Social Networks, School Policies, and Surveillance

My colleague Rob Rozema from GVSU has invited my students and I to participate in a new Ning social network, Teach English. I am very excited about the opportunity to be involved in this project, and we will also have students from Allen Webb‘s course at WMU join in, too.

As we consider what we will do with this network, I think that we have to ask ourselves a key question about its implementation and potential for use: how do we account for and respond to the contradiction in local, state, and federal policies regarding internet use (for instance, no blogging or social networking) and the call to teach these skills in our schools?

In other words, if we teach students how to use social networks, will they be able to use those skills once they are teaching?

Moreover, this raises another issue that my best friend Steve Tuckey and I were discussing a few weeks back — does taking a technology and reappropriating it for use in schools undermine the excitement and potential uses for that technology?

As an example, we talked about the idea of a “cheese sandwich blog,” one that tells basically accounts for the mundane happenings in everyday life. (If we build 20 million blogs, will the readers come?). Contrast that with the more substantive kinds of blogging that many edubloggers are calling for and teaching; that is, a more “academic” form of blogging. Steve asks, what’s wrong with the cheese sandwich?

He asks this not to be sarcastic (well, OK, maybe a little bit), but more to take a critical approach to how we use blogging. From an email conversation, he says, in part:

by trying to call for highfalutin standards of rigor in what our students blog about, we are essentially trying to colonize one of the most democratic spaces with the self-important hierarchy of academia. We try to set up the same old benchmarks for “good writing” in a new environment, all the while touting the greatness of its promise as something “new.” Seems schizophrenic to me. And don’t get me started on how real-time authoring serves to feed the dragon of continuous assessment…

In other words, if we reappropriate “blogging,” into an academic setting, is it blogging anymore? Or, is the definition of “blogging” (or, perhaps, edublogging), such that a higher level of discourse is now becoming expected above and beyond the typical diary/journal/update blogs of the past. And, with microblogs in Facebook and Twitter, are we going to have to think about how to make that academic blogging, too?

Steve was interested in seeing me raise this point with the other edubloggers that are thinking about similar ideas, perhaps in another forum beyond our blogs, too. Perhaps I will write a letter to EJ or something like that. If others have an idea about where and how we might discuss this issues — the appropriate use and reappropriation of blogging for academic purposes — let me know. It will certainly be on my mind as I prepare for next semester.

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Author: Troy Hicks

Dr. Troy Hicks is a professor of English and education at Central Michigan University. He directs both the Chippewa River Writing Project and the Master of Arts in Educational Technology degree program. A former middle school teacher, Dr. Hicks has authored numerous books, articles, chapters, blog posts, and other resources broadly related to the teaching of literacy in our digital age. Follow him on Twitter: @hickstro

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