough to say? Should amateurs be publishing?
One other concern that seems to rise to the forefront when discussing student blogs is the idea of content control. If students are blogging, who determines what is put on their blog? who filters the posts? who filters the comments?
Because of these concerns, there are those that see little to no value in students blogging (or any Web 2.o tool for that matter) and openly embrace the blocking of blogs from classroom. However, the real conflict is between The Walled Garden approach and The Open Road approach because both of these approaches believe in blogs and web 2.0 but have radically different ideas about how to infuse these within the curriculum.
The Walled Garden
The Walled Garden approach openly support blogs and other Web 2.0 tools but it recognizes the aforementioned concerns. While their hearts are in the correct place, they can’t, refuse, or fear turning the concerns into goals so they come up with compromises that are nothing more than a false sense of reality like this most often heard one:
The Walled Garden Group claim that the solution is to have students create blogs in a secured/password protected area: Google Docs, Course Mangaement System, school Intranet, etc. However, is this really blogging? Would it not be wiser to skip the technology in this situation and just use the good ol’ one subject notebook? To me, this compromise defeats the purpose of blogging and does little to shift the pedagogical practices of teachers to meet 21st Century skills like authentic blogging does. While I applaud the idea of trying to make blogging a reality in the classroom, it simply doesn’t work if what you are really wanting to do is have your students blogging.
In other words, this is blogging that isn’t really blogging. If you want to blog, BLOG! If you want to write using an electronic format, go for it but don’t call it blogging just so you can feel better about yourself. Don’t call it blogging so others feel better about themselves. Don’t call it blogging so you can say I’m or my teachers are using web 2.0 tools. All you are doing is undermining the true nature of blogging and hindering those trying to change their practices and gather real data on the use of blogs in the classroom.
I’m not saying “you shouldn’t have students writing in an electronic format”. By all means, it is great but it simply isn’t blogging.
The Open Road
The Open Road approach looks at blogging in its pure sense: public form of critical reading, writing, and interacting that fosters a collaborative and connceted community. As someone who supports this approach, I adhere to teachers scaffolding the process by having students read and react to blogs leading to the creation of a community blog for the classroom before reaching the ultimate goal of students creating their own blogs. This allows for less safety issues up front and helps to educate students on the concept of learning in the current user generated landscape of the web using powerful tools like blogs.
I do understand that parents, boards of education, and other groups are a reality that educators face but they aren’t the opposition. These groups have the same interests at heart: student learning, student safety, and student success. If we truly believe in the power of blogs as a transformative tool, why seek compromises that sacrafice the true nature, the transformative power, of this tool? Wouldn’t it be wiser to seek to educate all stakeholders on blogs than to offer an easy out?
Perhaps I am being too rigid in my beliefs, perhaps I am looking at this from merely a semantic point of view, but my heart tells me that isn’t the case. I understand the transformative power of Making It Public and I’ve lived by this philosophy (CyberEnglish) since the first time I stepped into the classroom. That is why I will always believe The Open Road is the only road.