I received an email from one of our teachers a few days ago, expressing concerns over someone outside our district who linked to her blog. This isn’t the first time I’ve received an email like this, so with her permission, I’m posting her email here, followed by my long-winded reply with more information than she probably wanted to know. I hope this provides some clarity to our teachers who may have similar concerns:

Hi – I had something interesting happen on my blog today.  I received an e-mail to moderate.  The post left was from a student in Alabama that had come across my blog while doing some research for her class.  It had me a bit concerned because I thought I had blocked my blog from this?  Should I be concerned?  She gave me a link to her blog and on her blog she had posted a link back to mine.  I am not sure how I feel about that?  What should I do?  Thanks.

Whether this is good or bad really depends on your point of view. Here’s my two cents. Note that what I say here is just my opinion, and doesn’t represent any official district view, but I hope it provides some perspective.

Keep in mind that the blogs are public, not private. They’ve always been accessible to everyone on the web, and there’s nothing you can really “block” your blog from. Maybe you don’t post links to your blog on all sorts of web sites, but you still don’t have full control over how much it’s publicized. You can password-protect your posts if you want to, but I think that would be missing the point of the blog’s purpose: connectedness and communication. Google indexes your blog so anyone can search it, and we list the latest posts and blog rankings on our district site. We actually do this so people CAN be made more aware of your blog. It’s open to everyone, and it’s a fantastic way to communicate with your students and their parents, and let them communicate with you in turn by leaving comments. Sometimes parents may share your blog with their family and friends, and they in turn may share it with others.

But the blogs can do more than connect you with just your own students and parents. They can also break down the walls of the classroom and connect you to an online learning community, as this student from Alabama demonstrated. I don’t know exactly what this student put in her comment, but she apparently found something very useful on your blog, and liked it enough to not just leave a comment, but link to your blog from her own. That’s a compliment to you. This student’s link will drive more visitors to your blog, and your ranking on the “Visitors per Day” stat will go up.

And if you want to take it further, by following the links your commenters leave, you may find yourself drawn to more sites such as other class blogs, Ning networks, Facebook groups, wikis, Twitter, or wherever educators are gathering on the web. In fact, this is what I’ve found most enjoyable with my own blog, that I can connect with a wide range of people. Most of my visitors aren’t even from within the district; they’re teachers, technology specialists, and school administrators from all over the world. I’ve even been able to meet a few of them face-to-face after connecting with them online. My blog can be a catalyst for stimulating wider conversations and growing my own personal learning network of educators.

There are also teachers out there who are engaged in activities like the Flat Classroom Project – they use wikis and learning networks to synchronize two or more classrooms, and let students from all across the world work with each other on projects. I’ve seen Kindergarten class blogs that have a YackPack button, which lets students and teachers from other classes just click and start talking with the classroom. And here’s some elementary students using Skype to video conference with other students several states away, and doing a collaborative writing project with them in Google Docs, while the teachers and administrators are standing by in amazement. It IS very cool, because it shows you’re not confined to the walls of your classroom anymore.

So my opinion is that this student linking to your blog is a GOOD thing, because it’s just one step to opening you to a larger learning community. And if all this leaves you feeling paranoid, don’t let it! Other teachers are going through many of the same experiences you are, regardless of where they come from, and you can connect with them as well. We want you to have fun with your blog. Be creative with it, and share your classroom experiences, fun activities you do with your students, and more. If other teachers and students outside your class are visiting your blog, that’s just an added bonus.

I also recommend you activate the WP-Slimstat plugin (go to your blog Dashboard, click “Plugins” and then “Activate” next to WP-Slimstat). This will start to gather more detailed statistics on exactly how many people are visiting your blog, what search strings are being used to find your blog, your most popular posts and pages, and so on. If you want some assistance accessing and analyzing all these statistics, let me know.

I hope this helps add a little insight on the wide scope of the blogs. There’s a giant online world out there of online networking and collaboration. Our students are using it already. Perhaps it’s time we start using it, too.

Thanks for the question.