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.
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.