12 August 2013 ~ 0 Comments

My plea for public student blogging

My plea for public student blogs

Public blogs provide students a powerful platform to reach a huge authentic audience.

After talking about the benefits of student blogging in the classroom all summer at technology conferences, I was impressed at all of the teachers who want to get students writing and collaborating this year.

I was also very surprised by something.

So many teachers don’t want their students to blog publicly.

They said they want to practice with private blogs first, or they wanted to have a closed conversation with just their students and themselves. And I can understand and appreciate those reasons.

But I also fear that we miss out on the transformative learning activity of writing for the world when we limit the audience of students’ writing. 

So here’s my case for making student blogs public. But really, it’s my case for making student work in general — writing, videos, audio, photos, art, opinions, etc. — public.

An audience of millions: When students write a paper for a teacher to grade, they write for an audience of one: the teacher. When those papers are passed around the classroom for other students to read, their audience suddenly jumps to the size of the class.

It’s an audience, but still a limited one.

Public blogging gives students a potential audience of thousands, if not millions, of readers. Social media and Comments 4 Kids, a program to give student work some global interaction, increase the potential reach of student work.

It’s like the elementary Christmas program. At practice, the students might goof off or be inattentive. But give them an audience at the program and they nail it every time.

Education redefined: Technology makes many things possible in education. At its most basic level, it provides tools that replace or even improve tasks we already did. It allows us to alter tasks we did before in positive ways.

But the true power of technology in education is creating learning experiences that couldn’t exist without technology — redefinition, the “R” in the SAMR model.

Blogging, I believe, is one of those activities that could never happen without technology. Think of the implications:

  • Sharing something you wrote with thousands or potentially millions of people
  • Doing it for free
  • Interacting with people all across the world about your ideas

The low-tech alternative would be writing something, photocopying it (which actually adds a bit of technology), and mailing thousands of copies around the world. That’s a lot of folding letters and licking envelopes — plus hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in stamps.

It’s all free and instant with public student blogs.

Safe, responsible online interaction: I had the pleasure of listening to Will Richardson speak this summer and interviewing him for a podcast. He said something I’ve wondered about, too: there’s too much “stranger danger” fear.

He said: “If you think that your kids won’t be interacting with strangers on the Internet the rest of their learning lives, you’re crazy!”

Schools are the perfect place to teach kids how to interact safely with others online, and blogs are a great forum for discussion. If we simply close and lock all the digital doors, we’re blocking out reality instead of showing students to how deal with it.

Public blogging can be very safe if the proper safeguards are taken. I want to take my students’ blogs public this year, and here’s how I plan to keep them safe:

  • No last names
  • No location information (nothing more local than state name)
  • No faces or location clues in photos
  • No personal information (address, phone number, e-mail, etc.)

In this way, identity-wise, my students will be kids from somewhere in Indiana to the outside world. But the interactions and the audience are very real. The kids will know that it’s their work, and they can still use that work in digital portfolios and as writing samples in applications.

Conclusion: With the enormous power and reach of technology, coupled with the safeguards that protect students, we’re making the colossal power of the Internet very small when we limit our students’ audience. Each teacher needs to do what he/she feels necessary to keep students safe and to craft the learning experience he/she wants. My hope is that we don’t limit what our students can experience because we’re afraid or we don’t want to stretch our comfort zone.

Are public blogs the way to go? Should student work be published online? Leave your thoughts in a comment below!

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