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Are there unintended consequences to blogging?

It seems the target reader for ELT blogs like this one is on our minds lately (see Joanna Malefaki or Sandy Millin‘s posts). I have to admit that I’m a bit across the board on writing for a target reader depending on my topic at hand (ahh, the struggle with having your hand in several  honey pots, so to speak). Some questions do arise: Do we simply hurl our thoughts about classroom experiences, pedagogical principles, and language teaching debates into the vastness of the ELT social media sphere? Or do we tailor what we say to a particular reader? Generally, I’d like as many interested people read as possible and include their ideas, so I share posts on a number of social media sites with varying taglines or hashtags (e.g. #tleap, #cdnelt, #eltchat, #tdsig, etc.) across several days. But recently, I’ve begun considering what the implications are on perhaps my most unexpected reader: students themselves. 

As a little preamble to this post, I’d like to direct you to a post that Michael Griffin wrote about how a former student found his blog and questioned whether ideas from one post was actually something he’d done with them in class as it seemed to elicit some surprise. About this, he wondered whether we as ELT educator/bloggers consider this possibility and whether or not it would impact how and what we write about.  While I responded in a comment, I want to elaborate a little.

I didn’t start blogging with the thought that any student would bother to look me up (do any of us, except those whose blog serves for their classes?). However, as I’ve grown professionally, I’ve become more and more aware that I’m not hard to find if you just google me. Once anyone does so, this blog, my book, my social media profiles: they all come up quite easily. When this first occurred with a local teacher I was interviewing for a position here, I was impressed that she’d taken the time to learn more about me. But it’s a different story when a student is the one who notices you.

This first occurred a few years ago in a Facebook group that I set up for my students. We’d begun reading about a text that I’d assigned and asked them to find information online about concepts they’d read in the text, then post it to the Facebook group for other students to see. To my surprise, one found a blog post I’d written years before about this particular text and some commentary I’d made about the text concepts and how to use them in the class. They didn’t cite me and I’m not entirely certain they realised it was my blog at all, but it alerted me to the fact that what I write about and what I do in class cross paths and can be found by anyone.

Another time, a different student emailed me about a post I’d written about how I noticed learners use of Google Translate in assignments and how to turn this into a teachable activity. They told me that they’d found it funny how I’d used Google Translate to prove its ineffectiveness and that they’d wondered how well it worked since he’d used it a few times himself to translate English texts (note: he didn’t admit to using it to translate his own writing into English…).

More recently, when introducing myself to a new class on the first day, one student said they’d seen my book online and wondered if they should buy it or not (answer: it’s meant for teachers, not students, but hey, go for it if you’re curious). I asked them how they’d found it and they said that when they knew I’d be their instructor before the term started, they googled me to see what my background was, and found my book, my blog, and a few videos on Youtube of me talking about ‘some kind of activities’.

Only one time ever have I purposely directed my students to my blog. In that case, for lack of another online space (at the time) to have them vote in a poll about whose answers were the best according to a format we’d practised, I posted their writing to it (after asking for their permission to do so anonymously) so they could vote. Interestingly, doing so had some unintended consequences with other readers of the blog (who evidently did not realise that my blog was about ELT and initially tore into me and my students before later apologising–another point in anticipating who might be reading your blog: they may not actually understand the context from which you are writing).

In reflecting on just these occurrences, I’ve come to accept that absolutely anyone (PLN, people outside ELT that just happen to stumble upon it, and students) could be reading. It hasn’t made me go back and rewrite anything, take anything down, or particularly affect how I write now. I tend to lean on the side of this being part of who I am, flaws, scars, and all. I welcome those that find what I have to say interesting/useful/infuriating. As we as a profession move towards including our online spaces into our professional catalogues, I’ll be happy to link my blog to my university profile should that day come.

Back to the post that inspired this though, Griffin brings up some worthwhile questions surrounding these issues that you might consider yourself. I won’t answer them here as I did in a comment on his post:

  • Do you think about students potentially reading what you write?
  • Would your writing be different if you were sure students would never read it?
  • Have your students ever talked about your blog with you?
  • Have you ever heard of a teacher getting in hot water with a student based on what they wrote on a blog?
  • Do you have guidelines for yourself or from your institutions about what you can and should write about on blogs or elsewhere?
  • Does it bring credibility to you as their instructor? (My additional question)

Now, back to instagramming myself at the pool…


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[…] my post asking who my readers are, and posts by Michael Griffin and Tyson Seburn in which they discussed students reading their blogs, I thought I would continue my introspective […]

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