You teach a child to blog and the whole world opens up to them. And yet, with that whole wide world comes a whole lot of responsibility. Some of the more frequent questions I receive is how I keep my students safe when they blog, how do I prevent cyber bullying, and how do I convince parents/districts that this is worthwhile. While I may not have all of the answers or any quick fix solutions, I do have a lot of passion for this.
First things first; student safety is paramount. I use Kidblog for this reason. It allows me to control who sees our posts, who comments, and also how open I want our account to be. But I don’t just give students their account information…there is a lot of preparation before then:
- We talk at length about blogging, why it is important to us, why it is a privilege.
- We visit other student blogs and we discuss whether we agree with their posts, with their etiquette and we decide how we want to represent ourselves.
- We discuss what constitutes an actual blog post and what we share with the world. We discuss the difference between Edmodo and Kidblog, and there are many.
- I show them scary videos of giving out information on the internet to strangers, we discuss how the Internet is like the mall.
- We talk, reflect and then have further discussions before we even do our first mouse click. we create a paper blog to get a feel for commenting and I show my own blog to show them the power of blogging.
- And this isn’t an only at the beginning of the year conversation, it is an always conversation. We always discuss safety, we always practice it, and we remind each other whenever need be.
Then there is the ugly reality of cyber bullying, and yes we face it head on and battle it. I have never had another child bully a classmate through blogging. They revere it too much. That is not to say that all of my students love each other, they don’t, they are 10 years olds, but they do respect each other. And I think that is the most important ingredient to prevent cyber-bullying; respect. We respect each other, and the differences we may have. We respect the privilege that it is to have a blog, to have a voice to the world. We discuss how this is a big deal and how we would never want to hurt someone purposely or even shine ourselves in that light. There is no anonymity on our blog, I make sure of that, and the students would have to sign their name to any comment that they leave. While they may not always get along we still have a sense of community that we work hard on achieving and maintaining from the very first moment we are together. I love my students as if they were my own kids and I think they feel that we are a family. That feeling takes us far.
But what about bullies from outside the classroom? I have our blog open for worldwide viewing, see this post on my optimal settings for global collaboration, so surely there must be nasty comments from strangers? The power of Kidblog is that it allows me to moderate every single comment and post that gets put up, so not only do the students have a spam filter, they also have me protecting them. In the four years I have been blogging with students, about 5 nasty comments have been left. No student ever saw them because I deleted them first.
Finally, the apprehension of parents. I have been incredibly lucky with my parent support but I have also worked hard for that. I have been completely transparent with the purpose and scope of our blogging. I have shown them examples and the direction in which I want to take the students. The communication is paramount to the success. I am not trying to exploit the works or thoughts of their children, and I am not bringing them into danger. They know I work hard to keep them safe and I think many of them appreciate the inherent internet safety message that these students embrace. But there is an opt out; blogging is not mandatory, nor is it part of their trimester report card grades. I have never had anyone take the option, they hear about it before they come to my room, and it is highlight for many. Parents understand that and I think they love seeing their child’s thoughts on so many times, their growth as a writer, and how their child is handling the responsibility.
Student blogging has changed the way I view my students and their voice. It is now an essential part of our classroom, our community, and of our curriculum. We revere, we tame it, and we use it properly; sometimes for fun and sometimes for serious study. There is no one solution to everything but there are several ingredients that have to be present if student blogging should be successful; respect, communication, transparency, and expectations. With those in place you will go far.