Teens speak: Should students publish their school work online?

by Kerry Gallagher

kerryAn educator chooses her content specialty because she is passionate about it and see its relevance in everything she does. This is not always true for the students who sit in classrooms.

In an effort to help students’ work truly matter, education experts have advocated for Project Based Learning and online sharing of student work. Alan November, a former teacher and education technology leader, has been quoted many times stating, “Teachers need to stop saying ‘Hand it in,’ and start saying ‘Publish it’ instead.” The theory behind this is students will put more effort and creativity into their work if they know that they have an audience beyond the walls of the classroom or school.

But what if students don’t want their work published? Students in my classes have been using blogs to submit their work for years, but not all of them choose to publish. I asked some of them to explain the reasons for their choices.

Keeping work private

Reason 1: Protecting work from being copied

In today’s day and age, almost any piece of information is available to anyone around the world with just a few clicks of a mouse or tap of a button. While this is great in most cases for purposes of collaboration and learning from others, the fact of the matter is some people are willing to take the risk or are tempted to copy someone else’s work. I am in no way suggesting that I think someone in my class, grade, or school would have the intention of plagiarizing my work or someone else’s, but I take a lot of pride in the work that I produce. I take comfort in knowing that because I made my blog private, my unique thoughts, ideas, and word choice will remain solely mine.

Reason 2: Online personal privacy

To me, it is a little uncomfortable to think that a stranger from across the country or around the world could have access to my name, age, grade, and where I live simply from viewing my blog. Similar to social media, I like to have my blog’s privacy settings on because I like having the peace of mind knowing that only the people I allow can have access to my information. This simple step saves me from worrying if a stranger would try to do something potentially harmful or manipulative over the Internet.

Publishing for the world to see

Reason 1: Hard work is worth sharing

Whether a blog is educational or not, it can have a huge impact on the author. My blog is about my honors history class and the things I learn from it. When my teacher, Mrs. Gallagher, told me that my posts were particularly good, I was honored but shocked at first. I never considered myself a good writer, but drafting blog posts almost every week this year made me a more comfortable writer. I decided to not make my blog private because I wanted to share all my hard work. It takes me around an hour to write a blog post, and I think it is good to publish worthwhile work to the public.

Reason 2: Building confidence & gaining recognition

Another benefit of a public blog is sharing it with other educators in person. I attended a student showcase recently with Mrs. Gallagher and three of my classmates, and it was exciting to share my work with other ed tech teachers. Since my blog is public Mrs. Gallagher can share my work on Twitter, and other educators can see it. I have built a level of confidence that I think a lot of students deserve. When students in Mrs. Gallagher’s history classes publish work they are proud of, they are actually recognized for it rather than just getting a grade.

Both students have well-articulated reasons for making the choice to remain private or to publish their work. Neither is the right answer, nor the wrong answer. The key is that they made the choice once they were informed of the risks and benefits of both. Parents, teachers, administrators, and policy makers should remember to include the student perspective in the privacy discussion as revisions are made to existing regulations and new ones are drafted.

As one of my students said so well, “I know the decision of making a blog public or private differs for each student, and no matter what each person decides, each individual’s decision is valid and deserves to be respected.”

Kerry is a middle school and high school social studies teacher in Massachusetts. Students in Kerry’s classes experience a paperless learning process that allows them to collaborate, create, and publish their ideas. Read her blog here and her full bio here