Wednesday, November 08, 2006

ethics of blogging about students, second installment

Okay, I scrolled over my posts for the semester and deleted two which referred to my recent plagiarism case. I have always been careful about the way I blog about students, but this is the incident that made me think very hard about this issue. I do not believe that the posts I deleted say anything that could be harmful to me or the student--in fact they revealed very little info about the case and were two of the shortest posts I have ever written. Just a couple of sentences each. But plagiarism is such a serious and touchy issue that I don't think there is a good way to blog about a case even in the vaguest terms.

So here's another post I want to question. In it I refer to general problems with my class, but I also mention a specific student (not by name, of course) who had not purchased a textbook. Is it okay to refer to one particular student in a blog?

I do believe that the way I discussed my class has been ethical, and I don't think it is anything that could get me into trouble (except that the fact that I have a blog at all is enough in some people's opinion to label me a trouble-maker or a slacker who spends too much time frivolously playing online instead of doing real work--but that's another issue and there's been plenty talk about that already). The problems of an online class are important to discuss and this electronic forum is the perfect medium for it. I believe that blogging about general class issues is useful and ethical, but I still have questions about any reference to a particular student, even when it is vague and anonymous.

Edited to add: I am not so concerned with the question of "Could I get fired for this?" although that is one way to look at it. I am really concerned about whether it is ethical behavior and if it might be some violation of students' trust.


Dana and Nick said...

This is a tricky question. On the one hand, talking about issues with students can help you figure out how to deal with them--either through the advice of other teachers or through your own working out of the problem. On the other hand, if that student were to overhear that conversation or read a blog post about her, she might feel a bit violated. I don't blog, but I do talk about my students and other classroom issues with my colleagues on a fairly regular basis. And I am always helped by those conversations in some way. But maybe it's understood that those conversations are confidential--whereas a blog post, by it's very nature, cannot be so private. I know I'm not really answering your question, but...

Jennie said...

I responded to your last post on this topic so I have to comment again, because I really hope I didn't inadvertently give you a guilt trip for blogging about students. I don't think I've ever read anything on your blog that made me feel you were being unethical or inappropriate. It's clear you take your teaching very seriously, and it doesn't seem that anybody (students or colleagues) would even know who you were referring to in your posts if they happened to stumble upon your blog (I think this is an important part of acting ethically here).

I also hope I didn't give the impression that I've never talked about my students with others, because I certainly have. And it's been helpful to me. But I've always sort of felt guilty about it nevertheless because of the whole vulnerability/ breach of trust issue that I commented about before. I don't think you should be worried about your behavior, but as a topic of conversation among educators I think this is all very interesting. Out of curiosity (in reference to your own comment), how would you feel if you found a professor justifiably venting about you?

Oxymoron said...

I've been going back and forth on this issue since your first installment. I initially thought that blogging about students was no big deal, provided you strip your posts of all identifying markers. But then I started to think about your hypothetical scenario wherein your diss directed blogged about your lack of progress and changed my mind. Even though he might also omit identifying markers, you know upon reading the post that you are the subject, just as your students--were they ever to find their way to mommyphd--would likely come to know that they are the subject of your posts. Such would cause us all to feel humiliated on some level.

However, the realization that you've been blogged about by your teacher isn't always bad and can have some positive effects. For example, if I were to learn through my diss director's blog that she is disappointed with the progress of my first chapter, I might be more apt to kick things into high gear. But chances are, as you point out, I am very likely aware of this situation before it is blogged about. Nonethless, by way of my (semi)public shaming, I may actually pull my head out of my arse and get to work. Of course, I'm not advocating a fear-of-shame pedagogy here. But it's not like you're "calling out" students who are legitimately struggling in class, only those who haven't bought textbooks or have intentionally plagiarized! Would they really be surprised or feel victimized in discovering that their teacher has expressed frustration over their foolishness? They themselves know they were foolish, that they are not taking their education seriously. The fact is they should already be embarrassed for behaving in such ways.

But then again, there is the issue of trust that your respondents have mentioned. I would hate to think that my teachers were saying things behind my back. It would make me very uncomfortable. Unless they were complimenting me. Then that seems okay. And it's important to remember that you're blog entries about students aren't always negative. You've praised them many times. So do we say that it's okay to blog about them when the overall nature and tone of the post is good but not when it's bad? Or do we just not blog about them at all? Either way, we lose the benefits of blogging about students in the first place: all these great responses. Your blog is as much a pedagogical tool for teaching as it is anything else, as you and your respondents often give advise to one another as well as reassurance that we all struggle with teaching from time to time. This is very important, especially for those teachers who do not always have immediate assess to their peers.

I've still come no closer to an answer. I've just used up a lot of space here.