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More Than Hitting the ‘Publish’ Button - A Pedagogical Framework for Supporting Learners’ Critical Relationship with Publishing Media Work

Lecturer in Journalism, School of Communication, Media and Theatre, University of Tampere, Finland

E-mail address: maarit.jaakkola@uta.fi

In media education, a common question in the production process is whether the learners’ work should be made accessible to a wider online audience. Digital technologies enable user presence and the sharing of information. This theoretical paper develops a cumulative framework for enhancing an individual’s relationship with the public. It is suggested that the learner’s relationship with the public and publicity is based on three gradual frames: exposing, enabling, and engaging. This article discusses the potential assets and problems regarding the different degrees of publicity from the teacher’s and the learner’s perspectives.

Keywords: Media production, online publishing, online presence, publicity, the public, privacy


Publishing content is becoming an increasingly frequent activity in media literacy practices. Previously, making material accessible to large audiences was possible only for professionals; however, in the age of the network society, reaching large audiences has gradually become a reality for ordinary media producers (Castells, 2009; Lenhart, 2012). The increased possibilities for publishing content that reaches tens, hundreds, or even millions of people are enabled by the evolving digital technologies and online communication networks. Individuals may share their creations on or using the tools of social media without the pre-examination or evaluation which is fundamental in traditional gatekeeping. The audiences for these creations may comprise individuals who were previously unknown to the content producer, which makes foreseeing consequences increasingly difficult. This article argues that the era of online publishing marks a pedagogical challenge for educators and needs to be considered an aspect of the teaching of digital literacies.

Traditionally, although it has been common in schools to produce media work, such as stories, images, and videos, it seems that these have so far been published less often – in other words, made accessible to an unlimited, authentic, real-world audience beyond the classroom (Henderson et al., 2010). As the focus of media literacy has traditionally been placed on reception rather than production (Jenkins, 2006), the communicator’s relationship with the public has remained a diversely developed area within the communication and media education literature. Publishing media work has not been viewed as being at the centre of the production process in the same way as the critical ability to ‘access, analyse, evaluate and create’ media content (Livingstone, 2004). With the technical possibilities for creating large audiences, and because of the increasing number of different online practices related to publishing content among ever-younger users (Lenhart et al., 2007), it is essential to raise the educators’ pedagogical awareness of the meanings and practical implications of the ‘post-production process’.

Online publishing at school typically occurs in a school magazine, on a specific homepage, on a YouTube channel, or in a blog. ‘Publishing’, creating or getting a ‘public’, and being in public are all interrelated facets of the same phenomenon: the consequences of making the created content accessible to an unlimited group of people. From the perspective of a content producer, the choice of publishing means exposing work and being exposed to others. This activity needs to be controlled and should be based upon shared rules in the school context. Publishing indeed encompasses a multitude of interconnected technical, practical, social, ethical, and juridical problems which need to be considered and, if possible, solved by the teachers and the school.

This article intends to cast light on the theoretically and pedagogically relevant dimensions of publishing, particularly in the context of online content production at school. The goal is to conceptualise publishing within a pedagogical framework to locate this area of content production as a pedagogical area of study and application. The first objective is, thus, to theoretically understand what publishing means, and to identify the pedagogically relevant core concepts of the publishing activity. The second objective is to conceptualise, elucidate, and understand the instructor’s activities which are intended to support and promote the students’ willingness and competences with regard to publishing.

There is an underlying need to study this area, because publishing involves a problem-solving process with which teachers are often left alone. By making choices regarding what can and cannot be seen by others and selecting the material which is made publicly available, the user constitutes an image of himself or herself to himself or herself and to the others as a social group (Goffman, 1969). The identification and illustration of central dimensions concerning publishing are imperative because they have typically not been given attention, while studies on media production have typically concentrated on classroom activities (for overviews, see, e.g. Lankshear & Knobel, 2006; Macedo & Steinberg, 2007). By the same token, for example, the Finnish core curriculum (National Board of Education, 2004) presents a broad conception of text that entails multimodal literacy practices, including both digital and printed environments, and publication and public presence are virtually taken for granted without further inquiry. An increased understanding of publishing would, in a wider context, serve as a resource for media education (Feilitzen & Carlsson, 2004).

