Pen Pals in the Digital Age

Jun 22, 2005 by

This is something I had previously blogged about on another site I write for, but the concept was brought up today during a session on blogs.

During a recent conversation with my Tech Director about the use of student e-mail, a thought struck me. If we’ve been teaching students the fine art of letter writing for the past 2 centuries to communicate with others over long distances, what’s stopping us from using the Internet to communicate in the same manner within our classrooms? I realize that many school districts have concerns over letting students use e-mail and until they come around, blogs are a great way to have Pen Pals in the 21st century!

Imagine sharing experiences, stories, and more with a class in another city, state, or country. Questions for students in foreign countries could be answered overnight, and information shared almost in real time. No worries about pictures being bent or letters being lost in the mail. And to top it all off; educators modeling appropriate use of communication tools, expanding students’ concepts of the world, and having an authentic reason to study far away places instead of just reading about them in the book. Talk with another teacher you know that teaches in another locale (or find one to converse with on the forum) and then do a search in the archive for online blog tools or just click on the blog category in the sidebar and you’ll find a list of free, easy to use, blogging tools and you can set up a blog for this Fall.

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2 Comments

  1. Shawn Knaack

    I love the idea of Blogs and creating discussion threads but as a middle school teacher they scare me a bit. I am a little worried about what 8th graders will post. As I am new to this I would love to know how you handle this. It was suggested to me that we start a summer reading discussion board to our website so I would love to know more. I would appreciate any input you can give.

    I know a couple of people who have used E-Pals. I haven’t used it myself so I can’t make a recommendation but it looks pretty interesting. I am thinking of using the book club for the summer web-page.

    http://www.epals.com/

  2. Ben

    Good question 🙂

    The thought of having 8th graders run amok and flood the blog with obscenities and other garbage is something wroth considering. Fortunately, many blogging tools incorporate filters and moderation controls. In other words, when individuals post to the blog a notification would be sent to your e-mail (like yours was the other day) for the owner of the blog to look over the comments and either approve or disallow them to appear on the site.

    You can gain even further control by giving every student a user account on the blog, and then lock the blog so only users may post (weeds out the random spammers and web surfers). That way if a student still logs in and posts some questionable content you’ll know exactly who it is and can address him or her in an appropriate manner.

    When it comes down to it, I think these tools NEED to be used in schools. It was once said to me that students can learn skills like e-mailing and online communications at home. While that is true, at home they often lack the supervision, role modeling, and sense of ethics and purpose that a teacher can provide while using these tools in the classroom.

    P.S. That E-Pals is an awesome site. I didn’t even realize it existed when I was thinking about digital pen pals. I’ll have to include that link in the archives when I get it up and running.

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