Forced Presentation Online

I’m going to come at this from an English perspective. I know it’s going to be different for math (etc.) but I’ll stick with what I know. I’m all for students presenting their work online. If you sign up for an online class, I think that’s part of what you’ve signed up for. Also, admittedly, I think a lot of people with intense anxieties about things like this…well, the only they’re going to get over that anxiety is by slowly wading deeper and deeper into the cold water, and doing it online amongst peers is the easiest way to start. End of story! I think sheltering students from never having to share their work online is similar from sheltering students from never having to speak in public. With one, you’re going to end up with students who spend their entire lives terrified of being in front of people, which is, you know, an important skill. With the other, you’ll end up with students who spend their whole lives terrified of showing people their work, which is another important thing they’ll need to do in their lives.

That said, I think for some classes, then, yeah, you shouldn’t expect students to post things online. Creative writing, for example. Again, some part of me thinks you should just get over your anxieties, since living in that kind of space for your entire life is unrealistic. I also think students sometimes write things that you can’t expect them to share with people. I’ve read some really crazy personal things from students that you just can’t expect them to write if they think there’s a possibility that tons of people are going to see it.

I don’t really think of an online class as a “public space.” It’s possible to be private on the internet – I’ve had classes that operated through Google Plus and that was totally private. This is one of the reasons I’m against using Twitter in an online class – you’re taking control away regarding privacy. Students need to have control over things they might think are sensitive. While it wouldn’t ever both me to post things online, I understand that some students get the shakes because they’re so nervous about sharing something. You’ve gotta ask yourself if it’s worth knowing you might not get the sincerity  of assignments you want because students don’t want to do anything they might get ridiculed for. I acknowledge that teenagers are fragile and that the emotional trauma that can come with having your intellect picked apart online can be pretty serious. Let’s not kid ourselves – the internet is the most foul and volatile version of casual human interaction out there, but a class is a little different, so long as it’s not one of those mass classes that Owen mentioned a few weeks ago. Putting classwork out there to be seen is a little different from putting up private social information, so I don’t think students have a lot to worry about in most situations. In fact, you could maybe make the argument that creating positive social environments online for students might be beneficial to their social development in the long run.

All that means is that a teacher or professor needs to be really careful with exactly what assignments you do and don’t mandate be shared. Or, you mandate how they’re shared (amongst trusted partners, for example). Or, you enforce very strict behavioral codes. Either way, I think it very much falls on the course creator. They have the power to create a safe environment online, and it’s their responsibility to plan things out as far in advance as they need to. I do think there are benefits to sharing things online: I have on occasion gone back to watch an old video that a former classmate created. Alternatively, it’s nice to know that if I upload something, it’s there forever, and I needn’t worry about losing it. I’m not certain there are huge intellectual pros for this, to be honest, but it is very convenient. Outside of sharing material with classmates I’ll not meet in person, I’m not really sure I can imagine anything you can do by sharing online that you can’t do face-to-face. The pros that I’m thinking of really are those of social interactions and convenience. In larger mass classes, yes, there could be benefits. A huge amount of potential feedback is available instantaneously and for free! I’m not sure how common those situations are, though. What I see is that there are limited drawbacks to this situation, and potentially unknown benefits that we could be exploring. That, as far as I’m concerned, is argument enough!

5 thoughts on “Forced Presentation Online

  1. I’m glad you brought up teen age angst. I was looking at this discussion question from the perspective of graduate level course work among professionals at least somewhat established in their careers. I had forgotten the social terrors associated with being a teenager and what that might mean for an online class made public. My other concern for a younger class would be the permanency of the digital footprint. The opinions and ideas I had when I was 17 have changed (lol) quite a bit in the last however many years. I am probably pretty glad there are no permanent public records of those opinions. Good gosh, what if you wanted to run for public office 30 years after you publicly voiced your teenage opinions on sensitive issues. How many people would be able to really appreciate the developmental distance perspective? Few, if any.

  2. Another interesting post Nicholas. You wrote, “Also, admittedly, I think a lot of people with intense anxieties about things like this…well, the only they’re going to get over that anxiety is by slowly wading deeper and deeper into the cold water”. As a course designer, is it worth asking your students what causes them this intense anxiety and then trying to address these concerns while developing specifics for the class? The larger the generational gap, the more surprised we may be with responses. People can be forced to do things, but they can’t be forced to feel a certain way.

    Your last paragraph presents the balance I think is necessary. There is a time and place for sharing publicly, and explicit teaching of behavioral codes is imperative.

  3. Nice reflection piece, Nicholas.

    I once heard an analogy: “It’s a bit like being nude at the beach – if you’re the only one while thousands of others are in their swimsuits, it can be uncomfortable, but if there are thousands of nude people, nobody cares.”

    What benefits might there be to working “in the open”… (now is a good time to forget the above analogy. :))

    What if our leaders had published work as young students…or our potential leaders? Well, I suppose most actually have. Obama was editor of a paper at Harvard, I believe? Many others have their records scrutinized fairly closely. Is it all about being afraid of our immature past? Maybe this relates to a lack of openness about the process of learning?

    Is it about being afraid of our immature present?

    That is, is it about our fear of one day in the indeterminate future having someone look back at our ignorance, or is it more about being seen as being ignorant today?

    (One thing you should all know, by the way, is that the “live” version of this course is usually archived after a year or two…so your record of being here will be erased eventually. :))

    How long does online presence persist anyway?

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