We will first discuss the publishing activity from a theoretical perspective to better demarcate it as an area of learning in its own right. Thereafter, a pedagogical framework is suggested based on experiences of a continuing education course with comprehensive school teachers, who have been asked to reflect on their initial concerns regarding the use of ICT and, in particular, the technological tools of publishing, such as YouTube and blogs.1 Ideally, by understanding different dimensions of publishing, the teachers’ roles may be easier to identify and the various open questions related to publishing better solved.

Pedagogical dimensions of publishing in media production

Media literacy involves ‘new’ or digital literacies accommodating a sociocultural perspective and the production of digital works (Dobson & Willinsky, 2009; Lankshear & Knobel, 2006). Publishing takes on different meanings which hold pedagogical relevance in terms of learning media literacy. To locate the core concepts in defining an individual learner’s relationship with publishing, and to go further with advocating an online presence within the educational context, we will distinguish between three different definitions of publishing. First, publishing can be defined as the technical action of making content accessible to a group of people. Second, publishing means more or less consciously creating this group of people, which implies figuring out the audience in the pre-publication process as a (symbolic) community to which the message is directed. Simultaneously, the creation of an audience is not an entirely controllable process but occurs as a result of people interested in a same kind of content gathering in a group that forms an audience. Third, for a content producer who is making his or her creation publicly available to a group of people, publishing is finally the activity of being seen by others and, eventually, interacting with them. Therefore, a third central aspect of publishing is the issue of identity construction and feedback with different political implications.

Making content accessible to others means making material accessible to an audience through a technical channel, which, in the school context, increasingly occurs in online settings. Concretely, this means hitting the publish button of an information management system or downloading material to a server, where it is made accessible to a more or less limited number of users. The concept of sharing is often used synonymously with publishing, but an analytical distinction can be made to emphasise the meaning of publishing content: While publishing means making original material accessible, sharing involves making already published material accessible to (new) audiences. In networked forms of communication, publishing and sharing are typically interrelated, and they may extend over many platforms. At school, choices regarding publishing are essentially regulated by the authorities based on organisational and societal principles and parents having custody over minors. Sharing can be less, if at all, controlled by the educators. Nevertheless, educators, students, and parents are and should be involved in a constant, case-specific negotiation about the role and consequences of both publishing and sharing for and among the networked audiences.

Publishing online also means creating a mediated audience for a piece of work. Audiences come into being when content has been produced and is made accessible to people. Making content accessible thus leads into the formation of an audience, whether this group of people is large or limited and regardless of how consciously this process has been triggered by the content creator(s). In their analysis of audiences, Abercrombie and Longhurst (1998) distinguish between simple, mass, and diffused audiences. The simple audience is a face-to-face audience based on direct (unmediated) communication, which is carried out in the classroom; Abercrombie and Longhurst’s examples include theatre and political meetings. The mass media audience is a mediated (receiving messages through a medium) and spatially dispersed group of people who receive messages in private and who are often not in contact with each other; this happens in the case of, for example, newspaper audiences. The diffuse audiences are dispersed and fragmented, but they are always present (online), consuming (different) media as part of their everyday lives, and the boundary between the role of an audience and the producer is an increasingly blurred one. The audiences can, thus, be distinguished in terms of their shared time frame and physical location. School audiences can be conceived of as a distinct mixture of simple and diffused audiences; the audiences are both the physical community who meet face to face at school, and, to a certain extent, the audiences comprise people who are not in direct contact with the school and who do not even share the common context of teaching and learning.

