Errors in Blogging

Recently, I shared a post written by a student in my Politics of Reading class on Facebook.  Someone noticed that the post contained a factual error and left me a comment. The author of the comment said to me:

I posted a gentle but critical response [to the author of the post] because I think that kind of dialogue is the best way to learn – it’s authentic. But what if there were no corrective response to this post? Would the student persist in her/his error? And is it important that every post be “correct” … or more important that student opinions are developed, cultivated, and formalized?

These are great questions and ones I didn’t think I could take on as well as I wanted to in a FB post. So I brought it over here to discuss.

Errors & General Confusion

As we learn new things, and grapple with new ideas, it is reasonable that sometimes things may get a mixed up for anyone. I think all students want their posts to be correct but, like any other course assignment, it’s not going to happen 100% of the time. It is also reasonable that as an instructor I don’t always communicate ideas as well as I thought I did and contributed to the confusion. Some of these errors and confusions can certainly surface in a blog post. If you find them, they can be addressed any number of ways; (a) by a response from an outside reader or another student in the class  (b) by a direct response from me (though leaving a comment, email, etc..), or (c) through class discussions.

confusedThe idea is, that as the instructors, we are reading the posts and using what we find in them to inform what happens in class. So if I see a lot of confusion or questions around a given area, I can then feed that back into what I am planning to do the next time class meets.

These are the ideal ways this all gets played out.

However, I also believe that not matter how careful and thorough you are as an instructor you will not catch every error – not possible. However, if students didn’t blog, these errors would probably still exist. I just provided a venue for them in which they were made public and easier to spot. As an instructor, posts provide you with a way to make students thinking more visible on a regular basis.

You could see posts with errors as a flaw in the assignment, but I do not. You could argue that because the posts are public they need to be 100% accurate – but again, I’m going to disagree here.

This is a class blog, and it’s stated as such in our About section. So I think it’s a given that mistakes will be made as mistakes are a part of learning. I want them to use the space to sort our their thoughts on the course. Yes, ideally I want the information to be factually correct but because they are learning I am ok with it not always being correct and I expect that to be the case now and then.

But what if there were no corrective response to this post? Would the student persist in her/his error?

It could be the case that there was no corrective response to this post. Like I said, it’s difficult to catch everything that needs to be addressed. If there was no corrective response then it is possible that the student could persist with the error. We have to entertain that. Of course it is possible that something could happen in or out of class that helps the student self-correct even if I didn’t explicitly intend for such a thing to happen. But I think the point here is what if the error in the post doesn’t get noticed by anyone ever. Then what? And what does that mean for such an assignment?

Honestly, I’m not losing sleep over it, and I don’t think it detracts from the assignment. Why?

1. Errors or confusion in thinking happen. Period. That is a normal part of learning and making sense of new information. If I did not require students to blog then errors and confusion would still exist, but I would be less likely to know about them. Blogging provides a space to make thinking more visible and in probably make things more visible than if I did a class with papers and a final exam.

2. We have to be OK with the idea that we cannot correct every error/confusion. We have to be OK knowing that students will leave our classes with some errors/confusion in their heads. This is reality. If students continue to stick with the subject after our course, I think these things will sort themselves out over time. If they don’t stick with it, they are going to forget a lot of what they learned anyways – or it will start to become more vague – and the errors/confusions they did have will probably be forgotten. I’m not going to sit here and say that it’s my goal for all students to have 100% mastery of all factual material discussed. That’s ridiculous and impossible. What I am going to say is that I want my students to explore ideas and concepts. I’m ok with errors, and I accept they cannot all be identified and fixed.

3. You know what really matters here? A good community for the blog to be situated in. I’ve had students blog for other courses wherecommunity they were nested within a well developed and supportive community. In those cases, my students got a ton of comments and feedback from a range of people on a regular basis – to the extent that I sometimes didn’t even need to comment myself! The more interactive the blog the more likely it is that students will get help with their thinking. When I say interactive I mean the larger the audience reading and responding to it. If we are blogging in a bubble this diminishes the concept and power that blogging can have.

And is it important that every post be “correct” … or more important that student opinions are developed, cultivated, and formalized?

This is a great question. On the one hand, we want posts to be correct because (at least in the case of my class) the posts are public. It’s not good to circulate incorrect information. If you are reading a post that has incorrect information, but you do not know enough to realize it, then you might take that information to be truth.

Hmmm….definitely not good.

This makes me think that I should go back to the About section and put in a clause that the blog is written by students who are learning new ideas. As such, sometimes things might get posted that are not always correct. We will try to correct when we catch it, but things may fall through the cracks. If something seems off it might be off! Feel free to call us on it or fact check us and help us improve.

I do think the blog provides a space for students to cultivate their ideas, and I do think this is important. If the blog were private to just the class, having incorrect information would be not as big of a deal to me than when it is 100% public. I think it’s the idea that an endless amount of people could read incorrect information that has me a bit queasy. 🙂

So in the end, I have to say that, yes, it is important for posts to be correct, but because it is written by students who are learning a ton of information we have to expect that there will be mistakes. I can’t catch them all by myself and so having an audience that can help with this is great. I just need to make our audience more aware that mistakes can and will happen.

At the end of the day, blogging allows us to keep talking to each other after class has ended for the week. It provides me with a look into my students’ thoughts, how they are processing ideas, and what they see as important to write about. By having a public blog they are able to connect their work with a much larger community and make, I hope, a contribution to the larger discussion.