Sunday, January 22, 2006

Pseudo-pseudonymanonymity and academic etiquette

One of the big debates I had with myself when starting this blog was whether to be anonymous or not. On the one hand, I don't really want to feel like a future potential employer is looking over my shoulder every time I post something. On the other, I'm not planning to write anything I'd be ashamed to own, and the hard work involved in successful identity concealment really doesn't appeal to someone suffering from my degree of lazy-arse syndrome.

In the end I decided to go with what I think of as pseudo-anonymity (catchy, huh?). My main concern is that potential employers can't google my name and come up with this blog. So I'm going to avoid posting my name, the name of my university, or the name of this city. I am not at all concerned, however, with whether readers of this blog (if I have any) are able to find out my name, university or city. For one thing, successfully hiding them would mean not blogging about linguistics, anything to do with the climate, layout or well-known features of this town, or things like my marital status, interests, etc. For another thing, the worst that could happen is that someone reading this might "out" me to people at uni. And right now all the people I work with are cool enough that they wouldn't give a rat's arse. Even if I use phrases like "rat's arse". (Regularly.)

So while I'm not going out of my way to tell all my friends and family about this blog, I don't much care if they find it.

Which brings me to etiquette.

Having deliberately taken this "I don't care if they find me" stance, I can't assume that people I write about won't read this blog. If they know me well enough to recognise who I am when reading my posts, they will probably recognise themselves too. So I'm not planning on blogging anything nasty about my friends and close acquaintances. Unless they really piss me off, of course. I reserve that right.

But what about students and colleagues I don't know well? Colleagues don't concern me so much. First up, all the people I work with right now are pretty laid back. ScaryLecturer might be a little slacked off if he found I'd been blogging about his rude behaviour (here, here and here), but then again, it might be a good wake-up call to him, and he's not exactly so centrally involved in my field that it would damage my career even if I did alienate him completely. What concerns me more -- perhaps because of the potential for abuse of power and betrayal of trust -- are the issues involved in blogging about students.

Some acadabloggers seem happy to post dumb or irritating things their students have said or done. I feel a little uncomfortable about that. But then on the other hand, if we weren't intended to blog about them, God wouldn't have given us students that are so damn funny. And it's not high-minded moral scruples making me think I shouldn't post about students, because nothing has stopped me in the past from making them the subject of a good laugh down at the pub or sending out exam bloopers to my friends via email. So obviously deep down I'm more concerned about students coming across things on my blog and being hurt (and/or going to tell on me to the HOD) when they recognise themselves.

So I'm thinking that I might go with a policy based on the following tenets:

  • Not posting anything negative about individual students, but only collective moans (e.g. "why don't students talk more in class?", "why are they always late with their work?", etc are okay, but "why does the guy who falls asleep during every class think it's okay to hand his work in three days late?" is not.)
  • Not ever posting verbatim from exams, essays or emails.
  • If I post about topics I am teaching, not posting anything about the students from that course during the same semester. (This is to avoid students finding my site by googling key words to do with the topic they are studying, and then being able to read all about what I think of them (even collectively) while we are still caught up in the Gordian knot of power-trust-responsibility that constitutes a student-teacher relationship.)
I'm still a little ambivalent about whether or not it's okay to post good things about individual students (obviously unnamed). On the one hand, I can't see how it could hurt. On the other, talking about them behind their back to the entire internet seems a bit close to abuse of power.

I'd love to hear any other perspectives people have on these issues.


Axis of Peter said...

I leave plenty of clues about who and where I am. I'm too indifferent to cover them up since I stand by what I say.

As for me, I haven't yet posted a lot about individual students, but I am not going to resist it. Should I want to gripe, I will leave false clues about the student's identity. If I have something nice to say, I wouldn't reveal anything deeply personal about the student.

I am mostly pseduonymous because it seems to be mostly the done thing for the confessional-style blogs.

StyleyGeek said...

Thanks, (Axis of) Peter. I hadn't thought about leaving false clues about students' identities. I guess if you made them the opposite gender or changed some details, that might disguise them well enough that if they ever came across the blog they wouldn't recognise themselves. That would be my main concern.

I still wouldn't want to actually quote something directly that they wrote in an essay or exam, though.