Public homework and online student participation seems to be a necessity in today’s online learning environment as well as the physical classroom, but academic honesty, student safety, and online social behavior all need to be considered when using the public forum of the Internet. But one can get too caught up in protecting students. Teachers will hide students behind layers of passwords and privacy settings, but this takes away the authenticity of online public homework and student participation. It takes away the real audience. It prevents students from making real connections to their peers and the rest of the world. Most of all it can take away the purpose of having public homework and online student participation. If we want students to be ready for the real world then we must assign them real world assignments, homework, and let them participate online authentically. If teachers hide their students behind layers of passwords and privacy settings students might as well be turning in hard copies that only the teacher reads and grades. If one of the goals is to help students develop healthy online behavior and practices than all the passwords and privacy settings are not a hindrance.
Of course students cannot just have free reign some precautions are still necessary. Students need to feel safe and teachers need to provide a safe learning environment. This means students do not use full names or have nicknames they use online when posting work and comments. This of course is more important and pertinent in K-12 than higher education. Teachers also need to remember after a school year or a course that the students work needs to be removed or made inaccessible to prevent students from flirting with the academic honesty line and to protect students’ digital footprint and online presence. Students do not need an online paper trail so to speak. There is probably more hype surrounding K-12 education than higher education about public homework and students participating online. Getting permission is essential both from students and parents as well as your administration. When this is done and students’ safety is communicated effectively there usually is no problem.
Guidelines for online behavior are also important to consider when student are participating in an online learning environment. Students need to be aware of their online presence and how it can impact their life. In a sense students need to learn how to separate their personal online social life from their academic online presence. Teachers need to give students a place to practice their professionalism in the online environment. Students need to develop healthy and safe digital footprints and what better place than in education where professionals can guide students. Even in this relatively safe environment students can still make mistakes that can be deleted, but not forgotten. Blogs can easily be removed and deleted, but if a student posts an inappropriate picture, video, or comment deleting it will not undue the damage and students need to understand that even if something is deleted it still impacts their digital footprint and online presence.
I think the pros outweigh the cons, but caution is always advised. Teachers need to protect themselves and their students. If there is ever any doubt or question about using the public forum of the Internet I would suggest following your instincts. Public homework and online student participation of course should only be done when it is appropriate, meaning it has value for students’ learning needs and fits the learning situation. There will always be a risk when having students participate and do work online, especially in K-12. Do not be afraid to use this tool to create authentic learning experiences. Hiding behind privacy settings and layers of passwords can be necessary, but do not let students’ safety be an excuse for not guiding students to being better online participants.