How Far’s Too Far: Blog Boundaries

Just when I think the semester is about wrapped up and I can catch up on some reading and writing, reflect a bit about this year’s explorations of multimedia, including podcasting and digital storytelling, along come my students with more surprises.

Surprises that bring to mind a couple of recent posts by Jill Walker (and the many others commenting on her blog) where she discusses students using pseudonyms in their academic blogging, and taking risks in blogging. She writes:

That’s why I’ve recommended to my blogging students this semester that they use pseudonyms unless they’re quite comfortable about claiming their identity online. Many of them do. As they become more secure in the environment, and especially once they understand, really understand, that anyone can read it now and in the future, then real names are just fine and a good part of establishing a durable online identity that you’d be happy for anyone to see.

Little did I know that my own students’ in their first post-semester creative-writing-blog posting would find themselves playing around with both boundaries, commenting under just-for-the-occasion pseudonyms on a blank posting, comments that crossed into some pretty offensive sexually explicit trash. They knew enough to adopt pseudonyms (except for the post’s originator) for their off-color commentary, thereby protecting themselves, but also thereby releasing themselves from a certain level of accountability. Almost all of my students post under their names, taking public pleasure in and responsibility for their work and their responses.

This weekend, they were messing around at one of their “writing parties” and, well, things got a little out of hand, shall we say. When I checked the blog Sunday morning, I saw the damage and decided to pull the post (we’re on MT, so I switched it to DRAFT mode), knowing the “culprits” would sooner or later show up at my office to talk about it.

And sure enough, yesterday the main culprit (or should I say, the one whose name appear at the end of the original empty post) made an appearance. The posts and comments here and here, left by class members since he and I spoke, reveal a lot about the murky territory of the after-the-course-is-done blogging identity, about adopting pseudonyms after the fact, and crossing lines on a collaborative blog that resides within an institution and came out of an academic setting. They were exerting some kind of freedom, but then, when I called them on it, they realized that as long as the blog is still associated with a college and a course and a professor, even if it’s now summer and they have shifted into a different relationship with their writing, they cannot forget the blog’s origins and the full impact of what they write.

Gena writes:

And so here we have it folks, a community.
One that exists here with our words and in the classroom with our voices (and sometimes with podcasts, both!).
A community that now also exists outside both of those forums.
And I think that is where it has all become a little more difficult.
Maybe we are eager to have our bigger (and sometimes baser…) sense of community come back and act on the forums that got us there.
Maybe we are a little thoughtless in realizing that we need to preserve those very stepping stones, so that we can always come back, always grow, always eat of the fruit it gives us, ripe with nutrients, especially when the bigger community malnurishes us, leaves us without a coat, forgets to say hi……..

Merrick writes:

Unfortunately, it has taken me three times to realize that the blog exists solely to showcase our writings, to elevate our craft, and to cultivate our love-affair with language and story-telling. Think of it as a really nice, shiny and sparkly car. Perhaps a pretty pony, or unicorn even. Whichever you prefer, although the car or the unicorn is ‘ours,’ we would never want mash it into a brick wall, or in the unicorn’s case, ram its majestic horn through a tree, right? Right? The blog is a bit temperamental, and it likes to be treated nicely. How ironic that I dirtied it directly above BG’s post in which she thanks us “for making [her] job about as good as it could ever get.”

What fabulous moments of insight and learning about what it means to be in a community, and to have to decide whether to conform to some of that community’s more exacting standards. The reality is that blogs coming out of courses will never be completely free; there are limits, there are boundaries. I have a reputation for being open to differents kinds of explorations into form and genre, into the boundaries between things–but in a wild moment they thought that absolutely anything could go on our blog. I didn’t like pulling the post–it was a moment when I pulled rank and became the unmistakable authority instead of mentor and guide, when I said through my actions, well guys, really, when it comes down to it, the blog is ultimately my responsibility and if I don’t like what’s on it, I can pull the plug.

And this brings me to a January discussion over Newtwork(ed) Rhetoric blog about “Blogging with Students”. Tyra writes:

i want them to have their world without me in it. the fact that it’s in many ways an almost entirely textual (with bright pictures) world makes that more important to me as a writing teacher rather than less–i want to interact with them in ways that encourage/foster writing, sure. but (and maybe this is because all of my teacher-training was focused on the teaching of adolescents) i can’t help feel that one of the most encouraging things i can do with regards to their writing is to leave them a space where they’re alone–or at least alone-with an audience of their choosing & defining–alone away from me–to do it in.

Madeline responds:

Using technology to better immerse students in their studies, I think, brings us back to that model where teachers and students literally lived as neighbors, shared meals (ok, now I’m waxing, uh, fictitious, probably), you get the pic. Where students learned by living through things, not by simply getting by, going to class, the library, writing some stuff, and getting the grade.

And that’s what my students, for the moment, anyhow, thought they were doing–moving from a collaborative college space, to a collaborative friends space. They were blurring the lines between what you could do in a class and what you couldn’t. And I was expecting them to know the difference, I see. We’ll see what this moment does to the summer blogging experience–if they will need to spin off onto their own, private, blogs.

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4 Responses

  1. Isn’t this just what we find if we are to look at Leviathan, or perhaps any early ethical writers? The idea of the self-regulating community?

    This connects, surely, to the idea, that liberty exists oly within boundaries – than a society with no rules is, in effect, more regulated than one without. Think of Rawls and his idea of what happens behind the veil of innocence. We want rules – even when we forget that we do.

  2. Ungainly Adolescence of Blogs, Con’t

    We got up early and went for a canoe ride this morning down the canal that runs parallel to the Delaware across the street from our house.

  3. Indeed. It is so very interesting to see these fundamental human urges playing out on a class blog. And how the first thing the students did on the blog once the course was over was to test the boundaries, ask what and where they were, and to back off filled with remorse once they had crossed a line none of us had announced but everyone recognized once it was crossed. Now we’ll see whether they come back and blog on —

  4. How Far's Too Far: Blog Boundaries

    How Far's Too Far…

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