To blog anonymously or not to blog anonymously?
That is the question.
Early into my foray into the world of edublogging I reflected on the question: Should student teachers blog? Obviously since I’m still here typing away nearly six months after that post I’ve decided that blogging is a worthwhile activity. In order to protect myself from the pitfalls I mentioned in my initial post, I came up with a set of guidelines to help guide decision-making process on this blog.
One issue that I haven’t discussed any great detail is my decision to blog anonymously.
Right now I’m blogging semi-anonymously. I say that because there’s a number of people who know the name and face of the person who writes this blog and there are a smaller group of people who just know the name of the person. However the people who are ‘in the know’ are mostly from people who know/have met me in real life. I went this route after discussing writing a blog with discussing blogging with an official from my university where we talked through how to avoid some of the pitfalls of blogging and to think over the issue of anonymity which really came down to what the purpose of the blog was.
Initially this blog was a stash of information for both myself and whoever else might stumble upon it. For my own purposes, the blog was meant to serve as a reminder of my journey from wannabe to a ‘real’ teacher and keep my friends informed about my studies rather than a way to make connections. The shadow of anonymity has provided coverage when it comes to addressing both personal and professional topics. I could be free to make mistakes without worrying about the future implications of what the mistakes might be. However this coverage has also come at a cost, namely the ability to make relationships with readers and twitter followers. Most of the online teacher community have not gone down the pseudonym route, they are blogging/tweeting with real names and more often than not, real faces. Meanwhile, I’m well covered up under a pseudonym which is the digital equivalent walking into a party with a paper bag over your head.
However there are offline relationships to consider. Student teachers are in an interesting position because not only are managing relationship between themselves and their institution but also between themselves and the schools where they are completing their placements. Going the anonymous route largely puts risk management into the ‘too hard’ basket insofar as the only risk you manage is maintaining anonymity even if maintaining the anonymity can be hard work at times. New Zealand is a small place and judging from my previous forays in communities where pseudonyms are the norm I’ve had lurkers who know me from ‘real life’ guess my handle just from my writing style.
There’s also the finding employment post-graduation question to answer. I figure that anyone looking to employ me in a school is highly likely to google my name and check social networking sites such as facebook and twitter. My name is a really common name, in fact there’s a principal in my city who shares my name, but I have a reasonable large digital footprint myself.
Since going on online in 1997 I’ve been involved in newsnet groups, bulletin boards, facebook and twitter. I’ve personally blogged since 2003 in a variety of forms: blogs with small audiences like this, bigger group blogs and a few guest posts on a US-based mega blog. There’s also some old media lurking about in the form newspaper articles, radio and tv interviews and media releases lurking out there from a previous lifetime if people want to go waaaay back into my past. My point is not toot my own horn, more that I’ve been managing my digital footprint since my teenage years.
However there’s a risk of being ‘out’ as a blogger could be that a potential employer might think “arghhh a blogger!” based on an inaccurate perception of the internet community as, in the words of our deputy Prime Minister, the “sweaty t-shirt brigade” and not bother to look at the learning going on here. But the flip side is that potential employers who would be impressed by the blog don’t see the person behind the pseudonym. Perhaps worrying about something lurking in a corner of the internet from 10+ years ago the answer is to showcase the good stuff I’m doing now.
So my questions are:
Do you prefer to read blogs written by identifiable authors. If so why?
For blog writers what route did you take on the anonymous route and what influenced your decision?
At the end of the day you get more opportunities to network if people know your face. The first year online I kept an incredibly low profile, to the point that I didn’t do any skyping and my image wasn’t anywhere. I even went down to Ulearn and didn’t attend any of the tweet stuff because I didn’t want to, I wasn’t ‘hiding’ as one person said, it just didn’t interest me. Since then I’ve done a few flash meetings and online stuff, my photo is on a couple of sites, but its still not on my blog (that’s not too bad, we’re about to do our 1,000 post) and it never will be, opening up that side of thing has definatly opened up more opportunities, but I miss the notion that I could post online and am always conscious because of my profile about the fact that it represents my school. I have a huge digital footprint that goes back many, many years, its just its seperate into different zones or times and they don’t cross, and they won’t. Great thought provoking post.
Thanks for your input. I think the important thing is that the internet isn’t a series of gated communities, I have some crossover insofar as friends from IRL and other communities will read and comment here but not so much vice versa.
I do not mind whether the blogs I read have identifiable authors or avatars. I am far more interested in the content of the blogs and how this resonates with me. I have two blogs that I contribute to – one is more hobby orientated and the other is more work orientated and I choose to use an avatar with both of these. One reason for this is the age old problem of being camera shy and much prefering not to look at myself in pictures and the other has to do with my personal level of comfort online. This is changing over time as I find my way into a great network of teachers who choose to share online. I work with primary age students and, at present, we encourage them to use an avatar rather that their photo so I am also modelling this for my students.
