One Follower! Celebrity!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the purposes of starting this blog was to model responsible and engaged digital citizenship for my students. That being said…I have a follower! Now…I know I have “followed” dozens of blogs that I don’t read, so I’m not reveling in this follower because I imagine him or her hanging on my every word. One follower is by no means celebrity. However, it does represent something significant.

I’ve been taking an ASCD PDonline course on student portfolios. In one course article entitled, Publishers, Participants All by Will Richardson, he writes,

But research strongly suggests that the web is a safer place than most think (Stone, 2009). In addition to teaching safe publishing habits, we must also teach connection, the idea that the “publish” button is no longer the end of the process but a midpoint, an opportunity to learn from those who take the time to read and respond. In essence, we want students to talk to strangers, to have the wherewithal not only to discern good strangers from bad ones, but also to appreciate the huge learning opportunity that online strangers represent.

After this article and then reading posts by the founders of Comments4Kids, I started to think about the blogging we’ve been doing this past year in the classroom. Parents are rightfully concerned about security and privacy for their children, even more so here in Guatemala, because of the real threats of kidnapping. Because blogging in the classroom was a completely new venture at our school, we decided to use a closed Kidblog only accessible by username and password. Part of the appeal of Kidblog is that students can post pictures and video, and I didn’t know how the parent community would respond to an open blog on the net even if names and location were protected.

The closed blog worked well, especially because they were in fourth grade and were still learning about Internet safety. Throughout the year, we discussed internet safety rules such as never revealing your location, complete names, etc. We also dealt with students “hacking” each other and talked about the ethics behind properly citing sources and avoiding plagiarism. Students were able to see each other’s work and comment. Towards the end of the year, however, I observed a blogging malaise. Students were no longer posting blogs about their weekend, and I had to check every student, every week to see if they did their homework blog.

It is indeed meaningful to have a fellow student, a parent or even their teacher comment and respond to their work. How much more meaningful would it be if students or teachers in other countries responded? They automatically have more weight because they are “other,” and they were moved to follow or comment, not automatically because it was a class requirement, but because the content moved them to do so.

I don’t consider myself a digital native in the sense that this term is significant now. I grew up in the 90s. My family was at the forefront of technology because my father worked in the computer industry, however, being part of an online community in the 90s, for me, involved chatting with people on AOL. People I shouldn’t have been chatting with most of the time, about topics that I shouldn’t have been chatting about at 11 years old. I didn’t view the internet as a place of collaboration but as a novelty, and sometimes, a place to rebel against my parents. Now, things have changed, and the ways people can communicate, collaborate and share ideas on the internet has changed so dramatically that I struggle to keep up. I’m also resistant, as most pre-digital natives are, to technology. I love it, but it doesn’t replace real human interaction. Today, I follow blogs, Pinterest, take online courses, and use blogs in my classroom. I’m a taker.

Why a taker? Because I don’t produce anything or share anything that could be of value to others. After reading the Richardson article, I began to think about my own online presence. I’ve never been inclined to write about my daily life or thoughts online because, quite frankly, I just didn’t think I had anything that important to say.  Who am I? Why would people who don’t know and care about me want to read what I have to say in the first place? This attitude, I’m admitting now, is an attitude from an older world. Now, anyone can have a voice. It doesn’t necessarily mean that others are going to listen, but then again, there are many kids and adults who have had something to say, and as it turned out, it won attention, perhaps unexpectedly, but rightfully so.

Going back to Richardson’s claims, that “the web is a safer place than most think,” and that it represents, “an opportunity to learn from those who take the time to read and respond,” I want to model for my students being a giver in the online world. Also, accepting and guarding against the risks of using the internet is just as pertinent now as learning to cross the street safely. More important, is learning to unlock the limitless potential of the internet as a place to grow and learn.

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