Additionally, audiences are different when it comes to their relationship to the content producer and the individuals’ connections to each other. An audience can be regarded as a group of rather passive receivers who do not give feedback to or interact with the content producer(s) or each other. An audience can also be active in giving feedback and even participating in the co-creation of the work. In this case, the audience can be called a public, which presents a conceptualisation of an audience as an active component of the publishing activity (Livingstone, 2005). Furthermore, the term ‘public’ represents a multitude of academic debates on what the public(s) or the audience(s) mean(s) in terms of space, identity, and democracy. There are, thus, a number of definitions of the ‘public’, and they are not used consistently (boyd, 2008). Roughly put, while the concept of the audience is associated with reception, the fostering of production skills and participation regards the public as its starting point. However, as agreed by many media scholars, the distinction between publics and audiences should not present a dichotomy (Livingstone, 2005); an audience may present and include different degrees of participation, and the use of the term is a question of emphasis rather than an exhaustive description of the group of people who receive and possibly reflect over the content.

As an adjective, ‘public’ is typically defined as the opposite of private (boyd, 2008; Warner, 2005). The adjective ‘public’ has been predominantly attached to pedagogical activities in the public realm outside the formal school institution (Sandlin et al., 2010), as well as to critical engagement and the counter-hegemonic aspects of popular culture (Giroux, 2000). In the mediated environment, privacy can be understood as control over how the information about oneself is visible to others (boyd & Marwick, 2011). The question that arises, then, is whether or not to become ‘public’ in person or with an issue and to what degree. These decisions are typically taken at both the organisational or social and the individual level: in a school magazine or a blog, certain decisions about visibility are taken by the administrator of the site (the teacher), whereas each individual user has the possibility to control his or her own visibility within a platform profile or an entry. The identity construction related to control traverses the formal and informal learning contexts (Bjørgen & Nygren, 2010; Mallan, 2009). This means that identity formation related to publishing content is not confined to school activities; rather, it is a continuing process that extends beyond the control of the school and its formal instruction. In other words, there is an ongoing (reflection) process of being in public.

It seems that, in particular, learning about ‘being in public’ is attached to individual qualities and can be best internalised by forming a personal relationship with the public. At the individual level, a user is expected to negotiate with tools and technologies to make the affordances available to optimally serve him or her (van Dijck, 2013). As in technology acceptance – a critical phase of technology learning in which a new tool or technology is assessed and eventually accepted as fit for use (Venkatesh et al., 2003) – going public forms a private reflective zone in which individual negotiations take place. Of course, the individual relationship is socioculturally influenced and becomes a social process when various factors, such as community support, technical resources, and the existence of an audience, come into play.

Boyd and Marwick (2011) remark that creating a public for work is often conflated with the other meaning of publishing – accessibility – which stresses the technical availability of a product at the cost of the consideration of its democratic underpinnings. Understanding publishing as a simple act of making material technically available to build an audience is, based on this line of thought, reductionist. Critical media education presupposes that creating a public should be considered with regard to the wider aims and needs of democracy (Kellner & Share, 2007; Livingstone, 2005; Ljunggren, 1996). Consequently, when the production process results in publishing the product (or even parts of the processes, as in the case of live-streaming the making of media content) online, awareness of the social, political, and cultural dimensions of ‘being in public’ should be integrated into classroom learning.

For a teacher supporting these various pedagogical dimensions of publishing, the process of publishing implies a set of open questions that he or she needs to consider as relative in terms of the learners’ age and previous competences, as well as the technical possibilities, learning goals, and school policies. The digital environment, with a multitude of cost-free, easily adaptable, and user-friendly publication possibilities, induces teachers to weigh up the pros and cons of creating audiences and publics of different sizes and qualities, and of being in public, with all their underlying ethical and moral questions. Basically, there are many assets of making content publicly available. Being in public may advance cohesion in the group by generating a distinguished group identity and enabling authentic feedback, which, in turn, indicates the existence of an empirical audience. The emergence of a ‘real’ audience in and beyond the classroom or the school may be empowering, thereby increasing the young producers’ motivation and ambition (Butler et al., 2010; Karchmer, 2008; Kearney & Schuck, 2006). Being publicly seen and recognised enables the development of an authorial voice, and it may also deliver the empowering sense of ‘writing oneself into being’ in front of others (boyd, 2008, p. 13; Mallan, 2009). However, preparation for negative, ruthless feedback is needed, as well as preventive measures, as publicity may also produce and worsen conflictual situations in the children’s lives, such as in cases in which bullying, public criticism, or insult occurs.

