Note: this was first published for Michaela’s personal blog on August 21. 2007.
One of the first projects I’ve been working on at my new job is setting up a blog for our fall study abroad programs. We have 79 specialized programs scattered across the world and each student has a vastly different immersion experience. I thought it might be fun to follow 10 of our students through a blog, as they undergo a semester of transformation.
Beyond the usual decisions of what blog software to use and whether to host 10 separate blogs or 1 blog with 10 voices, and how to handle photographs, it’s been hard to ignore the controversy out in the academic world: whether or not it’s appropriate to feature student bloggers on an organization’s website. Students tend to be extremely insightful at times, while at other times, extremely inappropriate. My research of other study abroad students (on programs unassociated with ours) uncovered provocative YouTube videos, inappropriate photographs and captions on Flickr/Webshots, and independent student blogs that blasted their study abroad programs and overseas experience. Granted there is lots of *great* stuff out there too, and hopefully as with most things on the web - the good will rise to the top, and the moaning/complaints/inappropriate discussions will sink to the bottom.
The other discussions I’ve been involved in with folks revolve around directing the types of content we want from our students (both on our official blog and if students choose to blog independently) and/or censoring negative content - all things which are hard to do on something as “leaky” as the web. I also struggle with any idea of censorship because of the free speech/freedom of press implications, etc. I believe the web should evolve organically, though the unpredictability of student behavior - college students for that matter - makes this issue a tough one. Kids have gossiped for hundreds of years - the internet has just evolved as another medium for this type of behavior. Anyone who has spent anytime on Facebook or MySpace knows this. Also, beyond our blog, what if students are writing inappropriate content on personal blogs - are we allowed to tell them to stop? I’ve tried to explain that what we don’t “allow” our students to do, it will still likely surface somewhere else if the student is determined enough. But regardless, you throw in free speech and ideas about civil society (which we try to teach in our programs) and you’ve only added fuel to the fire while not practicing what you’re preaching. It’s hard for folks to understand this, but hopefully in time it will be more clear and some best practices will emerge.
It’s definitely going to be an interesting learning experience, not only for our organization and myself, but for our students as well.The blog is located here, though not populated yet (our student bloggers will be identified in the next week!).
In the process of setting it up in Typepad, I’ve found a few scripts that add some multimedia and interactivity to the blog in a simple (and free), yet useful way. My two favorites so far are:
A Zee Map that features the locations of each of our study abroad bloggers.