To fully function as a student in today’s Western democracies means having access access to the Internet. In some cases this means students use Content Management Systems (CMSs) such as Drupal, Blackboard, or wikis (to name a few examples) to submit homework and participate in collaborate group assignments. CMSs are great because teachers can monitor the effectiveness of student’s group contributions and retain timestamps of when the student has turned in their work. Thus, when Sally doesn’t turn in her homework for a few weeks, and ‘clearly’ isn’t working with her group in the school-sanctioned CMS, the teacher can call home and talk with Sally’s parents about Sally’s poor performance.
At least, that’s the theory.
Three-Strike Copyright and Some Numbers
I’m not going to spend time talking about the digital divide (save to note that it’s real, and it penalises students in underprivileged environments by preventing them from acting as an equal in the digitized classroom), nor am I going to talk about the inherent privacy and security issues that arise as soon as teacher use digital management systems. No, I want to turn our attention across the Atlantic to Britain, where the British parliament will soon be considering legislation that would implement a three-strike copyright enforcement policy. France is in the process of implementing a similar law (with the expectation that it will be in place by summer 2008), which will turn ISPs into data police. Under these policies if a user (read: household) is caught infringing on copyright three times (they get two warnings) they can lose access to the ‘net following the third infringement.
In this post I want to consider privacy from a bit of a ‘weird’ point of view: What information do you want students to reveal to each other and yourself, and what do you want to reveal to them? What ethical responsibilities do educators have to their students concerning their disclosure of information to one another?
In many classrooms, instructors and their students develop bonds by becoming vulnerable to one another by sharing personal stories with one another. ‘Vulnerability’ should be understood as developing a rapport of trust that could be strategically or maliciously exploited, though there is not an implicit suggestion that vulnerability will necessarily lead to exploitation. Some of the best teachers and professors that I have ‘revealed’ themselves as human beings – once I saw that they were like me I felt more comfortable participating in the classroom environment. With this comfort and increased participation, I developed more mature understandings of subject material and my personal stances regarding it. The rapports of trust that I developed with faculty led to the best learning environments I have ever experienced.
Wiki means ‘quick’ in Hawaiian and is commonly used to refer to relational databases that allow for collaborative content creation and revision. These databases have some similarities to blog structures, insofar as they allow a group of people to comment on content, but are distinct from blogs insofar as they upset blogging’s authorial structure by letting readers make modifications to articles’ content. Whereas in blogs, readers can comment on content, in a wiki the readers can modify and come to ‘own’ the content. Wikis have been called the simplest kind of database, and this is (in part) due to ease of inserting and modifying content. All wiki’s use the following process for content generation: Edit >> Write >> Save. That’s it!
In situations where students are increasingly learning online, wikis can provide a space for them to work with one another to address/confront common problems and challenges. This can mean that a group of students use a wiki to write an essay so that they can all contribute to the project (and track each others’ modifications) without needing to find a time and space to sit down and talk with one another at length, to creating a set of class notes that reflect what occurs in lectures, to establishing a coherent content management system that lets students track how the courses they take throughout their academic degree interrelate with one another. In transitioning from analogue technologies and environments to digital wikis, students can (at least partially) overcome the challenges of space, scheduling, particular content retention, and tedious subject cross-references.
While webcams and teleconferencing may not initially appear to be Web 2.0 technologies, I would suggest that they important to the current 2.0 paradigm and, as these technologies develop, will become increasingly critical in whatever 2.0 unfolds to. By drawing in content from divergent areas, by crossing boundaries that were previously insurmountable for reasons of cost and time, and by demonstrating and expounding upon the digital connectedness between people, the ideals of student based learning becomes possible. I want to explicate that statement a bit, and then turn to the more ‘technical’ aspects of this post’s technologies.
Student-based learning is largely dependant on sudents having a hand guiding their learning. This is commonly translated into blogs and wikis, where the authorial voice is upset. A central issue with these kinds of collaborative/2.0 tools is that both are grounded in text – text is limiting because we cannot communicate using facial gestures/hand motions/intonations/etc, whereas webcams and teleconferencing both inject these essential dialogical elements into the discourse.