In sum, publishing encompasses several facets that educators need to take into consideration: technical access to the texts produced in the classroom, imagination and addressing of the intended audience in production, expression as aesthetic sense and performativity in front of the intended audiences, and interaction and engagement within and outside the community due to the audience that emerges (see also Rice, 2002). These metapragmatic entities, which are present in the production process, are, to a certain degree, regulated by the teacher. How and to what degree they can be regulated and pedagogically approached is the interest of this study.

Study design

The qualitative data for this study were collected from an online course and comprised written entries sent to a closed learning management system. The Finnish teachers (N=26) participated in an online course, organised by a national centre for teachers’ continuing education, on the topic of using online and communication technologies for pedagogical purposes. The participants were teachers from comprehensive schools around the country. The written entries were postings of varying lengths on a discussion forum during the first two weeks of the course. The participants were asked about their relationship to online technologies. The assignment read as follows: ‘Please describe your relationship to the pedagogical use of ICT tools and publishing with them at school. What restricts you from publishing, and what kind of factors encourage you to do that?’

The written discussion entries (N=89) were analysed in terms of the teachers’ readiness regarding publicity and public presence (attitudes) and the actual degree of participation (pedagogical action) which they described (see also Palmgren-Neuvonen et al., 2015). Three categories were formed according to the degree of positive attitude towards publishing and experiences in publishing; these are presented in the next section. They were named and examined more closely in terms of a framework that was created as an outcome of the qualitative analysis. The underlying idea of gradual encouragement was supported by basic ideas of critical media education, whereby an individual is supposed to be increasingly engaged and to finally build up an emancipatory attitude based on self-determined agency (Jaakkola, 2015; Kotilainen, 2001; Westheimer & Kahne, 2004). The same kinds of gradual differences in attitudes and action were also found in the data related to a previous study of comprehensive schoolteachers and school principals (Palmgren-Neuvonen et al., 2015).

Encouraging an active relationship with publishing

The instructor’s responsibility for supporting pupils and students in creating a relationship with publishing encompasses different forms of encouragement. The semantic meaning of encouraging involves this dual role. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, ‘to encourage’ means ‘to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope’. Courage is understood primarily as ‘a mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty’. There is, however, a second denotation of the verb, meaning ‘to attempt to persuade’. Therefore, the meaning of encouragement can be understood here as a two-way activity that encompasses both support for and negotiation about the activity. The encouragement that the teacher is intended to carry out in his or her educator role can thus be understood as the conglomerate of pedagogical activities geared towards fostering attitudes in a twofold activity that encompasses support for the activity, as well as the consideration of potential risks and reservations.

In terms of creating real-world audiences and publics beyond the classroom, media education can be approached as two paradigmatic entities highlighting the twofold role of the educator: that of delivering protective media education and that of delivering openness-encouraging media education. Protection is a traditional and widely debated area in media literacy (Hobbs, 1998). The relevance of the so-called protectionist approach in media education boils down to the need to restrain young people from being influenced by the unwanted contents of the mass media (Kellner & Share, 2007). Consequently, a great deal of media education has concentrated on discussing and demonstrating the potential risks of, and harm that follows, public actions. The protectionist approach has been emphasised by many national campaigns and themed events directed towards schools, and has been carried out by the government or third-sector organisations. For example, the comparative study EU Kids Online, which covered the issues of online bullying, risky online behaviour, excessive Internet use, and the dangers of inappropriate and illegal web content (see e.g. Haddon & Livingstone, 2012), found that the Nordic countries have a high Internet use rate and, thus, increased risks in usage.

