classrooms and the public blog

The WPA list has been having a discussion on the well-travelled (to me) topic of the appropriateness of the public blog in the classroom. Needless to say, this has come up here before, but here are a few twists on the subject.

First though, let me say that I don’t believe that every classroom discussion should be public. Obviously there are private exchanges between faculty and students. I think workshops where students are discussing unfinished works need not be public.

I also do not think it is necessary for students to identify themselves by name on a blog. That is, as long as I know who they are, if they want to use an nickname or nom de plume that’s fine with me. These are choices all writers must make.

I should also note from a technical side that blogs don’t have to be public, so this is not so much about blogging per se as it is about the role of public discourse in writing education.

The issue on the WPA list I want to address is the concern that it is unethical/inappropriate to require students to write into a public space. Why? Well I could deduce a couple reasons from my reading of the thread:

  • students may not want their work to be available to the public
  • students may write things they later regret, but they have now said in public
  • the quality of the student work may cast a poor public light on that individual

So I have a couple thoughts. First, we require students to do may things they don’t want to do. Is that ever ethical or appropriate? If I require students to do an in-class presentation, is that ethical? They may embarrass themselves in the classroom before their peers (the most important "public"). If a program requires students to do an internship or student teaching does this not present the same ethical questions?

I say we require students to do many things they don’t want to do or wouldn’t at least choose to do on their own initiative. We do these things as part of the learning experience. If there is a strong pedagogical foundation for a requirement, I don’t see how it is unethical or inappropriate.

The real irony though emerges when this conversation is put into the context of rhet/comp discourse. How many times have we heard that the purpose of composition is to prepare students as citizens, as participants in a public dialogue about our culture and nation? How much time is spent in FYC hand-wringing over the goals of a liberatory or critical pedagogy? How many of these folks would decry the values of academic freedom if someone came along to say what they could or couldn’t do in the classroom?

And yet, when blogging comes along and actually gives students the chance to write in a real world context to a real audience, to participate in a public discourse and actually learn what that means, these same academics start quoting institutional policy?

Nothing like showing your true colors, eh?

The funny thing is that all these students already have public, online identities. They’re posting photos of themselves half-naked in a druken stupor on their mySpace accounts and writing god-knows-what. And we’re worried because they might say what in a course blog?

And what if they said/wrote something inappropriate in the classroom? Is that somehow confidential information? Are there no consequences for that? Is there really a difference in consequence between an obscenity-laden racist diatribe in a blog comment (which you might quickly delete) and the same diatribe made in class?

Sure, go ahead and ask students if they want to do a public blog…. While you’re at it, ask them if they want to write any papers or come to class. ‘Cause I’d hate to require students to do anything.

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One reply on “classrooms and the public blog”

I’m having this same conversation with our college counsel, who, thankfully, says that if it’s pedagogically sound, and he believes it is, then it’s fine. I floated the question to another email list and got varied responses, some suggesting to shut down public discourse, some not.
Thank you for your cogent representation of the issue.


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