I had a meeting with Tina yesterday about a class e-portfolio for her First Year Seminar, “The Bible and Human Rights in Atlanta.” (See The First Week.) I tutored this class a few years ago, so I thought I’d just propose the blogging idea, she would be super excited, and that would be that. But Tina brought up some great points that I hadn’t even thought of.
First, she was concerned about privacy. Her FYS is (as you can imagine with that title) politically charged, and they’ll be discussing such hot button issues as the death penalty, homelessness, the prison industrial complex, gentrification, living wage, racism, classism, sexism, other -isms, and more. (I remember being overwhelmed and confused about these issues as a sophomore tutor; I can’t imagine how I would have responded to this content as a first-year!) As the professor and mediator of these discussions, Tina wants to prioritize students’ comfort in the classroom. If students are given a space online to hash out these issues outside of class, there may be the temptation to throw insults and offend one another instead of listening and dialoguing in a respectful, peaceful way. I suggested that each student use a code name instead of their real names. Tina and students also draft a Class Contract at the beginning of the semester that outlines what behavior is appropriate for discussion in and outside of class. Maybe this contract can be published on the blog so students and outside readers can reference it. Moderating comments is another possibility.
Another concern Tina has is the ethics of blogging. This class takes trips to different organizations around Atlanta and students meet a lot of people, including those who are homeless or fighting for a living wage. It will be important to stress that students respect other peoples’ privacy by not using real names, or giving their identities away in other ways.
There’s also concern about who will moderate/keep up the blog. Tina is really busy (along with the rest of the dedicated faculty at Agnes) and she doesn’t have time to moderate comments or post everyone’s work. I hope to speak with the class on the first day to see if anyone has ideas for distributing this responsibility.
And finally, will the blog be graded? Will students do it if it’s not? Will the blog format reduce the quality of writing because it’s more conversational? Maybe it can be a weekly participation grade and students can post their reflections after Tina’s graded the more formal hardcopies.
After the meeting I spoke with Emily, my supervisor. We both acknowledged needing a nap before we started talking, so the sleepiness may have contributed to our subsequent confusion. Emily pointed out that this idea of a class e-portfolio seems kind of like a mutation of the individual e-portfolios that the program has been promoting. We’re still questioning what the purpose of class e-portfolios would be, compared to students using class content to make individual e-portfolios.
My hunch is that even though it’s still confusing, class e-portfolios are worth a try. Working in a group is often more effective than working by oneself, so it may be easier for students to start their reflective writing alongside their peers. I also think that once we hash out the concerns that Tina brought up for her FYS, it will be a great class to showcase. Talk about “engaging the social challenges of our times”: what better way to see the development in a Scottie’s voice than to see her work through some of today’s most difficult controversies?
And who knows? If this class can communicate clearly, passionately, and respectfully about these problems, maybe their e-portfolio will become a model for productive dialogue, and plant the seeds for a more peaceful world.