Shame, shame, shame…Shame on me!

Happy New Year!  It’s a been a LONG time since I’ve posted, and I’m feeling the usual impulse to be better at everything in the new year.  I have a lot I want to write about this great CUNY IT conference I attended in December, especially about the really interesting keynote by Virginia Heffernan, but the topic of today’s post is shame, namely the good shame, or maybe I should just call it publicity, that blogging brings to everyday people.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I am writing this post because I am presenting at a professional development session tomorrow where I will be showing my blog to a group of people, and I was too ashamed to show it with a post that was dated October (October! – oh, the shame!) as the most recent post.  This got me thinking about some of the positive aspects of shame that blogging harnesses…

I read article in the NYT this week about new websites that encourage people to post their new year’s resolutions online, both so that they create a sense of community and support with like-minded people (especially on sites that are focused around a theme, like quitting smoking or losing weight) but also because of the shame factor, i.e. what happens when you cheat on your resolutions and every one knows it.  Some sites even collect your credit card, require the registration of a friend who will verify your claims, and charge you if you don’t succeed.  While this is less about shame and more about financial pressure, these sites illustrate the power of the internet and the public pressure it provides to help make you a better person, at least as you have defined it by making the resolution in the first place.

Blogging also creates a sense of shame, mostly (at least for me) when I am not blogging enough.  Even with just a few readers or subscribers, you realize that when this new post pops into their inbox their first impulse will be to say something like “wow, it’s been a looooooong time since she posted.”  The shame (ok, my shame) is compounded by all the advice I’ve given about how to get more readers (write, write consistently, write more, keep writing).  However, the shame can be a good thing, since it did inspire me to write (at last!), and maybe the fear of it will encourage a more consistent blogging routine (one can hope, at least).

In the context of this PD for faculty, I think the shame (and here I’ll shift over to its less negative flip side, publicity) can be a really beneficial part of using blogs and wikis in the classroom.  When students hand in work just to the professor, they have no idea of the standard of the work of their classmates.  While most professors don’t grade comparatively but rather compare each student to a standard they’ve set or a rubric they’ve created for an assignment, it can be helpful for students to get an idea of what others are doing.  It can make them take more ownership of their work (maybe do an extra edit or proofread) and it can (yes) shame them if their work is not quite up to par.  I would never advocate scarring a student for life through public shaming, but I do think that sharing work and encouraging all students to bring their A game at all times can lead to a lot more As.

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