Teaching of publishing shares a great deal with the orientations of critical pedagogy in media education that are concerned with the teaching of future citizens in a participatory culture. For example, Westheimer and Kahne (2004) present a conception of gradual education towards emancipatory orientation in the producer’s role. They identify three ideal roles for the citizen – the responsible citizen, the participatory citizen, and the justice-oriented citizen – describing degrees of ethical and moral awareness in the activities of an individual. The teaching and scaffolding of publishing should thus follow a path model whereby the balance between protection and openness is altered according to the learners’ age and pedagogical purposes.

At school, the element of the public has typically become more important the older the producers in question are, as the positive effects and benefits of public communication are thought to be drawn later with the increase in the learner’s age (Feilitzen & Carlsson, 2004). Adolescents are considered to possess qualities and competencies of privacy management, respect, and responsibility, which are aligned with the development of civic skills. The turning point in media consumption and social media usage has been located at the age of 13, when children have been observed to switch from content designed for children to content planned for teens (Livingstone & van der Graaf, 2010). This age limit is followed by all major social media platforms, such as Facebook and Google, based on the legal conception of penal responsibility in Western countries.

Following the three ‘knowledge-constituting interests’ identified by Habermas (1987 [1968]) – namely, the technical, the practical, and the emancipatory – teaching of publishing can be differentiated into three gradual orientations: exposing, enabling, and engaging (see also Kotilainen, 2001, p. 22). Their central qualities are outlined in Table 1. They present different degrees of encouragement between the teacher’s roles of facilitator and protector. The orientation of exposing focuses, to a large degree, on the learners’ privacy: A central question is the extent to which to protect the learners’ right to privacy in mediated educational communication. The question is manifested in a number of legal debates about school. The orientation of enabling stresses the possibilities that emerge when a platform for public communication is created. Publishing work is, thus, offered to the learners as an option but is not actively developed as part of the production culture and process. The (ideal type of) public is a central environment for learning in the orientation of engaging. Users are not meant to simply communicate on the web in front of audiences: They are encouraged to constantly create and maintain audiences, to try to make their voices heard in public discussions, to seek to have an impact on issues that are regarded as important to them, and to reflect on their performative actions and online image.

Table 1. Orientations of media encouragement in terms of publicity






Providing students with technical possibilities for sharing

Protection of privacy by gatekeeping in public action, demarcation of lines between private and public activity

Promoting participatory culture by creating shared practices and reflective feedback mechanisms

Pedagogical aims

Construction of a technically controllable publishing channel

Construction of a public learning space with focus on protection and privacy management

Construction of possibilities for critical democratic agency with a focus of giving voice to the learners

Teacher’s role

Integration of production and publishing technology into classroom curriculum

Gatekeeping for reception and content production, showing tools for protection

Informing students and -parents, encouraging to active agency

Implications for the learner

Possibility for getting an audience

Possibility for protecting one’s privacy

Possibility for learning through resources beyond the classroom

Implications for parents/guardians

Giving consent for publication

Being involved in the audience

Being part of the public and critical discussion

The orientations of exposing, enabling, and engaging are not mutually exclusive considerations. On the contrary, they amount to a cumulative framework. When they are seen as a continuum, education about the implications of publishing presents a wide variety of levels ranging from passive non-restriction to attitudes that are benevolent with regard to publication and up to the active implementation of self-reflective practices and methods in teaching. Furthermore, education into the public is strongly related to the norms and possibilities offered by the educational environments. In the following sections, we will look at each of the frames respectively by identifying their pedagogically relevant dimensions. The aim is to illuminate how the three frames of encouragement may work in practice.

Exposing – or protecting?

