Imagine a world where people don’t judge you based on your race, your gender, the way you look, or the clothes you wear. Instead, you’re judged based on the quality of your ideas and how well you’ve expressed them. That’s one of the potential benefits in having your students use an anonymous pseudonym when writing online.
Now imagine a world where people are lulled into a false sense of security because they are hiding behind a pseudonym and think they cannot be held accountable for the comments they make online. That’s one of the potential problems in having your students blog online without using their real name.
As more and more teachers start integrating technology into the classroom and begin playing with class websites and student blogs, the question comes up: should teachers have students use a pseudonym or their real name when posting content online?
Using a pseudonym to change the messenger is nothing new. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, used the pseudonym of PlannedChaos to try to clear up harmful misconceptions about himself. When the moderators on Metafilter forced his hand, Adams came out and then posted a response on his blog:
“…the messenger changes the message.. The messenger with a strong self-interest is automatically non-credible and should be. There are some types of information that can only be communicated by an unbiased messenger.”
SteveoM’s comments on Adam’s blog (April 20, 2011) sums it up quite nicely: “that’s both the beauty and danger of the Internet, anonymity.”
We publish our ideas online using both pseudonyms and our real name. (For example, Mr. Kuroneko is a pseudonym.) Over the past few years, we’ve also allowed students to publish their work online using their real name, a generic student ID, as well as pseudonyms of their own choosing.
Last week, we were helping teachers to set up their class websites and the question came up whether you’re allowed (or should) use your students’ real names as their student logins. Last month, a visitor to this site asked why we thought it was a good idea to have a pseudonym. As we gear up for a new school year of class blogging and online literature circles, now seems as good a time as any to think about the pros and cons of having your students publish their work online using their real names.
(Of course, you need to check with your school administration, your school board’s policies, your parental consent forms and media release forms which will all dictate whether student work can be published and how credit should be attributed to the student – for example, first name only, full name, etc.)
Having said that, here are some things to think about when having your students post content online.
- Using a generic student name allow students to be judged based on the merit of their ideas, as opposed to preconceived notions of who they are.
- The Internet has a long memory and students need to start thinking about internet safety and managing their own name identity online.
- Pseudonyms hide the student’s identity and may not allow students to feel as proud of their work as they could feel.
- Student pseudonyms can create a false sense of security.
- Should you allow your students to choose their own pseudonyms or should you assign generic student IDs as their pseudonyms?
Using a generic student name allow students to be judged based on the merit of their ideas, as opposed to preconceived notions of who they are.
Whether your class website is for your class (or your entire division or school) having students use a pseudonym allows your students to express themselves their ideas without being judged right away because of who they are.
How often have your students (or people in general) rejected an idea based on who they thought the speaker was. As teachers, how often have you seen students blindly accept the ideas of the “smart kid”? How often have you seen people unconsciously assume that students with special needs or students who don’t speak English very well don’t have ideas to contribute.
Publishing work online under a pseudonym and creating an online classroom community where students can log into comment and respond to each other can give students an opportunity to share ideas that they might not be able to get across in a regular classroom conversation. For example,
- We’ve seen boys talk excitedly about Twilight in our online book response website, even though that’s a book that they would rarely admit in class to reading.
- We know of students who were on IEPs and receive Spec Ed modifications who were really proud of their work online because they got the extra time they needed to polish their ideas.
- We’ve seen incredibly shy girls who never speak class, even when called upon, thrive in an online environment, sharing their ideas and discussing books they’ve read.
Of course, students do (eventually) figure out the display names of their classmates. But it does provide some level of protection because first impressions are not based on who the student is, but are instead based on what the student writes.
The Internet has a long memory and students need to start thinking about internet safety and managing their own name identity online.
- Things that students blog or post today may not be the kind of thing students want to pop-u later. Think job interview or scholarship background check.
- Students get cyber bullied. Linking a student’s name to “unpopular” or “uncool” ideas might simply add fuel for the bullies.
- Students need to become more conscious that school bullies, complete strangers and potential thieves can mine the Internet looking for personal information. If your students use their real names on your class website or student blog, could they become a victim? For example, did they just let the world know that they just received an expensive iPad for their birthday? Could someone infer that this student’s family is well off because they often go on expensive vacations? Could someone guess your e-mail (or future bank account) security question because you talk about your pet’s name?
Pseudonyms hide the student’s identity and may not allow students to feel as proud of their work as they could feel.
- If your students are publishing their work online using a fake name, then it’s hard for them to take credit for their work because their name isn’t on their work itself. (Sure, you wrote that great essay. Who is 84326?)
- Also, success is a great motivator, but it can be hard to celebrate the success of your students if you’re not giving credit where credit is due. You may recognize a great piece of writing in your classroom, but you may not want to “out” a student by telling people 84326 is really Mohammed. Or perhaps everyone in your class already knows that 84326 is Mohammed, but other people in the school may not know that, and so they might not be able to share in Mohammed’s success.
The problem with using student pseudonyms on your class website is that some of your students will falsely believe that they are safe to express their ideas because their name doesn’t appear beside the comments.
Sometimes students will try to hide behind pseudonyms to trash talk or bully. (Heck, sometimes students pretend to be other students or teachers to cause trouble online. Sometimes students are able to guess the security questions of your e-mail account and then reset your Facebook password associated with that e-mail account.)
As Russell Beattie posted on his blog, “the more guarantee of anonymity, the more subhuman people become,” and sometimes you get a lot of nasty anonymous comments online.
Generally speaking, as a teacher, you’re creating the student accounts on your class website and student blogs. So even though the rest of your students might not know who student 49832 is, you do, and that’s all that matters. If student 49832 writes something inappropriate, it’s easy enough to figure out who that person is and speak with them in the real world.
The real problem with students using a pseudonym on the class website is that students might think they’re safe to post ideas and comments that they might not feel safe to say in class. First impressions aside, with a little bit of detective work, students can figure out who you are – either critically reading the comments you write online, or just asking friends, do you know who 61324 is? So the comment that a student posts online “anonymously” about how they love Justin Bieber might quickly become classroom ridicule the next day.
On one hand, student pseudonyms might encourage your strong students to excel academically without fear of being bullied for being smart. On the other hand, eventually students are going to be able to figure out who you are.
Should you allow your students to choose their own pseudonyms or should you assign generic student IDs as their pseudonyms?
On a final note, if you’re thinking about letting your students choose their own display names, here are some things to think about:
- Students may choose inappropriate stage names that you might not realize are inappropriate because they’re written in texting slang. Maybe you know what BAMF, GFY, L@U, 420, 4Q, 53X mean and maybe you don’t. But do you really want to look up Internet acronyms to figure out if that JJ182 might be inappropriate? (182 = I Hate You.)
- Personal pseudonyms potentially gives strangers more information about your students. For example, shygirl, sk8boi, and Shanon12 might imply that your students are 1] a shy girl, 2] into skateboarding, and 3] potentially 12 years old.
- The pseudonym that your students choose to use on your class blog might also be their MSN, Facebook, and e-mail username as well. This might accidentally gives strangers a way to contact your students as well.
When your students work online, do you allow them to use their real names or do you have them post their work using a pseudonym?
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