A story about blogging, journalism and education this week that reflects the grey boundaries of professionalism in the digital age.
a journalism student at NYU, blogged about one of her classes on new media “Reporting Gen Y (a.k.a. Quarterlifers)” for Mediashift, a pbs andKnight foundation backed blog on digital media hosted by Mark Glaser.
The original post is hereand the follow up post on Mediashift is here
Alana’s original post was a description of her first day of class, and what has caused the controversy is that she posted it to media shift without asking her tutor if she could do so – she had been asked by Glaser to act as an ‘embed’ and write a blog about her studies at NYU. The post offers a critique of the class and the professor as being essentially out of touch with social and new media, although it has positive things to say about the professor too. What turned it into a controversy was that after the mediashift blog the professor banned the class from blogging about the class anymore – despite the fact that having a bog was a requirement of taking the class itself.
This has generated a debate about the ethics of undercover reporting, and of privacy issues, as well as academic freedoms , rights of free speech etc etc. What emerges from Glaser’s followup report is the NYU didn’t have any established practice relating to blogs in the classroom and what is and is not acceptable. Interstingly, the comments on Alana’s original post (of which there are many) mostly focus on the discussion of what should j-schools be teaching about social media and whether blogs etc are journalism or not. a few question the ethics of Alana’s writing about her class, but the trust is elasewhere. The ethical debates really surfaced after her censure by the professor, both in private and then, apparently, in class.
To me the main issue here relates to what territory can and should blogs cover in education?
I think the point is that anyone using blogs in an educational context should lay out the ground rules for the project in advance of starting it, making clear what territory the blogs are to cover and in what way. Simply asking students to blog without any context is not enough; if you dont set out guidelines you are opening pandoras box and you cant ask students to set up a blog and then object to what they write on it if you dont give them some direction in advance.
As blogs are publically viewable and searchable, this blog could well have surfaced to anyone interested in journalism education at nyu or mediashift for example anyway.
We have lots of potential applicants to our course for example who apply because they have read the blogs of current students that they find by looking for search terms relevant to the subject area we cover- and someone like Michael Wesch‘s auto searching of blogs would have picked it up if it as relevant to his area of interest I’m sure…..
We use blogs on our course as a central part of the student’s reflective practice, deploying them to act as learning journals and to assist in building a community of practice collaboratively. As part of this, we have found that the blogs, because of their more informal nature, are a great vehicle for healthy critiques of the course itself, in both positive and negative ways, and we actively encourage this kind of feedback as it is far more valuable that the kind usually obtained from anonymous student feedback questionnaires and the like, as it is precisely focused on the course itself, not abstract concepts about student satisfaction etc.
getting this kind of real time feedback about the course means that we can quickly respond when students feel that they are not getting what the need, and also celebrate with them when the feedback is more positive. This keeps us on our toes and prevents us from falling into complacency and stagnation, and is especially useful on newer, innovative courses as we acknowledge that we are unlikely to get it right every time, especially in the beginning.
In terms of the details of this particular case, it seems that asking students to keep a blog as part of their studies and then denying them the possibility of writing about their studies in it seems counterintuitive, we make it clear from the very beginning that the blogs should offer a ‘warts and all’ description of the students learning journey.
Blogs are a fantastic tool for reflective learning, but they cannot be deployed without thinking through the implications of the relationship between private and public spheres, especially in terms of professional practice – in fact they offer a perfect opportunity for students to explore these boundaries in a relatively safe environment, a kind of sandbox to explore what we characterise as professional not confessional.
But they do have a public face and students need to be aware of the implications of this – one student of ours had their blog read by a client who was not too impressed with their descriptions of the PR company that had set up a story they had been assigned to cover.
So we have established up a clear set of rules of netiquette that cover how to post about others work , the course etc that serve to act as guidelines for how the bloggers can navigate these treacherous waters.
It also raises issues about what technology can students use in the classroom? I regularly use my laptop at conferences etc to take notes and to follow up on the speaker if they mention a name I don’t know, I google it and check out the reference immediately, which often helps to make sense of what the speaker is discussing. And i’ll happily admit to checking my email at the same time – not writing it though, generally. And half the audience at conferences these days seems to be twittering live. So if this is acceptable behaviour at academic conferences, which it seems to be, why not in class??
To me, having the resources of the world at my fingertips during a lecture is a fantastic resource, and i encourage it in my classes – often the students will look up urls in real time on our online course and post them into the webconferencing software we use when i mention a new photographer or issue, acting almost like teaching assistants or on the spot researchers for me – i’ll even ask them to do this too if we come across a relevant issue in discussion.