Blog Post

How Can I Assign Public Writing and Ensure Student (and Prof) Safety? (Getting Started #7)

Please note: This is Part 7 of a series, "How Do I Get Started?  A Step-by-Step Guide to a Student-Centered Classroom"


Assigning Public Student Writing with Safeguards

It happened again.  A colleague who would like to be able to assign public writing assignments hesitates because of Internet trolls who have been plaguing many academics, and especially female professors of color and their students.  How can you do this?  Is it even possible? 


Groups:  You Control How Public You Want To Be

Short answer:  yes.  We developed the "Groups"  ( ) function on exactly to give you control over privacy and also over who can comment on a blog, while still providing a forum where your students can see other student work posted to the Group. 

For example, if you are a prof, you may or may not want your syllabus public.  You will have control of the setting for that.  You may want students to share writing with the Group but only share a final paper, that has been carefully vetted, with the public.  Again, public and private settings for each and every posting allow you and your students to control this.


Many Classes Host "Groups" on

Dozens, if not hundreds, of organizations, classes, and informal networks have set up their own Group on HASTAC.  The best part of a Group is you can set the default so all posts are private to the Group members only.  Or you can set the default so all posts are public.  Whenever any member of your Group posts, they will not be able to publish their blog post until they check a box indicating whether they want to stick with the Group setting or go to the opposite (i.e. if the Group setting defaults to "private," I can decide to make my own post "public" or not--and vice versa.)

You have control.   And no one can make a comment on your post unless they are a HASTAC member.  Membership too is free and, no, we don't abuse member data or sell it.  Ever. Not even to other nonprofits.  An actual human reviews all member applications and approves them.

What this means is your students can write in public, but in a community committed to "Changing the Way We Teach and Learn."  And with "Difference as Our Operating System."  And with features designed into our open community which yet makes it a safe community.  Our community standards are all about respect.


HASTAC is a Free, Open, Yet Also Respectful Community of Network Members

As with everything HASTAC, it is free.  As with everything HASTAC, we would never sell or misuse your data.  After the class is over, it is easy to "unsubscribe" to the Group should you wish but, if you stay a HASTAC network member, you will receive no commercial advertising, only a monthly newsletter and occasional other HASTAC news of interest (such as when it is annual conference time.)

Avatars with Identities

As a network member, you can write with a pseudonym.  However, you register with information that ties you to your comments.  This helps a lot with Internet trolls.  You are responsible for your words--even if your identity is an avatar.

Respectful Debate

And because we are community of co-learners, if someone gets heated and writes disrespectfully, someone at HASTAC is likely to drop them a note and suggest that their tone could be improved.  It doesn't happen often but, when it does, authors almost always voluntarily dial back the vituperation.  We're proud of having a community where ideas can be exchanged, debated vigorously, but not viciously.

Digital Literacy and Kairos:  How To Make the Best Use of Public Writing

We may want to be able to teach students digital literacy and also how to write for an audience more public and diverse than one's prof.  The term kairos, in rhetoric, means to understand and address an audience.  Having your students write in public is a great way of teaching that skill. 

  • Having students use an online tool, is a great way of teaching all the aspects of digital literacy. 
  • Have students  read the Terms of Service agreement carefully and discuss them.  Discuss what it means to be signing these, typically, without ever reading them.
  • Have students explore HASTAC to learn more about different ways of teaching, learning, communicating ideas, and thinking about life in our post-Internet era.  There is an enormous body of content for your students to explore, research, comment upon.
  • Since they are HASTAC members once they sign up (and they must sign up to join your Group), they can leave comments on anyone's blog post anywhere on the site.  Make that an assignment!
  • You and your students can also tweet or Facebook any post from your Group to move beyond the HASTAC community.  Or not.  Your choice.

Getting Started

Here's How to Create and Manage a Groups page: ( )
And here's a where to begin the creating and posting process: ( )

And if you run into trouble, use the Contact box and someone at HASTAC can help.  Right now, we're short staffed, so you may have to wait a short while to hear back (usually 24-48 hours), but soon we'll be up to speed and ready to help you in any ways you or your students may need.

Two Examples of How I've Used Groups for Classes

American Literature, American Learning  (

Mapping the Futures of Higher Education (


1 comment

This is a great idea. I have also used Wikipedia pages as an alternative assignment, and a way for students to translate specialized academic research into public knowledge.

A DH librarian offered a great tip: have students mention on discussion pages that they are doing this for a class project. It takes a special kind of troll to go after students -- a troll that is easy for the editors to spot.

Here's a partial list of student projects from Spring 2016: