on private "classblogs" vs. the wild, wide open


This post has been percolating for a while, but was finally pulled out by a post from [Stephen Downes](http://www.downes.ca/post/52942), linking to [a post from Lisa Nielsen](http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2010/07/just-say-yes-to-publishing-exposing-man.html).

Most of the blogs set up on UCalgaryBlogs aren't fully public - many allow anyone to see the content, but block search engines. But, many others are restricted to only allowing members of that site to access the content.

Initially, this bothered me. People weren't seeing the Power of Being Open. I tried arguing the whole "information wants to be free" and "going public with network effects" etc... yaddayadda.

But faculty and students just didn't see it that way. They weren't comfortable posting their work in the open. And instead of trying to convince them that they were wrong, I took the radical approach of actually listening them. Their points were pretty consistent, and boiled down to a few issues:

1. discomfort with publishing on the open web (identity issues, work being archived/indexed forever, etc...)
* the fact that this is mitigated through pseudonymous posting doesn't negate this one entirely.
2. not wanting to use a blog-like environment for discussion/conversation
* some people are just uncomfortable with blogging platforms when they're used to writing in discussion boards.
* they're worried about politeness and civility and trolling and various other issues with various levels of validity
* yes, the software is essentially the same in the back end. yes, they can be convinced to use it. but it's yet another hurdle to convince them to step over
3. fear of someone stealing their awesome content/idea
* initially, I shrugged this one off. *really? you're so awesome that you've already come up with your first Big Idea?* but then, after hearing this from several different students (from undergrad to PhD), it started to make more sense. many students are working in fields where they are building frameworks to kickstart their working careers. they see it as a huge risk to publicize these frameworks before they've had a chance to do something with them. Is it entirely rational? maybe. maybe not.
* I tried outlining how posting your early work on a Big Idea could be used to combat anyone stealing the idea (you'd have documentation of when/what you were working on, so you'd be clearly staking a claim to intellectual property, etc...) but that didn't get very far.

All of the points boil down further to a single core issue.

**What *right* do we, as educators, have to *compel* students to publish on the open web?**

As educators, we compel students to do things all the time. In the "safety" of the classroom. As assignments. But, not In The Openâ„¢, with permanent and public archives of their work. Yes, there are cases where we do this, too (drama classes may have public performances - but those aren't often archived permanently and publicly).

The open web is an incredible force multiplier. Students (and faculty) can say something, and have it spread around the world and accessed by anyone. Which is great, unless that short circuits the kinds of risk taking behaviours that make for really meaningful learning experiences.

It comes down to what we're really trying to do with our students. Is the goal to have them publish their content, or is it to take risks and learn from mistakes? I'd argue that it's far more important to be taking risks as part of an educational experience than to be publishing content. As such, it's far more important that students are engaging in productive discourse, than to be posting their term papers.

The concept of "[training wheels](http://andremalan.net/blog/2009/07/10/social-media-classroom-training-wheels-that-dont-come-off/)" - that having private sites is shortsighted because it treats students with kid gloves, telling them that they're not worthy of publishing on the open web - isn't completely capturing what happens in an effective classroom. A class isn't an exercise in content production, it's an active and engaged learning community. Some of the activities that occur with a class may involve content production, but that's not the primary goal. Whether or not those content production activities are on the public and open web is an entirely different discussion.

As a result, I have absolutely no problem with faculty and students wanting to have private "classblogs" - if it gets them to a place where they're able to use the blogging platform in a way that amplifies the effectiveness of their discourse, even (or especially) if the site isn't public, then it's absolutely worth doing. And I don't see this practice as simply replicating the closed model of the LMS in yet another platform. It's different because faculty and students are largely in control of the environment used for the classblog. They can configure it together. They can customize it. They can shape it to meet their needs. That's the important reason for moving outside of an institutional LMS.


See Also