After two long and in-depth discussions on EdTechTalk, as well as many hours spent Skyping with my cohort Barbara (Sawhill), I believe more strongly than before that requiring blogging is, simply, A Bad Idea.
The point of our school systems, on their most basic level, is for students to learn how to learn. Teachers are supposed to figure out how their students learn, and then to equip them with the proper tools so they can do so for themselves. What they learn, beyond a basic set of necessary skills, should be a decision made primarily by the student (with guidance from teachers, family members, guidance counselors, community members, etc). And the point of student-centered learning is to encourage students to take an active role in their own education. This, however, requires that a teacher doesn’t make assumptions about what they (think they) know about their students vs. what students know about themselves. And it also requires that the teacher give up a bit of control – not over the running of their classroom, but over the methods by which each individual student learns.
So, how does this relate to blogging? Blogging, despite what many may think, is not inherently social. Sure, many (most?) people who blog do so because they have something to say and are looking for feedback from others. A smaller group probably don’t care whether or not they receive any feedback; they neither advertise nor hide the existence and location of their blog. But another group exists: those that blog because they have something to say, but that don’t care to share those thoughts with anyone else.
Why would anyone blog for themselves, you ask? Why wouldn’t they do something that ensures privacy, like creating a Word document and storing it on a local drive? This is where many forget that blogging is just a technologically-advanced way to keep a journal. (There’s a reason it’s called, ahem, liveJOURNAL.) Personally, I have several reasons for keeping a completely private blog. It’s practical – I don’t have to worry about backing up or organizing any files. All that is taken care of for me. It’s also easy – though I do use html in my posts, I don’t have to. I can simply type jibber jabber if I feel like it. It’s convenient – I can update, edit, or create new posts of any length at any computer with internet access without then having to worry about whether or not I saved the file to some private storage area and also deleted the original from the public local drive. And, most importantly, it’s comfortable – I can publish half-formed or poorly-formed thoughts about absolutely anything without fear that someone might misinterpret them. Or, I can get frustration out of my system in a healthy way that I won’t regret later.
But none of my reasons should matter. The point is, I have them. I choose to maintain a private personal blog. It is my right to do so. The same should go for educational blogs. What right does anyone have to say that a student’s work-in-progress, or even a final product, should be published for everyone else in the class to see? Some people don’t mind falling on their face in front of an audience. For others, the fear of public failure is paralyzing. Should we start requiring students’ papers to be posted on hallway bulletin boards for anyone and everyone to see? No, of course not. And if we do want to put a particularly excellent piece of writing up to congratulate a student, wouldn’t we ask that student, first? And then respect their wishes should they choose to not have the work displayed?
Student-centered learning isn’t about cow-towing to students who are looking to do as little as possible. It’s about recognizing that respect goes a long way, and that teachers who give respect are 1) more likely to get it in return and therefore 2) more likely to help their students learn. And isn’t that what we’re all here for?