At the risk of sounding duplicitous I also have a separate blog and twitter account that are more for personal use where I have used my name and face on and off. Oddly if this was a strictly professional blog, I probably wouldn’t be fussed about names/faces. Powers of observation to alter behaviour and all that..
Two perspectives that I have to offer here:
1. As someone who used to be pseudonymous and now blogs under real name.
I found that my writing got to a point where I was sufficiently proud of it to want to own it with my own, real, name. But because I had written things pseudonymously for several years I couldn’t be 100% sure that just owning my pseudonym was a good idea, because there were things I’d written knowing that a google search wouldn’t pull up my real name, and there were assumptions that might be made about stories I’d shared (like a tale about a sexual assault) and the identities of other people mentioned, so it was just all too hard. So I stopped in that form and then started writing elsewhere in my own. Lots of people seem to know, but they are people who know me, online or off, and as a result they have the context, I hope. There are a couple of posts I really wish I could own in my real name now, but I can’t without owning them all, and I’m not prepared to do that.
2. As someone who has had quite a bit of experience representing teachers in employment difficulties.
I did advocacy work (servicing as we call it in the union movement) for over three years for one of the education unions, from 2005 to 2009. In that time I can’t recall a single case that involved social media. Emails definitely, but not facebook or blogs or twitter. However things have moved on a lot since then and social media is becoming more commonly used (plus teacher graduates are more likely to come to the job already using social media). Other workmates have had social media cases, but it seems to be pretty rare, so far. I think how you have been managing your online stuff already has been very effective, and if you use your real name for your teacher stuff that would be fine, and might open up some good opportunities for you in the future. I love reading your education writings, when I can, and I hope you can get the credit for your hard work!
If you are worried about the blogger tag then I would suggest you just refer to your website, rather than your blog. Or your online learning journal. People who don’t know about blogs do get strange ideas about them.
Thanks for your reply and kind words. I think you’ve done an awesome job of managing your online work in particular your previous handle. I’m probably in a similar position to your situation when you first started blogging in that there’s people ‘in the know’ but they are people who know me in real life.
I think that you are brave to be blogging under a real name given some of the nasty behaviour that can surface especially on blogs with bigger readership and more contentious subject matter. I’ll definitely take on board your tips about terminology!
Over the years I’ve blogged on a variety of sites on a variety of different topics, and starting out as a young teenager online the ‘in thing’ was the blog anonymously under a pseudonym. Gradually I’ve moved away from that and I’ve blogged and maintained websites under my own name – mostly because I’ve decided that I want my employers to see that I’m active in engaging in my own learning and reflective practise. I remember at the end of 2009, I had my first (and only) job interview and the school has a big focus on integrating technology and I was able to hand out a mini-business card at the end and let the principal and AP know that they were welcome to have a look at my blog and website. A year and bit later I’m still at that school and I’m leading a project about technology integration in the early years.
I’ve never been ashamed about being a blogger (even when I was writing probably the most inane posts ever) and now I think that it’s something that as educators we can be proud of because it does show that we’re thinking about our teaching, trying to extend ourselves and trying to connect to the wider education community. To that end I have no qualms with using my real name or posting photos because I’m confident in my intent and in the quality of what I produce online.
And, before I become too wordy, just to address one of your points – about worrying about things from 10 years ago surfacing online: I suppose one of the most comforting things about education at the moment is that everyone’s looking for the ‘latest’ thing – anything that old tends to get lost (which is sometimes where we would like it to stay!).
In the end it’s all about being confident in yourself and making the decisions that suit you.
Thanks for your comment. I’ve had a few bad reactions to being a blogger from people who assumed that I might write about them on the internet without their permission.
In general I’m pretty pleased with my blog and the learning that’s taking place on here.
I’m not particularly worried about specific content but figure nearly 15 years worth of content means that is bound to be some goofy stuff out there from when I was younger.
Hi. Let’s put it this way … as a proud Aussie edu-blogger, I’m more than happy to have my name associated with my work. I do have a disclaimer that “all views are my own” (as I reserve the right to implicitly criticise my employer from time to time!), but ultimately, I hope it will be of assistance when seeking employment, either within Australia or overseas.
Also, as someone who keeps an interested eye on your blog, and enjoys talking with you on Twitter, it would be nice to know your name! 🙂
I wish you all the best with your decision.
Thanks for your comment Michael,
I’m impressed by your blog, it really has been an inspiration for this one.
PS check your reader survey 🙂