Should teachers censor student blogs? – When digital citizenship gets tough

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Connected educators often become a bit lyrical when we talk about how wonderful it is for our students to have an audience far beyond the  walls of our classroom.

As blogging teacher there is noting more exciting than seeing a parent leave a comment or have my students work linked to approvingly. But what happens when a student writes something inappropriate online?

Do you delete their work?

Even if you’ve talked at length with your class about digital footprints and co-constructed blogging guidelines, there are going to be times when your students step over a line of acceptable behaviour.

Over the course of this year I’ve had students write stuff that has fallen below my expectations and had me wondering if I was the worst teacher in the world. But just like in face to face interactions, where children sometimes do or say things they’ll regret later, kids are going to post inappropriate content from time to time.

What comes next?

If it’s something minor, I’ll simply respond back in the comments about showing respect and care to others online.

If it’s something major, I’ll temporarily pull the post/delete the comment.

In both cases what comes next is really important.

Having the conversation with the student.

It starts with question. Imagine if you were the person effected reading this post/comment, how do you think you would feel? Almost immediately the student will work out where they’ve crossed the line and work on getting  themselves back. Most of the time it’s a bit of minor editing, other times it’s a major rewrite.

There’s always a delicate balancing act between authentic student voice but also ensuring that kids are respectful of others.

In almost every case where a student has posted something inappropriate, it’s because they haven’t realized the effect of their words on others. Perhaps they’ve written a post persuading students to go to camp but they’ve singled out a classmate in a way that might make the other student feel upset and embarrassed. The poster might have had good intentions, wanting to persuade their classmate to go to camp, but they didn’t communicate those intentions clearly.

In having a conversation about the post or a comment I’m actually helping the child to develop a nuanced view of their writing.  They get to think about how other people might perceive what they’ve written differently from their original intent and realize the power of the words on others. This simply wouldn’t have happened if the students were writing in their exercise book or even posting behind digital gates.

Being public ups the stakes. It forces teachers to be a lot more aware of what their students are seeing just in case someone finds something inappropriate and it forces students to think about the different ways we communicate depending on the audience.

As a teacher I have to watch over my students corner of cyber-space even during the holidays because my name is there with my students. My reputation as a teacher lives and dies with what my students write which is why I can understand that some institutions just don’t want their kids out there because of the risk.

However in minimizing risk we also minimize the opportunities for learning. When my students post inappropriate content, they are full of so many teachable moments. We get to talk about audience and purpose, and the writer’s intent, key concepts from the English curriculum suddenly become very real.  By guiding my students online behaviour in school spaces, I’m helping students to develop their own set of ethics around online behaviour so that they’ll make good decisions when adults aren’t around.

My point of this long rant is that cyber-citizenship can’t just be a one-off unit. Learning takes time, you’ll make mistakes, your students will make mistakes. However much like getting answers wrong on a maths test, indicates a child might have trouble grasping a concept and needs more teaching, inappropriate content  indicates that child needs guiding back to the values you established with your class around good online behaviour.

So in answer to my question should teachers be censoring student blogs? No I don’t think so. Should teachers be reading, commenting, guiding and modelling good online behaviour for their students. Absolutely.

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4 thoughts on “Should teachers censor student blogs? – When digital citizenship gets tough

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  1. Would we censor their regular writing if it was inappropriate? Yes. Would we therefore apply the same rules to their online work, yes. Would be appropriate to express an unacceptable opinion because it was digital? No.

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  2. I think your question is best answered in terms of the purpose of the blog posts.

    If the blog is a classroom blog and the classroom is represented by the post, I say that the discussion of appropriateness needs to happen prior to the post. I’ve let students post essays with logical fallacies so they can see the questions that come back. But, I wouldn’t want completely inappropriate comments to reflect on the class and the school.

    If the blog is a work portfolio, the work represents the students much like a resume. Therefore, the discussion revolves around whether or not the student wants to be indefinitely perceived as having a certain voice. How would x-audience receive this post? y-audience?

    If the blog is a personal work of the student, the conversation gets trickier. Interfering with a student’s personal blog is probably as complicated as interfering with facebook account status updates.

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    1. Hi Janet
      I think you are right purpose comes into it all. There is a fine line between stifling speech but also being responsible citizens. Mostly it’s about tone. You can still get your message across but the way you express it can make a huge difference.

      Stephanie

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