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Tough Decisions About Classroom Blogging

When student work is exposed to the world, class dynamics can change in subtle ways. Topics that might have been spoken about freely can become muted on the web. Does a student want to refer to her sister if her sister might read about herself on a class blog? On the other hand, the faceless computer screen–even though it opens up to the world through a blog–can release opinions and narratives not expressed in a face-to-face classroom. So in a course that by its nature deals with sensitive, even confidential, material, what should be public? What private? Which talk should be hidden? And which, set free?

Before I began to use blogs for online discussion and as a class management tools, in the mid 90’s I used my collegeďż˝s internal server to store handouts and to share students’ paper drafts and journals. To have a way to share paperless drafts and a place to store information seemed miraculous at first, and I loved pouring over my students’ paper and journals online after midnight, ready to go into class prearmed with their insights. But the server went down frequently, was inaccessible to students when they were off campus, and eventually, (after an upgrade) was unwilling to talk nicely with my Mac at home.

I’d only been using a classroom blog for a semester and that in a very tentative way, when I launched my course, Writing to Heal, in spring 2003. The class server had been restricted to class members, and I’d never had to confront wider privacy issues when students shared their work there, but launching a class blog, would place my students on a wider stage–just when I wanted to offer them confidentiality.

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