Granting a presentation public access marks the first step in raising awareness of publishing. In this phase, teachers appear as the gatekeepers of the learners’ visibility and the protectors of their privacy. The question – to publish or not to publish – appears primarily as a legal issue concerning the activities of school authorities and the privacy protection of minors. ‘First and foremost, we have to get consent from parents to publish their children’s work, but it isn’t enough. I’m not quite sure how the municipality reacts to publishing minors’ work. And how about the copyright issues?’ (Teacher, elementary school). The rule of thumb is typically the following: Presentations within the school’s context are non-public by default. Only in some cases is work made public, with possible changes in content to make it fit for showcasing. At the beginning of the school year, Finnish schools ask children’s parents for permission to present either the child’s schoolwork or the child himself or herself in public (typically through the work of journalists, in photographs, and in interviews published in the traditional media). However, both of these decisions are fairly simplified: When considering whether or not to give permission to expose the children or their work to public visibility, the parents have practically no information available about the possible encounters with the audiences. They are asked to give general overall permission, which is, in fact, contradictory to the nature of typical ethical questions that pose dilemmas to the professionals – for example, journalists. As ethical questions are, by their nature, dilemmatic, situational, and case-specific, the ethical codex has to be applied to a variety of different situations without one single, absolutely right answer.

Exposing young learners or their creations to public presence arouses questions among the teachers, which raises the threshold for starting to publish. In particular, legal issues may be perplexing and unfamiliar to teachers. Regarding the juridical matters, among the most acute questions relate to the existence of preset rules. ‘I would not dare to start publishing work online without having a clear set of rules’, stated one elementary school teacher. ‘I’m not sure if I know enough about the potential consequences of publishing in order to go online. This is why I have not done that yet’, said one secondary school teacher. Exposing learners and/or their products to the public, thus, appears to be a fundamental question that requires collective consideration and the creation of general rules which are shared by the school and the pupils’ homes. As parents are hardly unanimous in their views, some learners are given permission to be exposed, and others not. It is, thus, imperative to be aware of the inequality which the choice of ‘going public’ evidently produces. Additionally, as teachers may have inadequate skills or attitudes in terms of digital literacy, a non-web-savvy teacher might hinder the possibility of experimenting with the public even if the parents would agree. The frame of exposing is, thus, crucial for entire policies, as the choices related to public presence either enable or eliminate the possibilities of learning about the publication of media content. However, precisely the fundamental question of whether or not to expose children and/or their work to publicity may arouse questions which can turn out to be productive in the classroom, in peer groups, among colleagues, and in the relationship between school and home.

Enabling: advocating openness

In schools, classes, or projects in which the public online presence is allowed, or even actively encouraged, it becomes topical to start creating instructions for an informed public usage and presence. Enabling publicity may start with a shared discussion and experimentation with (imagined) audiences, which affects the process of production. If an audience is figured out, it can be directly addressed, and the communication process from producer to receiver becomes complete – a fact which is favoured in the discourse of authentic learning, in which the goal of the activity is to get into contact with ‘real-world’ settings instead of a predefined and educationally demarcated environment designed for formal learning (see, e.g. Kearney & Schuck, 2006). Enabling means creating rules for public presentation and presence, which are then no longer left as an issue that concerns an individual who has to deal with the questions by himself or herself. The case-specific questions are actively discussed, and the rules for public presence are thus maintained and re-evaluated.

When we started a common blog, we first had a long discussion in the classroom about what we want to do, to whom, and how we shall realise our project. To me, it was important to let the pupils decide about the goal and topic of the blog and the layout. Because they weren’t allowed to write to Blogger themselves, they collectively told a story, and I wrote it down and published it, with illustrations that we made together too. Afterwards, I got feedback that the children had read the story at home with their parents. (Teacher, elementary school)

The discussion of the ground rules regarding action has to be constant – that is, with a feedback mechanism within the school for possible reactions to choices made. If the publication of some material turns out to be harmful or to bear other negative consequences, the educator has to adopt a mediating role and take responsibility for deciding how to react. While the deletion of already-published material is impossible in professional production – for example, journalism – educational publishing is not bound by any such shared ethical rules, as in the case of journalists.

