I’ve asked my technical writing students to discuss ethics issues this semester, including issues of blogging in the workplace, and I thought that I might take a stab at a question that has been on my mind.
Is it ethical to discuss students on blogs?
I have written posts about my students and have read many posts about others’ students, with varying degrees of specificity. But is this okay? There are so many variables to this question—I will try to squeeze them into one blog post and hopefully people will read it even though it’s long. Let me start with what I am calling semi-anonymity and how that factors in.
I am not truly anonymous. Sarah is my real name (but don’t you know twenty other people named Sarah?). I do not post my location or institution, and if you Google me, you will not find this blog. If you came across this blog accidentally, however, I have posted enough information that someone who knows me well, or even someone who is currently taking my class, might figure out that this sounds awfully familiar. This seems like a stretch, but it has happened to me—I found a professor’s blog accidentally. I didn’t know it was him until I saw his photograph—I don’t post my picture on this blog. But I have given my URL to friends and to two former students, and it has gotten around through the grapevine that I’m a blogger, and a few professors have asked me about it (with mixed reactions—one person said, “My opinion of you has totally changed.”—vague comment, but I doubt it was good). I don’t really hide it. I imagine that many bloggers have similar circumstances.
The point is, while I am not readily Google-able, any discussion of my students could potentially be linked directly back to me, depending on who is reading it.
But I talk about my students in person with my coworkers all the time. This blog has been valuable to me as a way to discuss teaching issues with other teachers, and I find conversation among teachers in the halls or in our offices important ways to learn and improve. One might argue that it is not ethical to discuss students at all, but I think that we gain so much through these conversations that makes us better teachers. So is posting about students on a blog different from talking about them in person (assuming, of course, that names are never used)?
Okay, long enough for now. Any thoughts?