Jill recently posted on the problems with requiring students to write a public weblog. She worries that not only are people less forgiving online, but that mistakes may become part of one's permanent record.
Thinking aloud, she says, "perhaps we should be protecting our students rather than forcing them to expose themselves in public."
The post also goes into the higher level of trust and respect that she has for the blogs of other academics over the trust she holds for students.
Two initial thoughts:
- I once made a colossal mistake online. In my early years as a person enthusiastic about open source software, I blew the whistle on a company that had a great open source product they were taking closed-source. Other, wiser people, had just sat on the information. But I was excited. I had a chance to fork the software and make a better open source version. I became maintainer of the fork (w00t!), and wrote to Slashdot. It was exhilarating to be slashdotted. But the fork died, since at the time I had neither the time nor the experience to properly maintain a software project. The company that made the product is now gone, disappeared. I still feel horrible about it. I was wrong.
It's on my permanent record.
- Notice how Jill is groups people into colleagues and students. This is natural in the academic world, since Jill is used to teaching students and collaborating with colleagues. Online, however, it's hard to know credentials unless people announce them. Even then, the Web has been claimed to bring some sort of egalitarian sense -- if your ideas are good, if your comments are valid, then it doesn't matter who you are, what color you are, how old you are, etc.. In computing at least, it is not unheard of to have very young high school students outsmart professionals in the field. The Web helps this happen by putting up a barrier to prejudice. Look at Espy Klecker. He was a young guy. He made a difference on the Debian project for years. He died at 21. I'm glad he wasn't discriminated against because he didn't hold an advanced degree or because he was bedridden from a terminal illness. I'm also glad his contributions and life are on the permanent record.
Credibility is still important, but if you're going to differentiate people, Jill, try to do so based on usefulness and insightfulness rather than solely credentials. This good practice seems to be your common practice, which is what seems to have gotten you in trouble with other academics. Don't let it discourage you from rewarding and discoursing with good material.
Other things go on the permanent record. Jill talks about music and recitals.
While young musicians perform in concerts that are open to anyone in principle, in practice only their families turn up.
Jill is right of course, to a point. While there are few penalties for mistakes he's just a student, mistakes are forgivable, this is not actually the case. The phrase, "he's just a student," is another nail in the coffin of one's musical career. No one blames you for doing poorly, but no one rewards you either. Usually, the people organizing such recitals and concerts are the same people who must be impressed for you to get more opportunities to play.
Mark Bernstein mentions this in his reply to Jill:
Besides, you never know who will show up at that recital. A month ago, Jean Marie Donley, of the Lancaster County Musical Arts Society came to my senior trumpet recital. After hearing me once more play a piece I played 9 years ago at a Junior Orchestra concert, she invited me to perform at the 40th anniversary of the Lancaster County Musical Arts Society. Unknown to me, Louise Baugher Black was a the recital -- she was the person who had endowed the writing award I just won. In retrospect, I'm glad I played very well on Sunday. She had a reason to be doubly pleased.
You never know what will be noted or who will show up when you play music. The careful performer (child, student, or professional) keeps this in mind when preparing and performing. To the mature player of any age or skill, this attitude leads one to do one's best no matter the situation.
Jill's comments are, of course, valid. As a teacher, you want to encourage students to freely express themselves within the confines of the assignments and purpose. Some people may not be comfortable doing so in a public setting. Offering a private blog is a possibility, but it loses much of the value of discourse in blogging. A psuedonym works, unless you want it to be part of your public record later on.
There's a third option. Label the blog carefully with the indication that this is a student, and that the work is for a class. Give them the option to use a psuedonym, but allow them to use their real name if they wish. By labeling their work as student work, exceptional thinking gives them greater advantage (wow! that's great! and she is only a student!), while softening the blow of mistakes (well, he's only a student).
The identity you construct online is a big part of the blogging experience(from jill/txt). Considerations about who reads (and will read) the blog are part of what make each blog unique. Scott Price, the author of Textuality.org, waited until his website became accepted to post information about his identity:
(from an email)
This is perfectly acceptable. But Scott is not a student. Jill would probably consider Scott to be a peer. And yet Scott was also thinking carefully about what would be on his permanent record.
I agree with Jill. Don't force students into anything. Don't force them to use their identity if they feel uncomfortable, but don't take away an important part of the blogging experience by forcing them to use a psuedonym. But do talk about issues of identity in bloggin and online efforts.
Besides, one's psuedonym can also become part of the permanent record. Why do you think I use rubberpaw.com?