Most of my experiences with online open education have been as a student, both in my undergrad and while taking my masters. Most of these online interactions were done in closed forum situations. I did also have a project or two in high school where we needed to comment in a forum, but the forum was closed to everyone but members of our class.
My first real experience with connecting with other people online in an educational setting was with Alec and Katia’s classes. This is my third class with them and I can definitely see a difference between attempts that were made in the past by other instructors and what we do in this class.
The openness of our communication in this class lets you establish a presence online, as well as develop a community of like-minded people. Also, it allows your ideas and thoughts to be communicated to people who don’t necessarily have the same ideas and thoughts, allowing for growth and discussion. An online presence is important and can help in a variety of ways, especially in the future. Like Keilyn said, connectedness and an online presence can have professional benefits, especially in classroom settings.
The fact that I am writing and publishing this post into the “great wide world” means that my thoughts and ideas are available for many others to read. And while they are available, there is no guarantee that they will be read by more than a few people in our class.
This leads us to authenticity. Could it be argued that, since I am writing with a large audience in mind (if not in reality), my posts and communications are more authentic than in a closed forum? Or, am I writing with that intended audience in mind and therefore being more neutral and crowd pleasing? Is there a way to decide whether this is true or not?
We know that our writing changes based on who we are intending our audience to be. A message I send my mom might look very different than one I send my sister. For other people, the messages to family might look very similar, but a professional inquiry from a work email looks very different. It’s something that we teach to students in elementary schools and reinforce often, all the way along their education journey. With a quick Google search, you can find multiple websites and “how-to’s” teaching writing for difference audiences.
With that established, let’s go back to the question: does knowing your audience and how to write for them make your writing more authentic or less authentic? This is a question that, I’m sure I am supposed to answer (based on this week’s blog prompt) but honestly, it’s something that I need to sit and think about. The fact that I have a professional blog and a different blog for my classroom means that I have a different audience and a different voice for each blog. Does that mean both of these blogs are authentic communication? Even though they are so different? Does the fact that I allow open comments on this blog but prefer parents to email any questions to me privately also add/lessen any authenticity in communication?
As I mentioned, I use a classroom blog to inform parents of what is happening in our kindergarten classroom. I also use SeeSaw to communicate with parents, as Angela said, it’s a great tool, although I do feel like I can use it better in my classroom. I am the one who curates what goes onto SeeSaw, posting pictures and videos of my students in the process of learning, playing and discovering. Parents are connected and can see what is posted and interact through likes and comments. I do occasionally share bits and pieces of my classroom on Twitter.
Other than that, as a teacher, I have not opened my courses to the world. And, if I’m being honest, the blog and SeeSaw are still quite closed, since only parents (and maybe some grandparents) use the platforms. Although I am aware of other early years educators opening their classroom up to the wider world (Kathy Cassidy is an example that quickly comes to mind) I don’t know how much I want to have the five-year-olds in my classroom shown to the wider world of the internet. (I first wrote “my five-year-olds” in that last sentence, which probably more clearly illustrates how I feel.)
Every year I have to send home a permission slip for media that the kids are allowed to be a part of. I always get them all back – probably because I hound parents until they return the form. Each year I have probably 95% of parents give full permission – pictures online, pictures on SeeSaw, pictures on Twitter, allowed to be videoed for the news. But that 5% that don’t give permission is always present. They usually have excellent reasons but that child, if present in a photo, needs a “smiley face” over their face – or not to be posted at all. And that 5% still exists after I explain that my blog is set to private and doesn’t show up on Google searches (but then, I do have links to it in other areas…) or after I explain that SeeSaw is just a communication between myself and the parent, they might still have concerns about where the information is kept (SeeSaw’s host site is Amazon Web Servers, who store their information on servers in the US, which is why we need separate permission forms for SeeSaw).
I think it’s really true that my grade level affects how open I am in my teaching. Even with parental permission, I try my best to safeguard my students from everyone online. When I learn about a new site to try or a new platform, sometimes I question it because of the knowledge level needed for students to use it, other times for it’s privacy.
This is where other people have said, that digital citizenship is a teachable moment – and I completely agree! I teach digital citizenship to my five-year-olds – but! they are still five years old! Yesterday I taught them about staying out of puddles and today I had a completely soaking wet child who needed a full change of clothes.
It’s a time-consuming process and, maybe, the full “What Your Students Really Need to Know About Digital Citizenship” is not realistic for five-year-olds. The concept can definitely be introduced and started in kindergarten, but honestly, I don’t know if any of my 35 students really understand the whole concept. That’s why I agree with Jenn when she said that, as kids get older, there can be less teacher moderation or filtering.
So, here’s my question: am I limiting my students and downplaying how much they understand? Should we have a wider audience at this young age? Is this something that a five-year-old, who comes for a half day in my French Immersion kindergarten classroom needs to fully understand before opening them up to the wider world? Or am I filtering for a young age something that takes time for them to fully understand and am modeling how to go about sharing in the open safely?