A blog is . . .
— Robert H. Gowdy (@rhgowdy) June 20, 2015
The Twitter exchange above prompted this post which will revisit some things various people have said lots of times to lots of different people but I haven’t written any of my responses down lately.
The post that kicked this particular version off was from Annette Vee. I find it a well-intentioned consideration of things she’s thinking through when using blogs with her students.
And that’s the important piece. This is about how Professor Vee has chosen to use blogs with her students (Sounds like personal essays as part of a writing class?). That’s not the same as concerns with blogs (the tool that lets you put stuff on the Internet).
I pretty much feel like the comic above applies to this topic pretty well. We’d just need to add a few statements around democracy and inequality. This won’t fix all the core things that are broken about school or our society. It might help some if properly applied but it’ll be in conjunction with other efforts. Thinking you’ll fix the digital divide by implementing blogging is much like thinking you’ll fix literacy issues by requiring book reports. That’s not how that works. Book reports might be an element of your focus on literacy but you’ve got a lot of additional work to do. Important work.
The Perfect Digital Selfie?
There is a real and consistent concern that ideas/writing students have out grown might be out there someplace lurking . . . forever. Once again, Alan hit on that here and I followed him a bit later.3 Of course people should consider what they say and what they put online. There’s lots of stuff you should not put online but there’s even more you would want online. At the moment, we have a large number of students who are putting huge swathes of their life online (with companies reaping most of the benefits). To pretend that if we don’t require students to put content online it won’t happen seems pretty misguided.4 Schools ought to help educate and create a degree of balance or at least intentional consideration. We start conversations around digital identity and Internet safety in elementary school and have been doing that for years (It’s mandated in VA.).5 Maybe all the discussions and work in k12 around this topic ends up being worthless. If so, it makes the actions and conversation in colleges and universities even more important.
I have hired many people in my life. I Google them. I am better at Google than most humans.6 It is rare that I find nothing. If there’s plenty to see I tend to hangout on the first page or two. For recent graduates, the idea that a significant portion of what I find isn’t generated by the four years or so of work they’ve spent at an institution of higher learning is criminal. I’d much rather see proof of how they think and how that thinking has changed over time. I put much higher value on that than I do on grades or degrees.
I don’t mean to say any of this is simple. I think it’s messy. Simple is not doing it. Simple is doing it without thought. Don’t do that. Find the messy place in the middle.
The Immortal Cache?
Funny how “your permanent record” is so often a threat.
I don’t see school as quite the “safe place” for failure that it’s often depicted as being. The results of failure/non-compliance are real, permanent, and start in elementary school. Our society is fine with the fact that your grades/degree will follow you forever7 and impact your life in lots of ways. We’re OK with students making the choices that result in grades in college. They’re adults. They know the consequences of their actions and how they’ll follow them for the rest of their life. One might argue that the student is in control of who sees these grades (FERPA and whatnot). Legally true, I guess, but practically students will be required to release the grades any time they’d be of value (grad school, job interviews etc.). So it’s often a choice between nothing and full disclosure as controlled by the institution(s).
Virtually every link from the 2007 post I reference above is now dead.8 It doesn’t seem like that long ago, not even ten years, but the Internet moves on. I challenge you to find them in Google’s caches or elsewhere. I say that not in an entirely taunting way. I’d really like to have this stuff. I’ve lost many things on the Internet- things that I’ve tried very hard to recover. There are bits and pieces in the Internet Archive and perhaps clever hipsters in California can easily get copies of these pages but I cannot.
Assuming we trust students to know what they want public/private, the concern over things resurfacing years later to haunt potential job applicants (always job applicants) can be dealt with pretty easily on a technical level. Out of the box WordPress lets you password protect posts or pages. Students can decide at an item by item level what they’d like visible to the world. If caching is your concern, you can prevent Google/Internet Archive from caching your site. Our particular system (rampages.us) lets you set a continuum of privacy settings from fully private (only site admins can see anything), to only visible to members of the rampages community, to public but not indexed by Google, to a normal site that people can find via Google (using More Privacy Options).
Or there’s always the pseudonymous route.
It’s also weird to me how many things we’re comfortable forcing students to do in schools and when we decide it’s up to them. Old stuff we make them do because its for their own good and we know what’s best. New stuff tends to be more optional.
1 I’m always a few years behind Alan.
3 But mine has a photo of President Obama smoking pot.
4 Maybe it just allows us to opt out of the responsibility for what they choose to do. Not our fault. Nothing to see here. All the evidence of their education you need is in this 4 point scale.
6 Practice. Practice. Practice.
7 Try to remove a class or have your records from an institution deleted. I won’t get into student loans or credit scores.
8 Some will give you really annoying spam virus popups.