The frame of enabling is appealing to many teachers who declare that they are convinced by the ideology and discourse of ‘openness’. Making schoolwork public is also often connected to the organisational public relations and communication strategy and the policy of the school. Material produced by the pupils can be thought to convey an ‘active’ and ‘positive’ image of the school. Even if it has not been planned as an active strategy for enhancing the school’s visibility, authentic products of learning are perceived as epitomes of the instruction delivered at the institution. The context for showing schoolwork is, thus, not free from any self-interests.

Engaging: reaching beyond the school

The third frame – engaging – subscribes to the ideals of the participatory culture and the active, deliberative, and justice-oriented citizen. The close connections between profit-free and commercial service providers and user cultures is something that poses a challenge for critical media education in this frame. Schools often actively seek partners to cooperate with in order to fulfil the educational aims of civic, entrepreneurial, environmental, and other similar education. If these partnerships are scrutinised from the perspective of education into the public, they may appear pedagogically justified.

It is hard to find virtual spaces with no advertisement and commercialism. I was struggling with this problem for pretty long, until I realised that it could also be an opportunity to discuss the commercial pressures we are exposed to as Internet users. So we used this aspect to make a critical video. (Teacher, elementary school)

Being publicly visible and available on a school channel or on the school’s homepage does not necessarily lead to popularity among peers and grant fame and plausibility to the young people. Obviously, the school appears to the young as a context that they want to leave as an option for themselves. A school video, for example, may destroy the carefully constituted web image in the blog or mediate a distorted image of the individual in front of peers. Therefore, the school intervenes in the individual and the personal project (see also boyd, 2008). In this context, the students often tend to balance the risk-taking related to public presence with humour and play – for example, by not taking the production of a video too seriously. Furthermore, the demands for a high-quality end product apparently increase with age, so the learners find themselves in an ambivalent situation: whether to adhere to the educational aims or to address issues of personal interest with ‘street cred’, which is possibly incompatible with the school discourse.

It’s said that it’s important to give voice to the young people. Last winter, my pupils made a video where a customer with an ethnic background and poor language knowledge went to a hamburger bar, but everything went wrong. In the eyes of an adult, the video may seem a bit racist. I didn’t know what to do with it, especially because it was humoristic and well done. (Teacher, elementary school)

In addition, a primary school teacher stated, ‘I had no idea that a series of pictures taken by the pupils initiated bullying. If I had known it, I would, of course, have forbidden its publication. But how could I have known it in advance?’ In this respect, both the teachers and the learners are constantly struggling between ‘risk-taking’ and ‘safe use’. Although the protection of the young actors is carried out by selecting non-private themes, and in most of the videos, the students are protected in that their entire names are not given – or, at least, they are not mentioned in the metadata – in one video on bullying via e-mail, the young actors’ entire names are accidentally visible in the e-mail inbox. The teachers are, thus, forced to become accustomed to unpredictable consequences that have to be lived through. At the same time, the active relationship outside of school, with its potential real-world consequences, may motivate the young producers and give them a sense of empowerment.


Regarding the three frames of encouragement related to the publication of work, the teacher’s crucial role as a gatekeeper in terms of endowing publicity to the media work produced at school cannot be overlooked. The teacher oscillates between the roles of a promoter and a protector, accomplishing encouragement, which can be either active – that is, nurturing a positive attitude towards openness and sharing – or passive and restraining – that is, restricting the learner from attaining a networked public or simply ignoring the mediated public communication.

