Weekly Writing, 5:2 Bob

I apologize for posting late.   This weekend needed to be about deer hunting, and about fall chores, sweeping the chimney, clearing out the shed and the cellar, putting up a new mailbox before the ground freezes and the snow falls.

The idea of requiring students to present their work via the internet is often met with trepidation by educators. Which concerns are valid? Which are hype? What are the merits of having students present in a public space? In which circumstances do the advantages supersede the concerns? For your writing post this week, weigh the value against the danger of public homework and online student participation.

I wonder what we mean by “public posting’.     In this course, I suppose someone somewhere in the world with too much time on his or her hands could “Google’ and turn up our blog site.   Within a LMS “public’ has a much smaller definition.   There is also the assignment itself to consider.

My first thought is a reminder of Eliot Wiggington’s self-reflection as he “discovered’ his pedagogic practice.   In his chapter “So What Did I Learn in School Anyway?’ one of his answers has to do with making real stuff and hence the Foxfire magazine and books.   Publishing whether to a blog or in a print publication ups the ante considerably both in terms of accountability and responsibility.   Certainly, the learner may receive a grade but the potential exists for real world feedback too.   On the accountability side, we see personal benefits from real motivations, for example, not missing deadlines and not looking the fool. On the responsibility side, we see team benefits through self-consciousness in participating in a larger discourse and developing teamwork on the project.   Therefore, school begins to mirror real life, real work and in that way becomes truly preparatory.   The anxiety at the moment one clicks the “publish’ button is real.   Learning to manage that feeling is real life.   What if the first time a person really has to take it seriously is their first job — are not the stakes already high enough?

Pause; is it really the work of schools to expose students to real feedback from the wider world?   On the other hand, should not schools be the safe practice arena where development is encouraged and progress celebrated not just outcomes?

This course blog is co-authored by adults, by folks well into their careers, practiced in the workplace and in the graduate school class.   The quasi-public nature or the blog is just part of the games we already play, so to speak.   That is very different from the experience of K-12 age learners.   Yet I wonder if there is a place in their learning for tastes of this experience?   We see so much boredom in K-12 age learners in the classroom, and yet, we see them engaged online in many ways.   In addition, getting the feedback that such involvement guarantees, gender, age, and ethnic origin are invisible online.   Rather, the product, video, tweet, forum or blog post has to stand the acid test of scrutiny.   Let us recall our surfers posting videos of their process developing new techniques.   The comments on any online forum can be harsh.   If the young people themselves are already engaged in this rough and tumble by choice then what are we kidding ourselves about?   Pause; not all young people are so engaged, and the rough and tumble of the internet can decay into name calling and bullying.   Therefore, we have responsibilities too particularly for younger learners.

Returning to the assignments it seems as well that what we are talking about are final projects.   If however, we mean every worksheet and problem set along the way then absolutely we have gotten things twisted about.   A final project should be definition stand up to some scrutiny.   However, being nibbled to death over a problem set is just wrong.   This course is fully public our comments, our work is all visible, we do not have an official back channel, or back stage.   Yet, we are free to create such supports if we need them.   So perhaps, we invert that ratio for younger, less practiced learners, more work done in protected online spaces and less done publicly, yet still some public responsibility.

In addition, that turns us to the matter of scholarships responsibility to the advancement of knowledge.   Unequally yoked with that is the scrutiny of politicians and taxpayers.   Yet both can be addressed in the public display of academic pursuits.   A permanent, and public blog, is a way to engage critics of the schools with hard evidence of process and outcomes in our schools, a shareholders report of sorts.   For scholars engaged in online instruction our course blog might well be interesting and inspiring.   Lurking might well be part of creating a learning community or informing one.  Indeed, I have a dear friend who has taught face to face business classes for many years.  He is currently teaching in the online environment for the first time.  In a very real sense he has been thrown into the deep end.  As we started this semester I thought about sharing the url to the blog with him — letting him shoulder surf, lurk.  I am still pondering the ethical qualities of such an act.  What are my responsibilities to my fellow students, to the instructor, to UAF?

In the end I am certain I have offered no profound or innovative insights into the question.  Obviously I think there are enough merits, enough benefits for learners of various ages and experiences in posting scholarship to the internet, to engaging in a process of peer review to justify such requirements.  On the other hand not everything has to be done in the “deep end” and not always for everyone — we are professionals and as such have the responsibility and artistry to judge appropriate boundaries for the learners we have accountability to.

Wigginton, E. (1985). Sometimes a Shining Moment: The Foxfire Experience. Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday.

82 thoughts on “Weekly Writing, 5:2 Bob

  1. Owen


    That was last weekend for me. I’m jealous of the deer hunting. I hope there was success or at least reward in your ventures.

    You raise many of the central issues around this subject. Privacy vs. social responsibility, professional reality vs. true failure without social consequence, and so on.

    What about aliases or some sort of anonymous random online identity? That way, K-12 or higher ed student work could be performed in the public, shared at their own control, and external interests could assess without reflection on individuals?

    Is that the best of both worlds? Is there a real benefit from public presentation of our work? Do we really fear discovery of our coursework by our peers or superiors?

    Visualizing pathways to careers is a major barrier (allegedly) for many students. Does open coursework, “transparency” really help students to visualize themselves taking potential paths?

    Good food for thought, Bob. As always.


  2. Alda

    I appreciated your comment that with public posting, “School begins to mirror real life, real work and in that way becomes truly preparatory. The anxiety at the moment one clicks the ‘publish’ button is real.” I think we all work hard to make sure our classrooms are safe spaces. We can control what we say, and can enforce consequences if our students are treating each other in a way that creates a hostile learning environment. But we can’t control what “the public” might say. So it really gets back to, what is the likelihood that anyone will a) take notice of, and b) take quarrel with, a given classroom discussion that is out in cyberspace. For this class, negligible. I think it really depends on whether the content is controversial and whether or not the instructor guided the discussion such that things stayed academic rather than emotional or accusatory. I think rather than a fear of being judged by peers or employers, the fear today is over the hyped-up stories in the media of everyday people being viciously attacked by members of groups like Reddit or 4chan. God help you if you say something a cyber bully doesn’t like, because trolls are unlimited and you can be “doxed” in about 10 minutes.

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