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Panoptic U

posted: 3.28.12 by Barclay Barrios

I’ve been working on a paper for the NEXUS conference at the University of Tennessee–Knoxville. In a section my paper I consider the ethics of teaching technologies such as Blackboard and, in particular, their “panoptic” potential.  I try to avoid Blackboard whenever possible for a variety of reasons, but this same panopticism is sitting inside Microsoft Word when I grade electronically: I can see when a student last worked on a paper, how they formatted it (double-spaced or just a little extra to make the length?), and even how they revised (using Compare Documents with any earlier draft). The question I ask in the paper is one I pose to you, too: what are the ethical implications when we can see inside students’ composing processes? Any thoughts?


Categories: Professional Conferences
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2 Responses to “Panoptic U”

  1. Jack Solomon, CSUN Says:

    This is an interesting question. I was not aware of the particular “panoptic” phenomenon that you describe here, so I’ve needed to give it some thought. My feeling is that we should inform students of the precise implications of the new technologies that we use in our classes. For example, I explicitly let my students know that the purpose of my use of Turnitin.com is to prevent plagiarism. As I have said before on Bedford Bits, I do this positively, by explaining that my use of Turnitin enables me to assign far more open and free paper topics because I don’t have to try to create plagiarism proof assignments. I also tell them that they don’t have to worry about someone in the class illicitly getting a good grade while they themselves work honestly.

    I do not use Microsoft Word for grading purposes. I’m a bit uneasy to learn that it enables one to “spy,” as it were, on a student’s composing process. In an era of transitioning learning and teaching conventions I wouldn’t lay down any absolute law about the matter, but at the very least I would inform my students, if I were using such a technology, what it revealed to me about their work process.

  2. Steve Bernhardt, U Delaware Says:

    We are sometimes afforded views by technology that we can choose not to exploit. Word is like that. The tool is very powerful and I find it indispensable for editing and collaborating with other writers. I don’t use it to spy on previous histories, and I don’t use Sakai or WebCT in such ways. I am in a classroom with a lot of technology, but we use it to put the work of each other in the open, not to spy.

    In Writer’s Help, my Bedford online writer’s handbook, we look at user analytics to improve search and expand content, and we provide analytics to teachers who want to know if their students used the book, where they went, what they searched on, and so on. So this is another example of how we can look at user behavior, learn from it, and improve the usefulness of a product, for the benefit of the user.