Karchmer (2008) suggests that youngsters become reluctant to publish in the school context as soon as their distinct web images start evolving. Whereas the primary school children are willing to publish their school-context work, the secondary school pupils may already show prominent reluctance to publish. This leads to a media educational paradox: The older students, who could benefit most from publicity education, would not necessarily be willing to receive it in an action-based way, whereas primary-aged pupils, who would be the most willing to publish and, thus, receive action-based media education, would not be ready for publicity education. However, the more common the use of Web 2.0 community tools infiltrated with the idea of public communication becomes, the less the resistance and the more important the need to address the consequences of public communication may become. Considering the need to protect children from the harmful effects of being in public, however, publishing in educational settings can be grounded on the idea of letting the level of encouragement grow along with age, based on a deepened understanding about the presence of the public. Critical discussion of the public would, above all, serve as the added value that would be of benefit for the teenagers, who are already at least partly familiar with the networked world.

In education into publishing, the school needs to consider its activities beyond the immediate school community itself. Because the publishing process involves many factors that affect the children’s families, the teacher should act in close partnership with the learner’s parents, who are the guardians of the minors and, thus, take responsibility for their choices. Increasing the parents’ awareness is important, because the parents also act as gatekeepers in giving or denying the public action. In ideal cases, the parents may share the educational principles of the school or be, at least, informed by and in constant communication with the schools. Therefore, (online) publication is profoundly communitarian in its nature. Publications provide communities with a shared object of interest, which can bring generations (the educators and the educated) and peers together, and increase dialogue among and between the school staff, parents, and learners. This can be capitalised on to enhance the mutual bonds and, as a consequence, for example, the sense of affinity and local identity. Publishing and online presence can thus benefit the learning environments of all people involved in much more wide-ranging ways than solely through classroom activities.

There may be some reluctance among teachers to start a public presence, primarily because publishing in the Web 2.0 era is less and less a linear process which is entirely controllable by those who produce the content. Published material circulates as shares in different networks, and their lifespan is thus prolonged. However, precisely because of this, an active public presence requires from the educator an active role in monitoring the web. The frames of exposing, enabling, and engaging, in other words, presuppose different levels of teachers’ (online) activity as well. This may appear to be a potential barrier for educators, who have increasingly new responsibilities and growing pressures regarding their time management.


The aim of this article was to shed light on the pedagogical relationship with publishing that would be helpful for organising and reflecting on pedagogical activities related to the production of media work at school. The ideal types of exposing, enabling, and engaging can be encapsulated as a cumulative framework that can be applied in pedagogy designs. To refine and elaborate the framework outlined in this article, it should be further operationalised and empirically contested.

In the increasingly mediated everyday life, privacy management has become a civic skill that is included in the idea of educating media producers into the public. Every citizen can be said to benefit from skills in regulating his or her own visibility, which he or she comes to terms with when acting online, whether in the role of a citizen or a professional. Sharing content online per se is not necessarily something that triggers new learning processes, as it constitutes part of the habitual use of online platforms in the everyday lives of the youth. Therefore, the more fundamentally the aspect of publishing is integrated into the pedagogy, the greater the need for rules and practices regarding how to deal with publicity and its (potential) consequences. Adding a critical dimension – the frame of engagement – the school can contribute to the youth’s everyday lives, which are to a large extent taking place online.

In the critical context, it is also important to recognise that digital environments form complex mixtures of public and commercial public culture, which have to be taken into account in the educational discourse and practice. By encouraging and creating critical distance from everyday phenomena through reflection, formal education may reach beyond its scope and provide the learners with a deepened understanding of leisure-time activities. It is, thus, evident that with the increasing possibilities for public presentation in both formal and informal learning settings, media education should proceed from the mere ‘publish or not’ to considering aspects related to publishing in a more multifaceted way. Hitting the ‘publish’ button may appear to be a seemingly easy decision at first sight; however, as illustrated in the frames above, the call for practical and ethical guidelines makes the issue more complicated and pedagogically challenging.


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1The vocabulary used here is based on the Finnish system of education; this includes the comprehensive school (grades 1–9), which consists of primary school (grades 1–6) and secondary school (grades 7–9).

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