[This is part of a draft of the chapter I’m writing for the International Handbook of Virtual Learning Environments, forthcoming from Springer. It follows:
Part 1: Collaborative Web Publishing as a Technology and a Practice
Part 2: Weblogs as “Replacement” Educational Technology
Part 3: The Open Classroom
Part 4: Trips Without the Field
Part 5: New apprenticeship]
The weblog extends education beyond the school in time as well as in space. Already, many have begun to talk of a record that is self-managed, and records important (and unimportant) segments of one’s life over decades. One effort toward this end is the Minnesota eFolio project, “a multimedia electronic portfolio designed to help you create a living showcase of your education, career and personal achievements.” E-portfolios are available to all Minnesotans, student or not. This raises interesting questions, from a technical perspective, but also provides an exciting connection between education, career, and community. With a similar goal in mind, the University at Buffalo’s School of Informatics, when creating a weblog system for their graduate program, decided that students should be allowed to keep their weblogs indefinitely. The hope was that this would establish an electronic network that connected alumni to current students, to the benefit of both groups. Already, some graduates have taken on a mentoring role, helping new students to follow in their footsteps.
As with the removal of the classroom walls, the record without end comes with a potential price. There is the potential for ideas recorded as a student to then return to haunt the graduate. Recently, a former graduate student in the informatics program requested that his blog be removed in its entirety. As a student, he had written about what he saw as deceptive practices of a particular marketing firm. He had recently been hired by a company that counted the marketing firm among its clients, and they asked that he remove the site. There is sometimes a virtue in forgetting. While a weblog makes plain growth and learning, it often presents a balanced picture of the individual. Later, when a more favorable image is desired, mistakes — especially those taken out of context — can be ripped from the past and brought to the present.
This difficulty can be mitigated entirely by pseudonymous publishing, as noted above. And students should always have the ability to edit and remove their own work. However, the best way to avoid the problems of a public record is to place student bloggers in the shoes not only of their audience, but of their future audience. Would you publish something that you did not want to see a decade or a century in the future? Naturally, we cannot always predict what our future selves will be proud or ashamed of, but by blogging for an audience that may include their future selves, the author once again places his or her learning within a very broad context.