October 17, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
Blogging 101--Web logs go to school
- Related Stories
Net classes revive New Orleans collegeOctober 5, 2005
Study: Teachers coming to terms with computersAugust 29, 2005
New for back-to-school: 'Clickers'August 5, 2005
Landlines still trump Web for teen chitchatJuly 27, 2005
Professor's Web posting at center of libel suitJanuary 25, 2005
Big tech on campusSeptember 6, 2004
(continued from previous page)
students' entries about topics like racism and abortion. "I have a lot of strong views on a lot of things," he said. "This gives you a chance to share your views with everyone."
But blogging can also have some negative effects on student prose. An overabundance of acronyms and abbreviations--a kind of Internet shorthand that Fisher calls "MSNisms"--can creep into students' blogs, Fisher said.
While teachers applaud the use of blogs to develop writing skills, they're using them in other areas as well, launching blogs in topics ranging from advanced placement calculus to music theory to Mandarin in an effort to engage and educate.
And just as these blogs run the gamut in terms of subject matter, the way schools handle them, and the degree of teacher control, varies widely. For instance, Meeler lets anyone from the Web surfing public read and comment on her students' blogs. Others, like Fisher, more actively manage them, reviewing all posts and comments before publication. There's also software, including a program called Moodle, for creating password-protected blogs that are walled off from the world beyond the school or classroom.
Concerned about child predators, many teachers require students to use their initials or first names only to identify themselves in their online journals.
Meeler, whose students go by their first names online, has had to remove the occasional mean remark from her class's blog. But she views such incidents as an opportunity to teach the students not to get discouraged. "I can't guarantee they won't see it, but I like to keep it open because that's what blogging is," Meeler said.
Student blogs can also give rise to questions of control. A few weeks ago, one of Fisher's middle school students submitted a blog entry that ranted about a tough night of babysitting. Another wrote about personal troubles with his parents. Fisher didn't publish either one, but discussed the issues openly with his class. Still, he worried about the kids' reaction.
"Will this experience harm the openness and the flow that is developing in their spaces?" he wrote in his own blog. "A fine balancing act will follow in the next few days. I am encouraged tonight after returning from open house at the school to find five new blog posts needing approval; a positive sign that this did not scare them off from writing."
That's why some schools, like Mabry Middle School in Marietta, Ga., view blogs primarily as a tool for teachers to relay information--study guides, handouts and assignments--to students. The exception is the eighth-graders' Sixceed blog, where students collectively post advice for incoming sixth-graders on surviving middle school. Teachers are grappling with how to make the blog, which recently replaced a static Web site, more interactive.
"We plan to add a part to the blog this year where fifth-graders and parents can post their questions and concerns," said Carmen Hartnett, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Mabry. "But we're trying to deal with how to control it, since we're dealing with schoolchildren."
As more teachers face such questions, technology companies are hoping to step in. ePals Classroom Exchange, which specializes in "school-safe" e-mail and Web browsing, is one of them. The company recently announced plans to develop a student blogging tool, which, among other things, is designed to filter out inappropriate postings.
But if you listen to the pundits, blogs are just the beginning of a bigger push toward more interactive Internet use in schools. Educators are already starting to experiment with podcasting, a technology for creating and distributing free audio programs online, as well as wikis, a type of collaborative online workspace. For some, staying on top of it all while focusing on basic curriculum can be a chore.
"There's a learning curve to all of it," said Romaine Collins, another eighth-grade language arts teacher at Mabry. "It does become overwhelming."
20 commentsJoin the conversation! Add your comment