I returned from the NYSCATE 2007 Conference reinvigorated with fresh ideas as to where to take my class and our school in terms of education and technology. I felt ready to renew my efforts to incorporate podcasting and wikis with my students. I had done some work with both of these in limited, halting ways in the past. Yet there are a couple new areas that we have not ventured into: student blogging and use of “social networking” such as found in Ning and the open source Elgg. This required a sign off by the tech committee, so I called for a meeting.
We convened last Tuesday after school. The committee was interested in the Smart Board technology, the on-line AIS (Academic Intervention Services for children failing or at risk of failing state tests) possibilities. The tone changed when I started discussing students creating content for the Internet.
I started by saying that my fifth grade students really wanted to create websites and that I thought blogs would be the way to go. The mere mention of blog made several in the room cringe. They chimed in with the usual objections:
- What if they create inappropriate content?
- What if they post personal information?
- There are bad people out there…
I assured them that we can install WordPress MU (Multiple User) and it could be configured so that a teacher would have to approve content before it is published. This helped quiet some fears, but they still wanted to keep the blogs password protected so that only select individuals could view the blogs.
I protested that one of the most important motivations to a writer is a sense of audience and that cutting off access would defeat the purpose of this exercise. Furthermore, I wanted to enable comments so that students could see the reactions of their audience and interact with readers. Again, the same objections were raised. I asked that if the comments too could be moderated by a teacher would it be acceptable. I got grudging skeptical acceptance with the qualification of “Don’t expect me to have any part of this.” I continued saying that we already allow students to submit material to our school website that is published upon administrative approval.
Fortunately, our school superintendent was supportive and felt that with these precautions in place that this would be a great idea. He was able to see the power of ownership and audience that this would provide for the students.
So, over the next few weeks, I will be setting up WordPressMU on our hosted web account, learning the ins and outs of users, permissions, and administration. My next obstacle may be parents to whom I plan to send a very carefully crafted letter. I fear that a few may object. I guess I can offer to password protect the directory in which their child’s blog resides.
Of course, my next proposal–social networking software drew even more objections and fears–some that I had more difficulty answering. I’ll discuss that portion of our tech committee meeting in an upcoming blog.