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The Daily Tar Heel

Professors hurt your credibility online

In a world where Google search results have value, it is worth it to put time into managing your digital self. We are all aware of the perils of failing to think before you tweet — just ask the UNC football team about the infamous Twitter ban — but students might not realize their professors and TAs are making it more difficult to maintain an appropriate online reputation.

Blogging, tweeting or otherwise debating publicly online for class credit has become a widespread course requirement. Yet instructors who make students post on the Internet could be setting them up to have problems in the future.

The recent proposal to add ENGL 105 — a required four-hour class which would include a multimedia or blogging requirement — could mean that everyone would post on the Internet for credit.

Using the Internet to spread information for educational purposes sometimes makes sense. It is impossible to learn about web design or online journalism without using the Internet.

But students who are forced to discuss things that are controversial, or who develop ideas as they get more information, could write something that reflects poorly upon them or offends someone in the future. You can be pretty sure that employers, clients or family members are going to Google you, and they might not like what they find.

I had my own experience with required blogging when I enrolled in CMPL 121, “Romancing the World.” I chose CMPL 121 because it fulfilled a general education requirement and didn’t meet on Fridays; I’ll admit that I was not the most dedicated student.

On the first day of the recitation, my TA announced that our participation grades would be based on posts discussing the readings on a blog she had created. She instructed us to create profiles with usernames that made us easily identifiable and to post discussion questions and answers several times a week.

The blog that resulted was made up of poorly researched posts from students who didn’t care, mixed in with a handful of thoughtful posts by the students who did. I deleted my posts after I found them in my Google search results a couple of months later.

My experience wasn’t particularly damaging, but it does serve to illustrate a larger problem. The Internet is more than a public place — it has a searchable memory that has the potential to follow you forever.

Discussion among peers is a great way to tackle new ideas and expand your horizons, but the Internet is not usually a good forum. Students develop and change their ideas over time. It isn’t fair for professors to force students to preserve their process of intellectual development — or even to play devil’s advocate for ideas they don’t support — publicly on the Internet.

It isn’t realistic to take the Internet out of the equation entirely, but professors and students need to work together to make sure discussion forums are appropriate for the kind of educational experience they are trying to create. If a professor insists you blog about something you don’t feel comfortable posting on the Internet, you might want to ask them to move the discussion to a more private forum like Blackboard or Sakai.

Taylor Holgate is an Editorial Board member for the Daily Tar Heel. She is a senior journalism and political science major from Cary. Contact her at holgate@email.unc.edu.

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