It has been great to see such an active interest in our 5th grade students this year in blogging. Blogging has the potential to teach and foster a wide range of writing skills and of course it gives us the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with our children about what it means to be a good digital citizen. Clearly many students seem to be quite motivated to write on their blogs and I think this is absolutely wonderful!
My only concern with blogging is that the tool of choice seems to be blogger.com. This is the blogging platform that many teachers (including yours truly) utilize as our professional work spaces. One of the best things about blogger is that it incredibly easy to use. However, the terms of service state that users need to be 13 years old to use blogger. Blogger.com is a great platform for students to use as long as you are actively involved with your child and the development of the blog resource. We are in the process of finding a productive and developmentally appropriate blogging platform that will work for our teachers and students in the middle school. Stay tuned for more information.
Here are some general rules of thumb that we like to pass along to our students when they participate in online communities like blogs, voicethread, social networks and wikis:
1. Be selective about the kind of information you reveal online. You don't want to create a bogus identity because people in the online community will not come to trust you. However, you don't want to reveal everything about you either. To say something like, "My name is Bobby and I am a student from Wisconsin and I like football, fishing and playing golf," is much better than, "Hi, my name is Bobby Simmons and I am a 7th grader at Stevens Middle School and I live on Bedford Avenue in Stevens Point, WI." Last names, specific locations, date of birth, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, etc are all examples of things that middle school students shouldn't post online.
2. Be smart about the kinds of images you use. Generally speaking, it is better to use a cartoonish digital avatar for your profile image than a true photo of yourself. Adults can use a a true photo, but middle school students should use an avatar. Create and use an avatar that is in good taste and is a positive representation of yourself and others around you. Check out the digital avatars that the 5th graders created for their educational Voicethread accounts and the avatars that the 6th graders created for their participation in the "Protecht Digital Citizenship" project.
3. Use the "Golden Rule" when leaving comments on blogs and communicating with others in the digital world.
4. Use your best writing! Of course mistakes will be made, but really try to put forth your best effort! Your blog and online profile is an extension of you!
5. Consider making the blog private for starters. Invite parents, teachers and a few friends to be readers and provide feedback. After you get comfortable with the blogging platform, then you can go public for the world to see.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the form of a comment or contact me directly.
Finally, I just ran across the following article that asks the question, "How Dangerous Is the Internet for Children?" I like this article because it provides a level overview and examination of this issue. It has some relevance to this whole notion of participating in online communities, blogs, etc. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on it.