Thursday, September 22, 2005

Blogging Safety

I have received notes from teachers this fall asking my opinion of using blogs in the classroom. As with any publishing by our students on the Web, it is important in a school setting that we keep them safe from unsolicited contact. The "anyone can comment" aspect of a blog both allows for the desirable feedback on a published piece, but can also lead to unwanted communication from a stranger.

It is also, at times, too easy to identify a student from a simple comment in a blog posting or essay-- the school is already identified from the title of the blog or the originating URL, and, by the student simply stating he/she is the "goalie on the soccer team", it may lead to an encounter. Even without any names on the blog, at a game, just the simple cheering on by the crowd can provide the student's name for the stranger.

I know I sound paranoid, but this is a different world we live in. We have been careful over the years to keep student pictures and names off of any Web pages we have created. Blogging in the classroom should be no different. Throw in the ease of publication and the interactive commenting, and the chances for a potential problem may be compounded.

There are a couple of solutions I feel can be utilized to still allow this powerful type of tool to be used in a classroom setting.

1. Get parental permission to use this publishing format with their children.

2. Do not use names, only initials or a "handle" for student posting.

3. Take advantage of a blogging tool created by David Warlick. Blogmeister was created especially for the K-12 arena and it will not allow any postings or comments to go live on the blog without the classroom teacher's approval. The teacher creates a class list of those who can post and also can monitor any comments and work to ensure the students are safe (and the student work is acceptable before going public!)

On a related note, if you are conducting a workshop for parents on Internet safety and home use of computers, you may want to take a look at this article dealing with blog use by students.