What Are Words For?

In a stack of papers called Unorganized.

  • Jul
  • 12
  • 2005

Bayosphere is shaping up to be a site where citizen journalism reigns. I definitely want to let next year’s journalism students know about the site (if we even have journalism, a decision that is yet to be made, sadly). It’s easy to see how Bayosphere could provide an audience in addition to models for writing. All that would take is for the students to each sign up for a Bayosphere account and to start posting their stories. Some investigation as to the liability of having student names associated with articles needs to happen, but I’m sure there’s a solution there.

The great thing is that there’s already an audience on the site, scouring the “Recent blog posts” column and glancing at the “Recent comments.” With Dan Gillmor picking through entries and posting teasers on the home page of Bayosphere, it would only be a matter of time until a student writer got top billing on a Web site run by a well-respected, former San Jose Mercury News journalist. How’s that for motivation and a confidence builder? It made me pretty proud to be on the front page.

But a site like Bayosphere suggests something more important about blogging, a message we can give to students about the meaning of our language and the importance of communication. Bayosphere hammers home the idea of audience and integrity. It is a site where commentors are critical and honestly comment about the content. Requiring users to register before commenting elevates the maturity of those commenting in that someone who wants to start a fight with words (the impact of words as seen through flaming) typically doesn’t want his or her personal information associated with those words, preferring instead to revel in the discord incited. With the raised intellectual maturity of those commenting comes the responsibility to put forth something worth the time of the reader. It’s almost like having a blog, but with an audience already built in, so the expectations are a bit different.

Originally, my three-part series about teacher evaluations was posted to my blog at Bayosphere. The teacher evaluation process is a process I see as sorely misguided, often useless, and in much need of renovation (I’ve also posted that series here, to keep all my educational thinking in one spot and to allow comments from any readers who aren’t registered with Bayosphere). The series sparked a little bit of discussion and an honorable mention on a couple of sites. My ideas were obviously important enough to gain a few passing glances.

My ideas about teacher evaluations are not incredibly revolutionary. In fact, I may even contradict myself throughout the three parts due to unclear thinking on my part about how teacher evaluations should be structured. But even with the flaws my postings have, it’s generated a discussion.

Words have a huge impact. As a lesson for students about commenting, looking at the way our words impact other bloggers is essential. Looking at the way words impact readers of print media is, too. Novels, poems, articles, diaries, movies, advertisements, all of those texts should be examined for the effect created through use of language. At a lunch today with a few other Bayosphere bloggers, I was struck that we were all there, at an office in San Francisco — a process that took me about an hour in one-way travel time and ended up costing me $30 for parking — because some words affected us. Of course, we also hope that our words would impact others in turn and that was a part of the motivation (at least it was for me; I suspect there were others there with me).

And my whole series started off as a comment about another person’s ideas (which was actually a response to yet another person’s ideas, which was, in turn, a response to still another person’s ideas). We start memes everyday without knowing it. Trackbacks are a way to help make us aware of the conversations we’re sparking, but not everyone uses that system, so you’re never certain how far your ideas reach.

That’s a powerful and empowering concept for a lot of kids who don’t think anyone listens to teenagers.

1 comment

1. Laurie says:

[7/16/2005 - 7:52 pm]

Words are powerful and even if we are unable to make journalism go this year, we must find a way to empower our students to take part in this means of communication. I know that it is more real than writing yet another literary analysis on the best leader in Lord of the Flies. And certainly my students know this as well.