". . .What we have loved
Others will love, and we will show them how."

                                              William Wordsworth

Thoughtful and Responsible Student Blogging

Happenings in Africa and New Jersey are intersecting in interesting ways for teachers this past week.

In Tunis, 170 countries and more than 20,000 delegates are taking part in the UN’s largest ever summit. The delegates are looking into ways to use information communication technologies to help improve living standards in some of the world’s poorest nations. A key aim is connect all the villages of the world to the internet by 2015. “There is a tremendous yearning, not for technology per se, but for what technology can make possible,” said Kofi Annan, UN secretary General, urging delegates to take action.

As the rest of the world strives for ways to allow more than the current 14% of citizens access to the global online community, here in the U.S. 62% of us are busy on the net. I think itís highly likely that the percentage is even higher among our teens, so high that while the rest of the world is trying to figure out how to get their countries online, we have organizations (from educational to corporate) hard at work developing ways to restrict and monitor our studentsí access.

Of course educators need to be concerned for our studentsí safety, but recently the internet (and blogs specifically) are making mainstream news not because of all the innovative ways teachers are using them but for being banned completely, as happened last month in Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta, New Jersey. At a school assembly the Roman Catholic school’s 900 students were told they must delete personal blog sites such as MySpace.com and Xanga.com or risk suspension. “The Internet is a forum with unrestricted global access,” a spokeswoman for the diocese explained. “For minors to be vulnerable in that forum is not acceptable.”

A few days later blogs were in the news again when threats on MySpace.com basically shut down another New Jersey high school after threats were posted. The school district is looking for the website to be held accountable and one of the teens was arrested.

Is this where our country is headed when in comes to teens and technology? The internet does give young people more power. It lets them express their own thoughts and ideas. It allows them to find other people who think like they do. And many who donít. Scary yes, but important, too.

As the rest of the world comes on-line, if we as teachers try to screen everything first and make all the decisions about what students will see, learn and experience, we are going to fail. And more importantly, we are not going to be giving students the tools a good education demands. When it comes to the internet we need to help them learn to do the same things we have always done with whatever we are studying: think critically, filter appropriately, and develop an honest, informed and responsible voice to present their own ideas.

As a teacher I am always searching for an audience that is real and in some way consequential to my students. Blogging can provide this, but not if we donít allow anyone to read the words we hope our students are carefully crafting.

In pondering the expanding assortment of software cropping up to make blogging safer for students Will Richardson shares an experience I think many of us whoíve had students use the internet could echo:

When I first had my students blogging four years ago, their blogs were open to the world. Nothing but good things came of it. They met people from Spain and Japan and Canada and all over the states who shared their ideas and questions and knowledge. It didn’t happen often that someone we didn’t know chimed in with a comment, but when it did happen, we all shared in a positive experience. Were we lucky? Maybe. But I think that by and large people are good, and it was nice to have that borne out in that class.

As more people from around the world begin to have access to the internet, they are going to find our students there. Young people already have so many examples of how the internet can be used poorly, we have a responsibility to step in and expose them to better alternatives. They are going to be out on the internet regardless of what is happening in school. Our students are already leaders in the field about which those 20,000 delegates in Tunis are meeting. What a wonderful opportunity we have to step in and help them to fulfill this role well. 

Posted by on 11/16 at 11:43 PM
  1. I think it’s true we are moving into a world where, increasingly, we need to teach students to make intelligent choices, because we can’t rely on lack of opportunity to keep them virtuous.

    Young people are growing up in a world with enormous opportunities but also enormous dangers. I think the key is to teach them to desire things that promote kindness and caring, rather than things that are seductive but self-destructive.

    The hard question, of course, is how to do that.

    Posted by Michael L Umphrey  on  11/18  at  01:23 AM

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