One of “Anne“‘s colleagues who had gotten a whole bunch of elementary school teachers blogging has had his district shut all of the sites down because they don’t allow student messaging in their telecommunications policy. Apparently, they want to be able to filter everything that goes up on any of the sites on their servers.
I think that I’ve chronicled the fine line that I’ve had to walk with similar issues at my school. In my perfect world, student weblogs would be as free and open as a teacher (and parent) feels comfortable with because one of the best parts of blogging is having an audience that can become a part of the process. But I totally understand the concerns of districts and boards of education who are trying to figure out exactly what to do with this new read/write Web that we’re exploring with our kids. (I mean really, blogging as student messaging???) On the K-12 level, the first priority is to keep them safe. But there is also a very strong desire to control what goes up on these sites, to make sure that nothing casts a less than positive light on the experience. Of course, we all know that that’s not the way Weblogs work. (Did I mention I’m on my third piece of wood to knock on?)
So, the call is up for research that will attest to the educational benefits of using blogs. And, of course, aside from the anecdotal evidence provided by teachers who blog, there isn’t much. We just kind of know it in our gut. Anne says it well:
We know weblogs can be a wonderful tool that has countless possibilities for great academic use. Our kids are in the middle of all this technology and we could be at the forefront teaching wise and appropriate use to kids. We can get them to think about how writing can be a tool for them to effect change and make things better. All this usually just scares schools though. They seldom give educators credit for having the ability to responsibly oversee projects like this. I think a lot of fear exists among administrators to take a risk when “taking a responsible risk” is exactly what is needed to push learning forward.
The thing is, Anne is still one of the few teachers I’ve seen who actually gets her kids to blog, as in the verb. And as I’ve said before, I really think that’s where the value of Weblogs is. What most schools (and to some extent, teachers) are afraid of, I think, is the simple transparency of Weblogs. Our kids work, out there for everyone to see? The messy, sometimes unsightly learning process exposed? Students wrestling in public with incomplete thoughts and ideas? Let’s just stick with test scores, ok?
This is a disruptive technology. And the disruptions will become more frequent as more teachers push the envelope. But there is a big discomfort hump we’re going to have to get over for this to really have a chance.
This saddens me as well, and there are two articles on classroom blogs in the web anthology Into the Blogosphere (http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/) that may help–Lowe et al and Brooks et al. Unfortunately, they center on college-age. My dissertation is on personal weblogs and adolescent girls, but this teacher needs help now. Maybe if the “public” aspect of the blogs was downplayed with password protection and posting only by admin-approved usernames (like Drupal makes possible), or if the administration could be made aware of how small a thing the blogs are in the vastness of the web, how unlikely it is that is would become a source of general interest, it may help also. I had district problems also with setting up my blog research (a longer post about this on http://techsophist.net); one reason why most research so far is about college-age could be that districts or school principals with the best of intentions make it hard to do the K-12 blog research.
I’m having the same problem. Currently I am working on a Master’s project that would involve Grade 10 students from around the province (Canada) to discuss issues that could be pulled from the Social Studies curriculum. It will take a long time to persuade the powers in charge that this is a worthwhile activity that won’t harm their students. That is my belief shining through. I’m disheartened sometimes by the lock down mentality of our schools as most students are viewing and into all kinds of things after hours-the dichotomy between life and school. What I’m hoping for is to see if schools can get a bit closer to some sort of relevance in the students’ minds.
The web is vast and I’m sure that not everyone will be interested in finding these blogs. Regular online safety rules should cover it.
Anyway, it’s nice knowing others are having the same difficulties! Keep pushing those boundaries.