There are some pitfalls ahead if you decide to approach blogging in a genuine way. Blogging is both a way to publish stuff very quickly, and to comment on other people’s views very quickly. Like any conversation, you can’t predict the direction it will take. And also, like any conversation, other people will be mentioned and referred to as a matter of course.
So, the first thing you need to know and be prepared for is that students will come across and be exposed to points of view that may lie outside their usual circle of friends, family and acquaintances. They need strategies and tools to help them make sense of these new, perhaps “heretical", thoughts. In other words, they need to be able to start to evaluate information as to its plausibility and accuracy. How fortunate that these are precisely two of the skills that the UK National Curriculum, and other curricula around the world, require students to possess!
Genuine blogging also entails expressing views. You will need to decide whether you wish to take the risk, because there is a chance that they will say detrimental things about other students, teachers and the school.
You will need a set of rules to which everyone adheres. For example, using a blog to launch a personal attack on someone is not only potentially libellous, but even potentially criminal. Even if it is neither of those things, it could amount to cyberbullying, which is a nasty and irresponsible use of the medium. As for complaining about the school, it may be diplomatic to keep such conversations private, ie not accessible to the general public. After all, all families have arguments, but that’s no reason to make it a spectator sport!
In my experience, however, the most hardline thought police come in the guise of teachers of English. These people (rightly) believe that the English language is to be cherished and respected, but sometimes seem to lose sight of the fact that the whole point of language is to facilitate communication.
Now, when I am reading a book or a newspaper article and discover a misspelling or the incorrect use of an apostrophe, I get slightly apoplectic. But as far as I am concerned, that kind of thing in blogs (and, for that matter, emails and discussion forums) not only doesn’t detract from the message, but in a strange way enhances it. It conveys an air of urgency: that it was far more important to get the message out quickly than to worry about niceties like spelling!
Yet another thing which will be likely to upset the guardians of English is the fact that it is OK, in this context, to publish half-formed thoughts, ie the equivalent of thinking aloud. That is, the usual process of drafting and redrafting before publication may be swept aside as the thoughts are refined publicly, with the assistance of other people and their comments.
And why not? Web 2.0 is all about collaboration, which is exactly what this is.
But of course, the caveat is that students also know when such cavalier attitudes are not appropriate. Spelling and grammatical errors in an interview-seeking email (increasingly common these days) is unlikely to guarantee success, whist including half-formed thoughts in an exam situation has tended not to be recommended as a strategy.
Commenting on blogs
As for commenting, I would suggest that bloggers should make it both possible and easy for people to comment on their blogs, in order to encourage the online conversation. Unfortunately, though, some people’s conduct is such that it’s necessary to either moderate comments before they go live, or have some kind of registration system that people have to go through before being permitted to make comments (though this isn’t foolproof).
The corollary of this, of course, is to ask would-be commenters to make comments which are both polite and useful. For example, simply saying “You are wrong", is a pretty pointless exercise because it does nothing to move the argument on.
A good rule of thumb, not just for blogging but for any online activity, is: if it’s not acceptable in the physical world, then it’s not acceptable in the virtual one.
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Terry Freedman is an independent education technology consultant. Visit his website at http://www.ictineducation.org