I was talking to a couple of people today about the way we use blogs with our students. At my school we have a number of students and classes blogging, and every one of these blogs is completely open and visible to the public web. These folk were asking, with an obvious degree of concern, how we deal with this public visibility of student blogs and what steps were we taking to prevent them being seen by “just anyone”.
I’ve tried to convince many people to try blogging over the years. Usually, their biggest objection is “why would anyone want to read what I write?” Their concern is usually about the huge waste of effort that blogging will be because they don’t truly believe that anybody will ever read or take any interest in what they have to write. They imagine that their work will go into the black hole of the Internet where it never gets seen by anyone.
And yet, when we talk about getting students blogging on the open web, the usual concern is just the opposite. We worry more about how we can stop “all those people out there” from seeing the student blogs. We worry that our students will be endangered by throngs of strangers seeing their writing online.
Well, which is it? Are we worried that nobody will see the things we post online, or are we worried that everybody will see the things we post online? It’s an interesting contradiction.
The truth is that the vast majority of blogs have a readership of close to zero. Getting people to find and read your blog is hard work. It takes a lot of promotion and campaigning to get people to find and connect with a blog. And as much as I hate to say it, it’s probably even harder when that blog belongs to a school student. We worry a lot about ‘stranger danger’ but unless a teacher actively pursues an audience for their students’ blogs, I suspect most would be lucky to get a visit from anyone beside mum and dad and a few family friends.
Despite our concerns about the perils of putting our kids online, the biggest challenge of blogging with students is not exposure, but obscurity.
About 5 years ago, there was an incident in Adelaide where a classroom blog and the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services had a bit of a falling out. It was well documented at the time, so I’m not going to rehash it here, suffice to say that it was a bunfight at the time and as a result there was significant tension between the educational blogging community and the Powers That Be in South Australia.
Like many other bloggers, I expressed my thoughts on it at the time. I spoke to the person who was directly affected by the dispute, as well as a number of other people in the know. Eventually, everyone involved tried to take what they could learn from the situation and we all just moved on. Life is too short to be dragged down by that stuff.
However, over the last few weeks I’ve had some idiot posting abusive comments on this blog expressing (quite forcefully) their opinions on that situation from 2007. They have been abusive and rude to me personally, bluntly telling me that I’m an idiot and I don’t know what I’m talking about, and calling me all sorts of insulting and derogatory names. No need for details, suffice to say that they are just generally being an ignorant asshole.
What really pisses me off about this is that the person in question -who calls themselves “pav” or “pavalot” – is too gutless to use their real name, real email address or real website. They have the temerity to leave abusive comments on my blog, and possibly other blogs too, without having the courage to identify themselves or further engage in a debate about their point of view.
Naturally, I pick these comments up immediately and mark them as the spam trash they are. Nobody cares about the point of view of some ignorant nob who doesn’t even have the courage or common decency to use their real name.
So, whoever you are, I’ll tell you want. I’m happy to slug it out with you in private. You really want to have an argument with me about some incident that happened 5 years ago? I think you should grow up, but hey, bring it on. But do it as yourself, rather than hide behind a made-up email address and non-existent website. You have zero credibility when you do that and I will just keep removing your insulting, ignorant and libelous comments and putting them in the trash where they belong.
PS: I’ve reported your IP address to Internode as well, along with the full digital headers of your transactions. I hope they nail you to the wall.
I’ve been keen to get more of our staff blogging, since I know from first hand experience what a powerfully reflective process it can be. I’ve always found that taking the time to write causes me to think more deeply about what I do, it makes me more aware of the ideas and approaches that I’m using with those I teach, and it’s also made me a much better writer than I once was. I’d argue that blogging really helps improve your communication skills on many levels while building a stronger foundation for understanding your own beliefs and convictions. There is something both magical and affirming about putting your thoughts down in words, and even moreso when you decide to publicly share those words with others. As you can probably tell, I’m a bit of a fan of blogging (or connective writing, to borrow a phrase from Will Richardson)
During 2011, our school had the opportunity to apply for an AGQTP grant. This grant program is funded by the Australian government’s DEEWR as part of the NSW Quality Teaching Program and, in the case of our school, administered by the AIS. Its goal is to help teachers develop their own professional learning through the creation of action research projects. Our principal asked me to put a proposal together, which turned out to be about creating a blogging project for our Year 6 teachers and students. It was quite successful, and as well as a complete written report, we also produced this 7 minute video to summarise what we learned.
I remember tweeting about the fact that we were applying for a grant to get our teachers blogging, and getting a reply back from my kiwi mate Allanah King asking why on earth you’d need a grant for that. Allanah, who is not just a fabulous blogger herself but a real pioneer in the ways she has used blogs and other social technologies with her students, found it difficult to understand why blogging had to be a complicated and beaurocratic process. She quite rightly pointed out that you don’t need a government grant to blog, you just need to open one of the many free blogging tools available and start writing! And she is correct. But what the AGQTP grant process bought us was the time to do that. By providing the funding to get our Year 6 teachers released from class, we could set aside the time to learn this new skill in a far more focused and somewhat systematic and committed way. While it would be nice to think that teachers would just go and learn new skills in their own time for their own motivations, sometimes that just isn’t realistic, so getting some financial assistance to help build teacher capacity was seen as a very welcome thing.
As a follow up, I was also interviewed about this by Selena Woodward from CEGSA in Adelaide after she saw the video. Selena was intrigued by the deliberately open and public nature of our blogging project, a feature that I was insistent was critically important to the project. Blogging behind closed doors, without the potential for writing to an authentic audience, seems completely pointless to me. The South Australian DECS attitude to blogging is somewhat less open-minded. Some people refer to this reluctance as “the Upton effect” because of the shitstorm that DECS created a few years ago when they very publicly showed their cyber-ignorance by closing down teacher Al Upton’s very popular class blog, the MiniLegends. The regrettable fallout from what happened to Al seems to have caused many South Australian teachers to be overly gun-shy of any online use that might be vaguely interpreted as “social”. It’s such a shame.
Back in 2008, I had the pleasure of giving the keynote address at the CEGSA conference, where my topic focused on how important it is to be a connected educator, to form PLNs, to get both ourselves and our students connected and functioning safely in this highly networked world we live in. I blogged my thoughts about that keynote at the time, and looking back at that post now, and hearing that so many educators are still just as wary and frightened of the online world as they were in 2008, makes me sad and disappointed for the kids in their care. It is disappointing that in the last 3 years, during which I believe we are finally starting to see far more educators beginning to understand the really significant shifts in the way technology is affecting the process of education, that there are still such outdated attitudes to learning online.
Overall though, I’m happy with the progress we made with our own blogging this year. It was progress. It wasn’t perfect, and there is lots that I’d change next year, but it’s a good start.