Student Blogging and Digital Footprints

When students blog in an academic context, they often do so because it is an expectation in a course they are enrolled in. Some may blog for personal purposes outside of class as well, but I suspect that they are the exception and not the rule. In the work I am doing with students this semester I have asked them to create blogs that we call Learning Journals. Nothing really new or groundbreaking here, but I have been interested in students’ views about being asked to reflect on their learning and to write in these public spaces on the open web.

My hope is that these students will see their writing (and commenting) in the blog space as part of being involved in a larger conversation that is taking place within the class, and more importantly can spill outside the walls of the class and impact a much wider audience. For me, one measure of success would be that they experience both community and culture in the blogosphere; a bridging of the academic and the personal.

There has been a range of responses to the idea of the Learning Journal. Some students have indicated that blogging is not something they would choose to do if it was simply a personal choice, and I certainly respect that. To my surprise, a few students already had a blog space and chose to integrate their learning reflections with their personal musings, which I think is great. Still other students express concerns and reservations about writing in a publicly accessible space, and seem uncertain about potential implications of such practices down the road. Still others see blogging as silly navel gazing.

Within all of these views there is an inherent tension between digital spaces that are seen as personal and those that are seen as academic. Questions of identity, and how our on-line behaviors impact and shape it, are ever-present.

I try to remain sensitive to the variety of perspectives that my students bring to the practice of thinking, musing and writing on the open web. There is risk and tension there for me as well. I’m making a value judgment. I fully realize that I’m requiring them to engage in blogging for an academic purpose, with the hope that it becomes a rich enough learning experience that it transcends the academic and becomes personally valuable. Ultimately, I hope they come to learn and value that free and public space on the Web is an important right that they have. I also realize that in asking my students to blog, they are generating content that leaves a digital footprint and becomes part of their online persona. This can be tricky business, perhaps more so in some contexts than others. But these are not new ideas. I am certain that other faculty engaged in blogging have been thinking about these issues for some time, and writing far more eloquently and incisively than I have here. Yet for me, reflecting on this has made me more sensitive to the idea that when we ask our students to generate content on the open web, we are in effect asking them to create and modify their digital footprint.

The notion of the digital footprint raises several questions for me. Am I being unnecessarily concerned and putting too much emphasis on the implications of “requiring” students to contribute to an on-line persona guided by academic expectations? How do we move to the point where blogging is something students do on their own, as opposed to something that is done to them? Is the academic “push” to blog one of the only ways where students ambivalent to blogging will gain experience and perspective on the importance of public publishing on the web? What other questions should we be asking here? Let me know what you think.

{Image Credit: Paddy Wight}


7 thoughts on “Student Blogging and Digital Footprints

  1. Interesting reflections, Jeff. While I appreciate the concern about impacting the students’ digital footprint, the fact remains that each student already has a digital footprint. If our job in part is to prepare students for the real world, it seems appropriate that we help them confront their own digital personality and drive that footprint in positive directions (or at least in conscious directions).

  2. If the creation of a blog is for the Learning with Digital Media class you wrote about earlier, then the requirement may be implicit in the name and description of the course, or at least outlined in the syllabus before add/drop is over.

    I’m surprised students brought up any worries at all since I’ve observed many of mine throw caution to the wind when it comes to digital material, especially inflammatory screensaver slide shows for all to see.

    However, based on discussions with my Seniors, the older the student becomes, the more critical they are about the web and the media in general.

  3. What often motivates me to blog is the thought of creating a connection between me and my posterity through my digital footprint. I know my blog has a very limited readership, and that more than once have I engaged in “silly navel gazing.” However, it seems that the real significance of anything I push up on to the Web is as a record of the times, my times, my perspectives, even if only for the sake of a lone great-great-great-great grand-niece who happens to discover my digital footprint.

    Like Britt, I have no problem with encouraging/requiring students to blog, and I’d like to include connecting with posterity as one of the (many) positive/conscious directions he mentions.

  4. Britt & Ruth,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m wondering if by engaging students in the conscious creation of a digital persona in positive directions (with a critical eye toward web-media) as Britt suggests…may indeed result in what Ruth has observed…a skepticism as they mature as creators of content on the web.

  5. Michael,

    I really like the view you have of your own personal blogging…as a “record of the times, my times” that a distant relative might serendipitously discover. There are times I think it would have been wonderful to have insight into the times and lives of my great and great-great grandparents.

    Thanks again for your thoughts here…positive energy.

  6. Perhaps there is a neurological explanation for the reason my seniors take a more critical view of the web. After all, they are getting close to that magical age of twenty-four when insurance rates reduce and odds that they’ll commit a crime go down.

  7. Hi there,
    I am a primary school teacher in England and reading your post made me reflect on my class of 6 year olds. They have an online and a paper journal and each week they have the choice to record in one or the other. I find that more frequently they choose to use paper sit in groups with their friends and discuss what they will write. Only a couple choose the computer. Maybe being a digital native is not such a big issue for your learners like mine…..because they are born into it they have a laizze faire attitude. Computers are certainly not the BIG DEAL with this generation of children …unlike 10 years ago.
    Technology has to enhance the learning or what the hell is it for………..technolohy for the sake of technology makes no sense to me……

    …..and what is it 6 year olds write ….

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