Having been resident in the blogosphere forlonger than six months, am I qualified to teach blogging in schools?
The reason I ask is that there are plans afoot to incorporate blogging into the school syllabus: although greater attention will be paid to the basics, the Government is making one of those attempts that governments make to render the curriculum more 'relevant' to students. I cringe at use of the R word, as a general rule.
But firstly, let me consider the advantages: anything that enhances young people's communication skills is a good thing, and computer-mediated communication (CMC) is now a big part of people's lives. It goes without saying that there are major differences between CMC and face-to-face (F2F) conversations, and any course that has students look at how we communicate with each other can't ignore the CMC aspect. It's a good subject for analysis.
And indeed, there are practical aspects: posting on your blog/Facebook status/Bebo page/MySpace account that you got pissed last night and supplying photographic evidence is not going to present you in a positive light and should be avoided. Now, this should be obvious but to many, it isn't. Nevertheless, this needn't necessarily be part of the English Language curriculum; personal development should be where this goes. And there's scope for developing students' web skills - in the IT curriculum, not English.
Nevertheless, I am uncomfortable with this. Firstly, it sounds more like a 'name-checking' exercise than anything: by referring to blogs, podcasts, social networking and so on, the curriculum looks 'relevant', but will it actually affect the daily life of students one iota? I'm not convinced.
More importantly, I'm not sure that blogging can or should be taught. I don't like the idea of teachers explaining to pupils how to maintain a blog and produce a post. The technical aspect can be touched on in IT, and the actual development of a coherent writing style is clearly essential, but a blog?
This is in danger of turning blogging into an exercise: students will blog and post because they have to produce evidence that they have done so, producing regular pieces on cue. Now, that is one school of thought about bloggery: that you should post every day to give your readers something new and maintain traffic.
However, that is not a school of thought that I subscribe to: I am in the 'blog when it's useful' category, in that I post when something motivates me to do so. I work to inspiration and events rather than a set timescale. In a way, my approach to F2F has spilled over into my approach to CMC: I speak (and blog) because I have something to say, not because I have to say something. What worries me is that placing bloggery on the curriculum will force people onto that path, the one I don't take.
If bloggery is a task, or a chore, or an exercise, it will fail: the best posts are the off the cuff ones, when you have the energy and the motivation. The worst ones are the ones you feel you have to make. All this move will do is produce a lot of perfunctory blogs, so this is something best left extra-curricular and informal: the school could set up a 'bloggery club' under the guise of an IT or English teacher who had the time and inclination to offer practical support to students who want to set up a blog, and produce posts.
And indeed, the school curriculum is set, and structured. The Internet is not, and self-regulation is the order of the day. Of course, when anyone proposed even the slightest amount of regulation, the collective hackles of bloggers are raised. So to have formal lessons in bloggery is to go against the very grain of this, the least formal of the media.
So to wrap up, how would I solve matters? Firstly, I'd put the practical side of things in IT; and a lesson in the personal implications of having a website (privacy issues, online safety, what you want people to see and so on) into a personal development course. What would I teach?
Simple. More F2F. Take the row brewing in England over possible changes to oral exams in modern languages, on the grounds that it's too daunting. By the same logic, any interview for anything is too stressful and should be consigned to history, but in my view, it's an important part of assessment, and a good skill to develop - the ability to talk under pressure (just as other exams teach you to write under pressure), and get a chance to display precisely how good you are. That sort of communication absolutely has to be practised if we're to have students who can deal with it.
And with the need to make presentations, and address groups, let's get more public speaking on the curriculum. A generation of people who learn specifically how to blog when they should already know how, in that they've been taught how to type and how to string a sentence together is a bit rubbish, frankly. A generation of young people who can speak clearly and confidently in public, make eye contact with the people they're talking to, and present an articulate, coherent case for, well, anything they want, is something different. The individual elements are rarely taught, so there's a chance (and a need) to put them all together. That's far more meaningful and useful than making students set up and run class3b.blogspot.com.
Anyone who wants to investigate this possibility could do worse than talk to the English Speaking Union Scotland. When I was at Uni, I got involved with various ESU projects, primarily the ESU North Lanarkshire Speaks! initiative, which involved going into secondary schools in North Lanarkshire, and giving pupils a one-day crash course in debating. The results in one day were amazing: kids who, in the main, were shy, and generally unwilling to pipe up at the start - with the odd gobby exception, as is always the case - were, by the end of the day, producing confident, coherent arguments on various subjects. The transformation was stunning: they'd engage with the subject matter, and as the day went on, got more and more into it. So when they actually got to speak in front of their mates, they were ready for it, and they enjoyed it. They had a blast, and learned something useful, and personally, I was so thrilled to see them so excited and enthused that I would spend the next day looking at teaching as a possible career.
That's the sort of thing that should be on the curriculum. But bloggery? No. If this is an exercise, it won't get the students interested. The formal structure inherent in teaching doesn't lend itself to bloggery anyway, and all of the individual skills needed to maintain a good blog should be found in different elements of the curriculum anyway, so it should be up to the kids' own interest and initiative to put them together. Especially when there are other communication skills that definitely need class time.
So while the Government no doubt means well, its heart is in the wrong place here. I hope it reconsiders.