Writing in the Public Sphere

In my last blog post I made a point about how technology has created a culture where we are “always on”; we expect and are expected to be so. Jenkins suggests we actually teach students how to multitask, but I never intended to put this into practice. Based on the comments received I can see how this was misconstrued – probably as a result of last minute editing that eliminated the way I had been contextualizing it. I do not think we need to teach students how to multi-task; by and large, they already know how. We need to help students control assert control over the infinite stream of information and modes of communication coming at them. One of the ways we can help them is by showing them that nothing actually happens when they silence their phone for 50 minutes to devote their attention to the issues being addressed in class.

Similarly, we need to help students be critical consumers of media and aware of the online persona they enact. Our students are online, reading, writing and participating; therefore, as Benson and Reymon point out in their article “Learning to Write Publicly: Promises and Pitfalls of Using Weblogs in the Composition Classroom,” “we have a clear obligation to help them participate thoughtfully and responsibly” online. The Internet is a fun, liberating, exciting, scary, and dangerous place. Students need to know how to navigate and explore such temperamental waters.

I consciously create space for students to write privately, publicly and to me in my classrooms. The last on I could do without; I’m working on it. The benefit of having students write publicly, even when that public is limited to the class is just as Charles Tyson claims in his “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition”: “students will take writing more seriously if they are writing for public on the Internet.” I could not agree with this more, but I think it’s more about a fear of being judged by their peers than it is the general public.https://i1.wp.com/wp.patheos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/files/2013/09/bigbrother.jpg

The arguments in favor of a public audience for novice writers is the same as that against it – there is a public full of possibilities, both good and bad. Students know there is a public audience and that anyone could read it, yet they maintain a sense of anonymity online and refer to it as writing to their friends despite its public nature (Benson and Reyman). Only a couple of students in their study were really aware of it.

I have seen this first hand as recently as this past Friday. With the BART strike I ended up taking my Friday morning class online. I had planned to do a lesson on word choice through jigsaw, so I created group chats and forums for the groups to report back to. The lesson worked out really well, but when I commented in one of the chat’s a student that never speaks in class came back with “wow…creeper…” I was, admittedly, Big Brother. Her perceived comfort online is not the only notable takeaway, however. Even though they all knew I was signed into their chats, they didn’t consider that I would be following them.

The success of this lesson supported Richardson’s point in Blogs, Wiki’s and Podcasts that blogs “support different learning styles,” “everyone has a voice,” and the expansion of the walls of the classroom. This was just a couple of forums and chats on ilearn, but it all applied. I believe the lesson was more successful online than it has been in the classroom because everyone participated more. When a student was quiet they were quick to call each other out and ask them to chime in. I didn’t really need to be Big Brother.

Regardless of how we host writing online we have to monitor it in someway. I can’t think of anyone I’ve seen advocate against monitoring. I haven’t used blogs, but I do use the ilearn forums pretty heavily and I had to remove a student post last year. One of my students posted a largely homophobic essay. There were three openly gay students in our class. Fortunately, the problem was a writing problem. He wasn’t homophobic per se, he was only trying to describe one of the many things he was adjusting to with his move to San Francisco. A less patient reader wouldn’t see that though; all they would see was an aversion to gay culture. Luckily, no one saw the post and a similar issue hasn’t come up since, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.


5 comments on “Writing in the Public Sphere

  1. While I was reading your post this caught my eye…”One of the ways we can help them is by showing them that nothing actually happens when they silence their phone for 50 minutes to devote their attention to the issues being addressed in class.”

    I always wonder who my students are trying to talk to at 9 in the morning! They just can’t let their phones go, and its frustrating. However, I do the same thing when I’m in grad classes. I find myself checking Facebook and my email. It’s just a habit. But it does feel like your missing something when you aren’t “connected” even though nothing is probably happening. I guess you just get so used to being online on all the time it feels strange not to be. You bring up an interesting point…how do we get students to let it go for a little while? Maybe there’s more to it than just saying “phones are disruptive, so don’t use them.” A larger conversation about what it means to be connected all the time would be interesting.

  2. I agree that we should be helping students become critical users of new media. They are already skilled at using it. We should help them become meta-web surfers. This, of course, does not mean restricting how far they go out into the “water.”

    Recently, the Los Angeles United School District took away the iPads they had given students for school use–in response to students getting around security walls that had been set up to keep them off of social networking and entertainment websites. Students had gotten around the security walls in a number of hours. Students are terribly resourceful and persistent when they really want to make something happen. The trick is to tap into this intrinsic motivation. Instead of trying to harness students’ resourcefulness and persistence, possibly with a game-playing pedagogy that uses the iPads, the school district decided to take away the only fun dimension of the new tools. We need to meet students where they are if we are going to wade into the new media waters–because they’re already there.

  3. I thought your points about some instructors essentially being “Big Brother” in monitoring students’ online content to be interesting in that it touches on the fine line between allowing students to freely express themselves in more informal online environments and somewhat limiting or controlling their conduct through classroom or educational constraints. As teachers we want our students to be contributing thoughtful and insightful content to their blogs, wikis, etc, so we impose limitations on their posts or relegate their ideas to specific subject matter. Does this restrict or infringe upon the more exploratory and informal aspects of these mediums? Are we not allowing them to fully engage with new literacies by restricting their content? I think these are questions that need to be fleshed out more as we explore the relationships between public and private writing.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your blog, because it brought to light some of the same issues that I have been observing with the increase of technology into every day lives. Having the students participate on iLearn or other interactive blogs is an interesting aspect to implement in the classroom. You are correct, students do have more of an interest writing in a public forum, because they know that their peers will be reading it, not just the professor. Also, having the students write in a public forum, and having them engage in discussions about what they are writing, validates what they are saying. Adding the element of an audience, other than the professor, can make the students, potentially, rethink what they are trying to say, and hopefully try to capture their peers’ attention, so that they can start a dialogue.

  5. ¨I was, admittedly, Big Brother. Her perceived comfort online is not the only notable takeaway, however. Even though they all knew I was signed into their chats, they didn’t consider that I would be following them.¨

    I really liked this point in your blog. As you said, one of the biggest advantages and disadvantages to public writing is the possibility of audience and responses. What strikes me the most interesting is that even in the public sphere, the students still maintain a semi-strict binary of ¨teacher-student,” even though chats, wikis, discussions, etc. are peer-based communication/information sharing systems. That makes me wonder if students that write blogs for a class (or something similar) even think about other scholars, teachers, etc. when they write. Sure, we read and discussed about the possibilities of students experimenting with audience and stuff like that, but at the end of the day, they´re still assignments for the classroom that the instructor will have to grade.

    If they feel weird about you being big brother, how would they feel if the Dean came across their blog? Or somebody like Jenkins across the country? Furthermore, I find it interesting that if these students were in class and giving this discussion in person, you would be there to hear their comments anyways. Are you big brother in person, or only when we´re speaking online?

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